Yrsa Sigurdardóttir in Athens 2018 World Book Capital!

Yrsa Sigurdardóttir, one of the most well known nordic crime fiction authors from Iceland, is on her way to Athens, invited by Athens 2018 World Book Capital/City of Athens! The public will have the chance to meet her and listen to her stories on Tuesday, December 4, 2018, in Public Cafe (Syntagma square) at 21.00. She will have a conversation on her books, work and life and the famus nordic noir, together with the journalist Tassoula Eptakili. Before arriving, she talked to Athens 2018 World Book Capital and Anna Routsi about her country, Iceland and the nordic noir, about the crisis and the mentality of the people, her books and her heroes, her research and her future plans! Here‘s what she told us:

You started writing children’s books and then you moved to adults’ crime fiction, but still the stories involve children a lot as part of the crime chain. Is there a special interest of you in childhood? 

No, not really but I do like a child’s perspective of things that relate to the grown-up world. Children very often see things more clearly that we do as their judgement has not been influenced by life as much as for mature adults. I also find that crimes and injustice involving children upsets me more than cases involving adults only. Such crimes are very hard to understand since the natural response is to protect the young, not hurt them. I write better when I am angry so maybe that is why I choose to write about situations involving children, many of them inspired by actual cases of system failure regarding the most innocent of our citizens.

With the criminality rate so low in Iceland, and quite low also in the Νordic countries, it is a paradox that Νordic noir got so developed. How you explain it? Where are you inspired from?

 I think that the popularity of Nordic Noir can be traced back to Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, the trailblazing Swedish writers that were the first Scandinavian writers to take on the crime genre with an added layer of social injustice observations. This very essential part of what we now know as Nordic Noir is very fitting in a crime story and adds meat to the bone. But there are other aspects of Nordic crime writing that have influenced the popularity of these novels. To name a few would be the sparse writing style that is revered in Nordic culture, the ingrained realism that gives birth to quite realistic characters and the tendency to involve nature as almost a separate character in the story. I also think that the grimness that often comes with realism and a close relationship to the harsh nature that we live with plays a part. We are not shy about being cruel – but only on the page. Outside the books we are very nice people.

Do you research in fields such as criminology, geography, politics, social issues when writing a book and how? For example the children’s institution described in your book is a real one that you must have had contact to. Are there also any influences from myths and stories from Ιcelandic tradition and history?

I am very lucky to be writing in Iceland because of the closeness of everybody. It is very easy for me and other writers to do the research we need to understand and describe what we choose to write about. For the Children’s House or Institution I needed one phone call to get a meeting with the head of Children’s services for Iceland who is in charge of this actual institution. Same thing if I write about a boat.  I will be able to speak to sailors, captains, cooks and even go onboard one. People tend to be very helpful. This is very fortunate because it is quite important to get these things right if you don’t want to wander off into a total fantasy world. In my previous series about the lawyer Thora I used the Icelandic mythology quite a lot. Because the new series is more urban I do not use it as much.

Your books are translated in over 30 countries and Greece is one of them. Have you been here before? How do you feel about coming to Athens at the occasion of World Book Capital 2018?

I am very much pleased to be invited to visit Athens on the occasion. I have been to Greece two times before, once to Athens and Rhodes and once to Crete. I am a huge enthusiast about ancient history and Greece is king when it comes to this. I have extended my stay to be able to visit the Acropolis again and to have some time to go to museums and just enjoy your very great city.  

Did the financial crisis in Iceland affect your lifes and furthermore literature and how? Is it in any way reflected in your stories? 

The financial crises was extremely hard on the Icelandic people. Everyone lost something, some their homes and most people part of their pensions. We also felt that our country’s reputation had been ruined. In the aftermath we experienced an exodus of young people that had gone bankrupt and wanted to go and start over somewhere else. Because I write contemporary stories, this situation was described in the books I wrote after the crash. I chose topics like greed and also storylines involving bad decisions of one person having a tremendous effect on others that had nothing to do with it. I would however like to mention that Iceland is now doing very well. We are luckily a micro state so it is easy to get back on our feet. We were also lucky to have a president that stopped our politicians from forcing the debt of the private banks onto the nation. Surprisingly enough the volcanic eruption that took place shortly after the crash also had something to do with it as Iceland was on the news a lot and became a very popular tourist destination in the years that followed. Finally, we were also saved by not having the Euro. That would have been a much harder fix. Having the króna meant that our currency devaluated and as a result we had less unemployment that if we had a Euro that had stood its ground.    

Do you feel like creating a new hero/-ine for your next books? Please explain to us, what are they made from, these heroes of yours, how you build your characters.  

The Freyja and Huldar series will be six books at least. I have already written five so one more is certain and possibly two to three more. By that time I will probably feel the urge to write something else. What I do not know at present but possibly an apocalyptic series or even science fiction or horror. The hero/heroine for future books will depend on the subject matter. These main characters in series are extremely important, not only for the reader but also for the author. You must like the people you write about enough to be able to have them in your mind and on your computer screen for many years. To do so one needs to give them a lot of thought before starting off on a new series. What is their backstory and why are they the way they are? Also, where are they headed and how will they evolve as persons? I chose Huldar and Freyja very carefully and gave them characteristics that are in many ways polar opposites because I did not want to write about two individuals that share the same traits. She is very career driven and comes from a broken family, whereas he is from a loving home and just wants to do his job without having to take on administrative responsibility. I hope that I have managed to make them interesting enough for the reader so that he or she will want to meet them again.