I absolutely love the cold and cool IcelandNoir crime fiction festival. When I first came to Reykjavik in 2014, I immediately felt at home, as if I arrived at a place that will always be my safe refuge. Yes, it was still dark at ten o’clock in the morning, the brutal wind blew from the sea and the sky changed several times during the day to reflect the constant drama of the weather. But I love the Nordic shades of grey. There was snow and various lights everywhere, and the mysteries of elves, and books and writers. Since then, I travelled to Iceland about ten times, made friends for life, have been inspired by words, deeds and history, and again volunteered at the festival. Of course, now we live in complicated world, with the pandemic that hasn’t yet disappeared so until the very last moment it was not clear whether IcelandNoir would go ahead. Covid restrictions meant that several events had to be cancelled, the organisers had to make changes to the programme, a number of authors could not join, Jólabókaflóð (Christmas book flood) events for the local authors were postponed, and generally some of us felt like we have been in Reykjavik under cover. Running away. We weren’t. But the situation is still slightly unsettling.
IcelandNoir was born in 2013 over a curry in one of Reykjavík’s finer Indian restaurants when Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Ragnar Jónasson and Quentin Bates were wondering why Iceland had never had its own crime fiction festival. Over the years the festival has grown and evolved, also with Lilja Sigurðardóttir’s input. This year, after a three-year festival’s absence, the quartet of organisers were the original literary stars Yrsa and Ragnar, plus the brilliant writers Óskar Guðmundsson whose first book in English was launched at IcelandNoir, and Eva Björg Ægisdóttir, author of two books translated into English already. Here I want to mention the translators Quentin Bates (again) and Victoria Cribb without whom we might not have been lucky to read some pretty spectacular Icelandic literary works.
The magic of books mixed with the magic of Icelandic nature and stories add to the very special welcoming feeling and relaxing atmosphere. Over two evenings and three full days between 16th and 20th November there were panels, interviews and chit chat sessions at two centrally located venues; Iðnó theatre by the Reykjavík pond and Vinnustofa Kjarvals, a private members club. Discussions about different subgenres, themes, protagonists, motives and ideas. Poetry and nonfiction. Location, detection and murder. Vikings and puffins. Influence on TV, film and music. The organisers invited some of the biggest names in the international crime fiction community including authors AJ Finn, Ann Cleeves, Anthony Horowitz, Emelie Schepp, Ian Rankin, Liz Nugent and Sara Blædel.In addition to the stellar line up of writersfrom several countries the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrin Jakobsdóttir and Iceland’s First Lady, Eliza Reid joined as admired and knowledgeable moderators for two of the headline events. Starstruck by famous and recognisable figures is one things. Being able to chat to them is another. And that what makes this festival both special and relaxing. New friendships are forged, new authors are discovered and while the days are relatively short and the dark nights bring tales of ancient Christmas traditions, sprinkled with folklore, hardship and innovation(!) there was also time to visit beautiful and magnificent natural landmarks in the countryside. This time I didn’t venture outside the capital but I enjoyed walking along the familiar streets, past old wooden houses and modern ships, past works of stunning public art and fabulous murals. I ate fish soup and sourdough bread. I drunk coffee and had cakes. I want to go back in 2022. November wouldn’t be the same without IcelandNoir.