Iceland Noir

16 September 2013

 Like many of the best ideas, it was born over a curry and there was beer involved as well. A few months ago I was in Iceland and went to a meeting of the brand-new Icelandic chapter of the Crime Writers Association, that remarkable body that most of us crime story tellers in Britain and a good few other places belong to. The CWA has had its ups and downs over the years, but in general its progress has been steady, promoting crime fiction, organising the Dagger Awards and being the focus of a great many long and enjoyable meals. Something stronger than lemonade is frequently a part of all this.

Ragnar Jónasson, an Icelandic crime writer who was translating Agatha Christie into his own language as a teenager and who has since also written his own books, was the spark that resulted in an Icelandic chapter being formed. At the inaugural meeting, held in one of Reykjavík’s finer curry houses, we were chatting over the korma and it was mentioned that like Sweden (unbelievably), Iceland (understandably) has never had a crime fiction festival all of its own. A few weeks later, Ragnar, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and I were all at CrimeFest in Bristol, and the subject came up again.

The die was cast. Iceland now has its own crime fiction festival. Iceland Noir takes place on the last-but-one Saturday in November, a date carefully chosen as it sits comfortably between the Iceland Airwaves music festival and the start of the pre-Christmas silly season when winter visitors start to flock to Iceland and the prices of airline tickets and hotel rooms starts to rise.

November’s a good time for a little crime. It’s in the middle of winter, so it’s dark a lot of the time. It’s likely to be damp and there’s a chance of snow. There’s also a chance that it’ll be bitter cold with clear weather and a view of the Northern Lights once you step beyond the city’s light pollution. So, dark, yes. Cold, probably. Wet, likely. Snow, maybe. We like to think of all that as providing atmosphere. After all, in the far north the saying goes that there’s no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong clothing.

It all snowballed pretty quickly. Ragnar has done most of the work and found a free venue in the shape of the Nordic Cultural Centre in Reykjavík that is happy to host the event. A few other events have sprung up around it, including a crime walk around Reykjavík. Then there’ll be an evening event at the Nordic Cultural Centre the next day for those who haven’t already high-tailed it back home. There’s the opportunity to sit in on the Icelandic Crime Federation’s annual session where the assembled crime writers, of which Iceland has many, gather to read out loud. This year, for the first time, there will be a few foreigners taking part as well so some of it will be in English.

Between us we collected a crew of crime writers to appear on the panels, some from Britain – Ann Cleeves, Zoe Sharp, Michael Ridpath, Susan Moody, Nick Quantrill and others; some from Iceland, including all three of the Icelandic crime writers who have been translated into English, that’s Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Arnaldur Indriðason and Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, plus others who ought to be translated and one from Norway, the rising star of crime fiction and former real-life detective Jørn Lier Horst.

A little sponsorship has been acquired to cover some essentials such as a programme, and a couple of journalists have agreed to join in and hopefully come up with a little publicity. There are even a few tickets left, although the number is limited by the space available at the Nordic Cultural Centre and they are disappearing fast. It should be good. All the ingredients are there, and hopefully it’ll all gel into something that’s more than the sum of its already respectable parts.

But now comes the awkward part. As one of those doing the organising, I have to stand up on my hind legs and address the crime-obsessed masses. It’s something that comes easily to some people, but unfortunately not to me, and ten in the morning may well be too early in the day for a courage-providing dram. So let’s just hope it’ll be all right on the day.

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