The dust (but not the ash cloud) has settled over the Iceland Noir crime fiction festival which was held between 15th and 18th November 2018 in Reykjavík. We had a couple of willing volunteers there to review it for us. This first piece is by regular guest blogger Ewa Sherman who was Head of Volunteers at the festival this year.
This post is about connections and friendships, possibilities and surprises, inspiration and ideas, working hard and playing hard, and everything in between seen from behind the registration table and the kitchen as a volunteer at Iceland Noir, hence no apologies for the links, the mentions and even shameless promotions, including my own. I’ve translated sonnets by my mum Krystyna Konecka, and copies of her book Ultima Thule Głosy Islandii (Voices of Iceland) found their way into the Iceland Noir goody bags.
In 2014 I instantly fell in love with Iceland when I arrived for the second ever Iceland Noir, braving cold and wind, and shockingly dark mornings. But that was a part of the experience and beginning of many memorable friendships. The event was put firmly on the map thanks to the inspiring mixture of writing and people. In 2016 I was very excited to attend the festival again, and to help behind the scenes during the event. Must be the Elves’ influence…
And finally two years later as I embarked on my seventh visit to the country, I knew I would spend a magical, exhilarating and exciting time there. With the grand title of Head of Volunteers at Iceland Noir I might have overdone it on excitement and getting people together but I personally loved it! I’m particularly happy when people discover new authors and their work and when conversations turn into friendships, and I have a feeling that Christoffer Petersen aka Arctic Noir will the proof of this.
The festival has moved from the Nordic House designed by acclaimed Finnish modernist architect Alvar Aalto, near University of Iceland to a new venue IÐNÓ in central Reykjavik, by the famous pond which hasn’t frozen yet; close to the well-stocked bookshops, eateries offering classic hot dogs, fish soup or fermented shark, and within the walking distance to the most recognisable attractions. The same spirit of adventure prevailed, and the organisers showed again that the country might be quite small but bewitching and enchanting and does things in a big style. Where else would literature-passionate politicians get involved in moderating the authors’ panels?
Iceland’s Prime Minister and crime fiction specialist Katrín Jakobsdóttir took the helm of the Agatha Christie panel (Martin Edwards, Ragnar Jónasson and Ármann Jakobsson) while Michael Nevin, UK Ambassador to Iceland, showed his crime-fiction credentials discussing dark domestic tales with Louise Mangos, Mary Torjussen, Sarah Ward and Sandra Ireland. A strong Canadian consignment was present as Iceland’s First Lady Eliza Reid and founding director of Iceland Writers Retreat discussed writing with one of the guests of honour Shari Lapena. The appearance of Sjón, the award winning novelist, poet and lyricist and author of recently published epic CoDex 1962 was another magical moment of a crime fiction festival that’s not only about thrillers, procedurals, mysteries and detective stories.
Storytel (the main sponsor akin to Netflix for books) was visible throughout the days, satisfying the insatiable hunger for both Icelandic and foreign books. The programme can be found here: IcelandNoir (you might want to listen to the podcast at The Killing Times) and it was incredibly tightly packed, fitting in panels with intriguing titles and themes, offline chats in the bar, impromptu double-bent walks in the wind, and even a visit to the cinema for a screening of I Remember You, based on the spooky novel by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, and conversation with Yrsa and one of the actors Thorvaldur David Kristjansson best known for classic Black’s Game. Yes, the audience was terrified.
On Thursday evening two free events took place at the super cool bar, bistro and brewery Bryggjan Brugghús. Starting with the New Icelandic Noir panel (Eva Björg Ægisdóttir, Kristján Atli Ragnarsson, Róbert Marvin and Simon Cox), moderated by Quentin Bates, one the original organisers of Iceland Noir who took the back seat this year. The Noir at the Bar Reykjavík session followed, arranged by Jacky Collins, also known as Dr Noir, director of Newcastle Noir festival. It was also the publication day of Liz Nugent’s Unravelling Oliver (Afhjúpun Ólívers) in Icelandic so when her publisher brought some copies the Icelandic readers weren’t shy to grab them all. The official part of the festival culminated in the loud and joyful gig by Fun Lovin’ Crime Writers (Mark Billingham, Luca Veste, Stuart Neville, Doug Johnstone and Chris Brookmyre). Sadly Val McDermid couldn’t’ travel to Iceland this time.
On a dark Sunday morning a bus full of half-dead fans left from outside of the iconic, incredibly beautiful Harpa for a Mystery Tour organised by All Iceland. (You can read the account of a previous tour at IcelandNoir’s Magical Murder Tour 2016 via Crime Fiction Lover). Fortified with typical Icelandic snacks and drinks on the way we visited five places appearing in novels: Þjóðleikhúsið National Theatre in central Reykjavik (Arnaldur Indriðason’s Shadow District, review via Crime Review), Gálgahraun lava field in the Reykjavík suburb of Garðabær (Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Gatid / Hole not yet out in English), Kjalarnes (Quentin Bates’ Chilled to the Bone, review via Raven Crime Reads) and Hvítanes (Indriðason’s Petsamo, hopefully to be translated soon). However, a stop at Akranes Lighthouse was definitely a highlight for me. The lighthouse is a setting featured in Bates’ Cold Breath, review via Cafe thinking, and in Eva Björg Ægisdóttir’s Marrid Í Stiganum. A lunch of meat soup and bread at War and Peace Museum plus a talk by its creator was a great, timely reminder of Iceland’s recent history and its special place between political continents.
Happy New Year to you all. May you never run out of good books, warm blankets, decent coffee and true friends.
You can watch a short film of Iceland Noir 2014 here