Gráskeggur means ‘Greybeard.’
My wife’s grandmother, the redoubtable Guðrún Magnúsdóttir from Bálkastaðir, a tough lady in her nineties who is still collecting the occasional speeding ticket, has trouble with my strange foreign name; not least because the letter Q doesn’t appear in Icelandic at all and doesn’t even have a place in the alphabet.
One day she greeted me with; ’Ah, it’s you, Greybeard.’ The name stuck and I’m happy with it. It seemed the obvious choice.
Quentin Bates dates back to the year of the Cuban Missile Crisis and was brought up in the south of England. In the year that Margaret Thatcher became Britain’s Prime Minister, he was offered the opportunity to spend a gap year working in Iceland and jumped at the chance of escape.
The gap year turned into a gap decade, during which he worked as a netmaker, factory hand and trawlerman, started a family and generally went native.
‘Back in England, I worked as a truck driver, teacher, fisherman and as a freelance journalist writing about nautical stuff, while gradually spending less time at sea. I’ve always been a big reader, and gradually writing started to take over.’
Seagoing was followed by many years as a journalist for an obscure nautical trade magazine, a dream job for anyone who gets a kick out of visiting industrial estates and obscure harbours miles from anywhere. From there it was a series of sidestep into fiction.
Gunnhildur and the book that became Frozen Out (Frozen Assets in the US) grew out of a university writing course that enabled him to take an afternoon off work once a week.
‘I had always seen fiction as a mug’s game. There’s so much competition and the odds against becoming published are so slim that I had to give it a try. With the backdrop of the financial crisis taking place in Iceland that some of us had seen coming – sooner or later – there was just too much material to not do it. I go to Iceland a couple of times a year, either alone or with my wife, both for work and just to spend some time there. I like to keep a close eye on what’s happening in other home.’
Literary agent Peter Buckman of the Ampersand Agency saw the initial drafts of Frozen Out, offered advice and encouragement, and had sold English and German language rights to two books within a matter of weeks. The series of books featuring Gunnhildur Gísladóttir, who may yet one day get a long overdue promotion, has included some translations into German, Dutch, Finnish and Polish.