Iceland - a whole lotta lava going on

Reporting back from participating in Iceland Noir, the Crime Fiction Festival held in Reykjavik, I first of all have to admit I’ve fallen hopelessly in love with Iceland, and would recommend it to anyone and most certainly will be going again. Despite the bizarre landscape of boiling hot streams and icy glaciers, volcanos ever ready to let rip, and basically a whole lot of lava going on, I felt strangely at home there. It could be my Viking ancestry, or just that it’s beautiful and strange, and the Icelanders are friendly, funny and rather like Geordies, though a lot more of them (50%) claim to believe in elves, trolls and the like. Not that far-fetched when you see the shapes the lava takes on. But recently a new road was diverted to avoid a large rock which was the home of elves. Even those who don't believe in them don't take chances. In such a hostile landscape with a small population chances are too risky.

Just after noon, sunrise in Iceland - almost as high as it gets!
Even though the sun in late November rises about midday, just a bit above the horizon, and moves sideways until it dips down again about 4pm, it didn’t feel gloomy at all. So seeing the country at last (I studied Old Norse as part of my first degree many years ago and have always wanted to go) was a big inducement to take part in the festival. Like Bristol Crimefest, it was also great to meet up with other crime writers from all over the world. Icelandic crime fiction is becoming very popular as part of the whole ‘Nordic Noir’ craze.  Book set in Iceland by the likes of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Quentin Bates, Ragnar Jonasson (all three founders of Iceland Noir last year) are worth checking out, as are many others, and they can be sad, funny, creepy, intriguing and scary without either the extreme violence to women of Stieg Larsson or his long boring descriptions of trips to Ikea.

My panel on passion for writing - my writing on sheep went down well!
We took part in ‘panels’ which for a performance poet like myself seem a bit strange but are a feature of fiction festivals – three or four writers, with a participating moderator, discussing a given theme connected with the genre, without reading from their books as we do at book launches etc. My panel was on ‘Why do we do this – a passion for writing’ which was fun to do. Most of the attendees at Iceland Noir were novelists, publishers and bloggers, and some readers, mostly from overseas. This is where some observations relevant to ebooks come in.

I’ve blogged before about the vagaries of Festival Bookshops which are many – these days they all seem to share the same problem which is overstocking of books. Iceland’s bookshop was run by a local firm, who ordered books through one particular distributor, which my publisher doesn’t use. But several high profile people weren’t stocked either. When I emailed to query this, they said they’d sell books if I carried them over there, and that they had an agreement with publishers that unsold books could be destroyed! I found this quite shocking though I suppose publishers aren’t keen to pay the return fares of books bought on ‘sale or return’ overseas.

My second thriller, and passport to crimefests!

Despite this foreknowledge, they’d stocked up on piles of books, especially by big names like Peter James. Several writers brought books over and gave them to be sold, including me – I ended up selling one paperback copy of my dark thriller THE OPERATOR (I only took three over, having been warned by the bookshop that they didn’t sell many of anything the previous year) and some quite eminent writers didn’t sell any.

Dead tree books are dead heavy to take home
And why was this, when fans were there rubbing shoulders with fave writers or new discoveries? Simple – weight. Dead tree books are heavy. Excess luggage is very expensive to fly with and hard to manage once you’ve been through baggage claim. People who enjoyed my panel said they’d like to buy my books but could only take a few home – panels of 5 writers, every hour, means a lot of authors and books, and some festivals have two or three panels running concurrently each hour – and would be downloading them on getting back. They may have been being polite, but I certainly didn’t buy anyone else’s books either, for the same reason – instead I made a list of names to look up and download on Kindle.
Book destruction - not politics but postage 
So we have a table or two groaning with unsold books, which might well end up destroyed, and keen readers who can’t carry them home. Ebooks are perfect for this situation. Yet the immediacy of buying the book with the author standing right there to sign it is something special. How many people would actually click on the Kindle store buy button when other life events, to say nothing of jetlag for some, had intervened to blur the memories of that new author’s witty panel remarks? So what we need, folks, is a way to sell ebooks at festivals, and have them in some way ‘signed’. If anyone knows a way this could be done, it would save some fine paperbacks from Fahrenheit 451-style obliteration and help authors sell books.

At Bristol Crimefest Foyles stocked up with huge numbers of books, knowing lots of readers would be there, some from the US – forgetting just how many authors they’d be exposed to, delighted or intrigued by, and many of those books were still there at the end, as the person responsible hadn’t stipulated sale or return.  I note Foyles aren’t doing the bookshop next year… Surely technology can come up with some way of customising an ebook in the author’s presence? There was no incentive to buy the ebooks right then and there, and live events need that facility.

Me and Yrsa at the murder beach from her thriller My Soul To Take
Just to add, unlike Crimefest, Iceland Noir didn’t have a specific self-published or indie published panel. However during their panels, both Alexandra Sokoloff (madly successful screenwriter as well as novelist) and James Oswald (runs a big farm as well as writing thrillers and also fantasy novels) mentioned they’d had trouble initially getting published due to the sin of ‘genre crossing’ as have so many others, and had started out publishing their own before being snapped up by big publishers. Or that’s what I noted down at the time – neither of their biogs online mention this, so I’ve been unable to confirm it so I may have been hallucinating due to exhaustion from handling a powerful snowmobile on a very icy and bumpy glacier the day before. The festival closed with a day tour led by Yrsa to the site of a murder in her novel MY SOUL TO TAKE which showed us wonderful scenery and took us down a lava tube or tunnel 300ft down which had inspired Jules Verne to write Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

Biggest thrill - snowmobiling on the glacier!

Just to add, I heartily recommend Iceland in the winter (I didn’t see the Northern Lights due to weather conditions, but didn’t even care, so you can see how much fun it was); the warm, stylishly eccentric, efficient, clean, brilliantly sited Hotel Icelandair Marina;

View from my fourth floor room at Hotel Marina - I had one brief glimpse of it in daylight!

Mountaineers of Iceland for their superjeep tours and snowmobiling trips which are packed with thrills and info;
Going off-road to the glacier to snowmobile was a thrill too in this bad boy!

Icelandic Fish and Chips restaurant near the hotel;
Dead fish lighting, very Icelandic!
and flying Icelandair, if they’d just have the decency to start flying from Newcastle. In the meantime, I’ve already signed up for Shetland Noir 2015!

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Ted Cross said…
Iceland is great! I got to live there from 2007 to 2009, and I loved it.
Mari Biella said…
Sounds like a wonderful experience, Valerie. And Iceland has just jumped forward a few places in my 'to visit' list!
julia jones said…
So enjoyed this (though confess the Sin of Envy - watch yourself Ms Laws) Thanks for such a full report back and also for lovely photos
Jen Alexander said…
Brilliant post - I've been happily clicking all the links to find out more. I go to Shetland every year in the summer - been feeling for a while that I need to go in the winter sometimes too. Now I will!
Jan Needle said…
oooh, i'm jealous, too. i have to say tho that all the icelanders i've ever been with seemed to live on spirits (and i don't mean trolly ones. gins rather than djinns) when i raised this with an icelandic friend he responded 'well that the hell else is there to do?' maybe it's just the sort of friends i have...

still sounds fabulous to me, tho. thanks.
glitter noir said…
That gallivanting Val does it once again. I'm grateful for the chance to visit a country that hadn't been on my trip agenda. Maybe now, though. Maybe...Do they have any Starbucks there? This fine post has left me wondering: what was your least favorite promotional trip?
Lydia Bennet said…
I enjoy pretty much everywhere I go Reb! (apart from mozzies in some of them!) I think I've been lucky. Iceland are promoting themselves as a stop off point between the UK/Europe and the US - you can break your journey there for a week with no extra air fare. Didn't notice any starbucks as such but they are big coffee fans! Booze is very dear but you can get it at the airport and make yourself popular with the locals! There's free wifi pretty much everywhere too which is more than you can say here in the UK.
thanks all for kind comments! :)
JO said…
Ah Iceland ... it was where I rode a skidoo, like a motor bike on skis, and it was totally wonderful!!!!!!!
Chris Longmuir said…
Sounds wonderful, and you're right about Alexandra Sokoloff, and James Osborne. I read James Osborne's fist book in the indie format. the traditional one misses out the first chapter because it was too gory!
Lydia Bennet said…
thanks Chris, I think Alex's books are pretty gory and horror-ridden too! they keep publishing publicity pics of James in fields typing away on a tractor surrounded by sheep!
Brilliant post and I'm so envious. Been once and always wanted to go back but have never managed it. And even more envious that you met Yrsa. I got obsessed with her books and read all of them as eBooks, but I Remember You is still the most frightening book I think I've ever read (especially in the dark on a Kindle Paperwhite). She creates atmosphere so wonderfully and draws you in from the first page. It always intrigued me way back when I was studying Old Norse (snap!) that Icelandic ghosts were so very much 'alive' and frequently needed to be killed all over again.
Lydia Bennet said…
yes they have lots of ghosts and none of them seem to be good news - they have critters that eat children etc and exposed baby ghosts and such like - even their santas are 13 rather wicked 'Jule Lads'. Icelanders are very matter of fact but funny - they only have first names (the patronymic/metronymic isn't really a surname though the rest of the world uses it as such) and always address each other by first names regardless of rank, so there doesn't seem to be so much arseyness - but then there are so few of them that's easier to achieve probably.
Enid Richemont said…
Many long ages ago (could even be a Saga) I stopped over in Reykjavik en route to a disastrous affair in the States. I returned the same way - it was the cheapest route to the USA - but stopped over for a few days, and was scooped up by a kindly Icelandic prof who was doing a necessary cross-country trip and offered to take me along. To say 'I loved it' would be an understatement. Always wanted to go back - maybe now I will.

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