It is no secret that Newcastle Noir festival began as a love letter to Iceland. In May 2014 Jacky Collins aka Dr Noir chatted about books with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and Quentin Bates whose combined experience in writing, translating and co-founding the IcelandNoir festival sown the seeds for a bigger future event. No photographic evidence from me. I have joined as a volunteer the following year. The appetite for the writing from the cold climate was growing as were the ambitions of the festival organisers.
Disclaimer: some introductory wording about the authors comes from the relevant festival programmes 2015 – 2019 and might seem out of date yet I wanted to bring back some memories. Over the years the circle of authors and their works expanded and so did the knowledge about their worlds. Now in spring of 2020 no introductions are needed.
In 2015 Iceland was represented again by Ragnar Jónasson and Quentin Bates (author and translator from Icelandic) at the Crime in Translation panel. Sweden and Finland joined.
Cilla and Rolf Börjlind are Sweden’s most praised script writers of crime and thrillers, and also bestselling authors (Spring Tide and Third Voice). They have written 26 Martin Beck scripts for film and television, and most recently the scripts for Arne Dahl’s A-group series. In 2004 and 2009 Swedish television showed their long crime series The Grave and The Murders.
Finland in a form of Kati Hiekkapelto shook us. The bestselling author, punk singer, performance artist and, formerly special-needs teacher, living on the island of Hailuto in northern Finland, has taught immigrants and lived in the Hungarian region of Serbia which inspired her crime novel The Hummingbird. The sequel The Defenceless was translated into English by David Hackston.
Norway arrived in 2016. Gunnar Staalesen was born in Bergen in 1947 and is the author of over 20 titles, which have been published in 24 countries and sold over four million copies. Twelve film adaptations of his Varg Veum crime novels have appeared since 2007, starring the popular Norwegian actor Trond Epsen Seim.
That year Iceland brought incredible talent of four Ice Queens:
Sólveig Pálsdóttir, lives in Reykjavík, and is the author of three best-selling crime novels: the first two The Actor and The Righteous have been translated into German. The third Spotless was published in Iceland last spring.
Lilja Sigurðardóttir is an Icelandic crime-writer and playwright. Her first novel Steps was published in 2009 and later translated into German. Her second novel Forgiveness was published a year later, and the latest Trapped was out in October 2015.
Jónína Leósdóttir played a key role in establishing The Icelandic Women’s Literary Prize, and is the author of a dozen plays, ten novels, two biographies and numerous articles. She writes both for adults and teenagers. Among the awards she has received for her work is the poetry award Ljóđstafur Jóns úr Vör, the IBBY Iceland Award for her novels for teenagers, and playwriting competition prizes.
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is the bestselling and award-winning Icelandic crime author of the Thóra Gudmundsdóttir series as well as several stand-alone thrillers. She made her crime fiction debut in 2005 with Last Rituals, the first instalment in the Thóra series. The latest book to be published in the UK is The Undesired, preceded by the Award-winning Silence Of The Sea and Someone To Watch Over Me, chosen by the Sunday Times as the best crime novel published in the UK in 2013.
Finland was represented by Kati Hiekkapelto again, and by Antti Tuomainen, the award-winning author of five novels. He has been called ‘The King of Helsinki Noir’ by the Finnish press. In 2011 his third novel The Healer was awarded the Clue Award for Best Finnish Crime Novel and has subsequently been published in 27 countries. His fourth novel Dark as My Heart has been voted the best crime novel of the past decade by the readers of a Finnish crime fiction magazine.
Sweden returned in 2017 with stars. Camilla Grebe has written four crime novels with her sister Asa Traff, featuring psychologist Siri Bergman. The first two were nominated for Swedish Crime Novel of the Year. Camilla has also written the popular Moscow Noir trilogy with Paul Leander-Engstrom. Last year she published her first novel as a solo author, the psychological thriller The Ice Beneath Her. Duo Jerker Eriksson and Håkan Axlander Sundquist write under the pseudonym Erik Axl Sund. Their trilogy The Crow Girl made the New York Post’s Best Summer Reads list in 2016 and was The Observer’s Thriller of the Month. They’ve been working on the second in their Melancholia series, the first being Glass Bodies.
The honorary Swede Johana Gustawsson, the co-author of a bestseller On se retrouvera published in France. Her first solo novel Block 46 introduced criminal profiler Emily Roy and French true-crime writer Alexis Castells and was due to be published in May 2017.
Norway introduced two legends.
Kjell Ola Dahl is an acclaimed Norwegian author, one of he first in the Nordic Noir genre. His debut novel was published in 1993 and he has now written eleven books, mostly crime with a psychological interest. By that year four of his novels have been translated into English. Thomas Enger made his debut with the crime novel Burned in 2009, which became an international sensation before publication. It was the first of five books featuring journalist Henning Juul which delves into the depths of Oslo’s underbelly.
Also, Denmark appeared on the horizon with Greenland in the background thanks to Nina von Staffeldt. Her debut novel Frozen Evidence published in 2016 was awarded Best Danish debut crime novel 2016 by the Danish Crime Academy. The sequel novel was planned for publication in 2017.
Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden were back in 2018, with Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Quentin Bates, Antti Tuomainen, Thomas Enger, Kjell Ola Dahl and Johana Gustawsson respectively, before the final Nordic explosion the following year.
In 2019 the festival was held at the new venue, with more exciting latest voices from Sweden, Denmark and Iceland.
Another honorary Swede Will Dean, author of Dark Pines and Red Snow, studied Law at LSE, and worked many varied jobs in London, before settling in rural Sweden with his wife. He built a wooden house in a boggy forest clearing, where he compulsively reads and writes.
Christoffer Petersen writes crime books and thrillers set in Greenland. His main protagonists include retired Greenlandic Police Constable David Maratse, Commissioner Petra Piitalaat Jensen, and the first female sledge patroller Fenna Brongaard. Christoffer lives in Denmark and has spent 7 years in Greenland, including a year teaching at Greenland’s Police Academy.
Óskar Guðmundsson’s debut novel Hilma was chosen as the best criminal novel published 2015, received the Icelandic crime fiction award The Blood Drop, and was Iceland´s contribution to the Glass Key, the Nordic Crime Fiction Award in 2017. The Icelandic production company Sagafilm has secured the rights to adapt it for television.
The class of 2020 should have included new personalities appearing together with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Johana Gustawsson, Thomas Enger and Kjell Ola Dahl. Due to the global pandemic the festival has been postponed. However, the literary life continues behind the scenes and online, including this #blogtour and via electronic and paper books. Norwegian Marit Reiersgård recently spoke online of the fine Easter tradition in her country, tradition that involves hiding away in a cabin and reading crime fiction. The Girl with no Heart is her only novel translated into English so far. Sif Sigmarsdóttir, writer and journalist from Iceland, living in London, is the author of a feminist Nordic noir thriller for young adults called The Sharp Edge of a Snowflake. Eva Björg Ægisdóttir‘s debut novel The Creak on the Stairs won the Blackbird Award, a crime-writing prize hosted by prolific well-known Icelandic authors Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Ragnar Jónasson, and it is out now.
I do hope for the appearance of these three writers at #NN2021 to continue the Nordic Who’s Who in Newcastle https://newcastlenoir.co.uk/programme/