Review: Quentin Bates – Summerchill

Quentin Bates is one of the organisers of Iceland Noir, an excellent event that I’ve attended since it first started. He translates51hN2ErUx7L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_ Ragnar Jonasson’s books from Icelandic into English but is also a very good writer himself. He recently published a novella, Summerchill, featuring his protagonist Gunnhildur (Gunna) Gisladottir which was a lovely read for the July sunshine we had here.

At the end of a warm summer, a man goes missing from his home in the Reykjavik suburbs. Gunna and her partner Helgi investigate his disappearance but discover that he has been keeping some unsavoury company. The challenge is to follow both the missing man and his nemesis before murder is committed.

Novellas are a great way to try new writers and Summerchill certainly gives readers a flavour of Bates’s style of writing. Its title is a clue to the atmosphere of the book. You get an insight into Iceland in the summer with its long hours of daylight and an empty-ish Reykjavik. The pace of the narrative is perfectly suited to a novella form. The action is fast with a regular influx of new characters. Unlike many crime stories, you don’t necessarily sympathise with the alleged victim but become engrossed in the chase for a resolution to the mystery.

A great, short read to take away on your kindle this summer.

Iceland Noir 2014 Round-Up

My last post gave an overview of the panels from the first full day of Iceland Noir. As I didn’t manage to make all of the discussions on Saturday I thought I’d use this post to round up the highlights of the rest of the event.

1959521_10152439616361625_7891572099963381108_nOne panel that I did manage to make was my own at 9am. Moderated by Quentin Bates it also featured debut authors David Swatling, originally from the US and now living in Amsterdam and Icelander, Sverrir Berg Steinarsson. We started off by reading extracts from our prose and then talking about how our books came into being. An interesting motif was that all three of us used personal experiences in our past to shape the course of our narratives. ‘What if this had happened to us?’, I suspect, is a common approach used by new writers but I wonder the extent to which it is jettisoned in later books. It was wonderful to appear on a panel in a capacity as an author and thanks to everyone who got up at the crack of dawn to make the event. I really appreciate everyone’s support.

The rest of the day’s panels that I attended were excellent and I particularly enjoyed Making it spooky – supernatural in crime fiction. I’m a big fan of ghost stores and the panelists James Oswald, Johan Theorin, Michael Sears and Alexandra Sokoloff did a good job of making their books sound suitably creepy. I hope to catch up reading all of these novelists soon.

For lunch, some of us fans of the Icelandic TV series The Night Shift were given a treat when its director, 10372141_10152440305741625_7631086047442752839_nRagnar Bragason, joined us for lunch along with actress and writer Sólveig Pálsdóttir who appears in series two. It was wonderful to meet the creator of such an excellent TV series and he was later interviewed by Andy Lawrence whose write-up of the discussion will shortly appear on his website, Euro But Not Trash. The series is set in a petrol station on the outskirts of Reykjavik and some of us fans later managed a trip to the location in an homage to the series.

icepicksmallSaturday evening involved dinner at the excellent Iðnó restaurant. The IcePick Award was given to The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker for the best crime novel translated into Icelandic. The book has divided critics. I enjoyed it and think it must have been a difficult choice to make in a very strong shortlist. More details of the award can be found at Mrs Peabody Investigates.

On Sunday, a group of us took a coach with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir to locations featuDSC_4280red in her novels, in particular, My Soul to Take. It was a fascinating day, good to get out of Reykjavik and we paid an unexpected visit to a lava tube cave. The picture to the right contains lots of well-known writers. See if you can spot anyone.

So, the end of an excellent event. Thanks to Quentin Bates, Ragnar Jónasson, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Lilja Sigurðardóttir for all their had work to make it such a successful event. Next year will be Shetland Noir, followed by a return to Iceland in 2016. I can hardly wait.

 

Iceland Noir 2014 Day Two

imageThe first full day of Iceland Noir 2014 took place at the Nordic House in Reykjavik on Friday 21st November. It was an intensive  day of panels, six in total, and I manged to attend every one. Below is a very brief summary of a very interesting day.

The opening discussion, Nordic Perspectives, was led by journalist Jake Kerridge and featured Hans Olav Lahlum, Michael Ridpath, David Hewson and Lilja Siguðardóttir. Talk focused on the background to the books and the reasons for setting the novels in that particular time and place. This was followed by a panel on translating crime fiction, a particular interest of mine. It was moderated by academic imageJacky Collins and featured Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, Mari Hannah, Bogdan Hrib and Vidar Sundstol. Most had positive experiences of being translated and it was interesting to hear which languages these authors would like to be translated into. I look forward to reading Mari Hannah in Dutch soon! The final discussion before lunch was adapting crime fiction for stage and screen. Moderated by William Ryan it featured Lilja Siguðardóttir, David Hewson, Peter James and Alexander Sokoloff. It was a lively discussion on how the vision and essence of a book can be lost in adaptation. Interestingly though, there seemed to be near universal agreement that Thomas Harris´s Silence of the Lambs worked well both as a novel and film.

Lunch was followed by a panel on The Golden Age of crime Fiction. Moderated by Agatha Christie´s Icelandic translator, Ragnar Jónasson, other panelists were Peter James, Susan Moody, Hans Olav Lahlum and William Ryan. The crime writers of  the inter-war period in the UK are still influences on many of these authors’ works and I was, once again, reminded of how popular Edmund Crispin’s Gervaise Fen is. The second panel of the afternoon was on location featuring Romanian author Bogdan Hrib, Jefferey Siger who sets his books on Mykonos, US writer Annamaria Alfieri and Billie Rubin from Germany. All the featured authors clearly felt a great affinity with their chosen locations which must come across in their writing.

A discussion on setting in Nordic landscapes came next. Featuring imageJohan Theorin, Vidar Sundstol, Ragnar Jónasson and Antti Tuomainen it was moderated by Jacky Collins. Although the panel touched on how integral the landscape was to their stories, what I found interesting was how their upbringing within these settings was also a major factor in shaping the authors’ novels.

The final event of the day was a walk around Reykjavik featuring readings from various locations that feature in crime novels set in imageIceland. Despite the bracing weather, it was a fascinating event and I particularly enjoyed hearing extracts from writers who are yet to be published in English. The small excerpts that had been translated by Quentin Bates showed us what we are missing.

So, as you can see, an intensive but excellent day for us and a treat to see so many authors in one place. If you’d like more information on any of the panels, many attendees were Tweeting from the event under the hashtag #icelandnoir. An update on day two, including my own panel, tomorrow.

Iceland Noir 2014 Day One

It’s that time of year again when all lovers of Scandinavian crime fiction get together in Iceland. There’s an excellent line-up at this year’s conference and the panels start properly today.

imageHowever, yesterday a couple of events took place which I’m sure will be of interest to Crimepieces readers. Firstly, William Ryan, as well as being a writer of excellent historical fiction, also runs workshops for those who wish to try their hand at crime writing. I’ve always been curious about these events and was determined to use the opportunity whilst in Iceland to attend one.

I took a taxi to Kópavogur public library in a Reykjavik suburb. It’s a huge building with excellent facilities. There I joined sixteen other people at an event that was a mixture of information on how to construct a crime novel combined with a series of exercises to let us have a go. Chatting to the people afterwards, it was clear that most people were already writing something and that the challenge is to complete their works of fiction. I’m sure this workshop will have inspired people to do just that.

Thursday evening is traditionally the time we get to hear authors read aloud from their works. We had a rich variety of writers last night inimage a room at the Solon bar in central Reykjavik. Readings were in both English and Icelandic and it was particularly nice to hear Antti Tuomainen give an extract from The Healer, a book I enjoyed last year. The photo to the right, show Peter James reading from his latest novel. James is an excellent reader and is a good example of how an author can bring their works to life by their performance.

So, the event starts in earnest today but I thought you’d like an update of what’s happened so far. Yesterday was largely about catching up with friends as well. Can you spot the crime writers in the photo below?

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Crime Fiction Round-Up

November is proving to be an interesting month for crime fiction and it would be a shame not share some of the events with readers of this blog. Sometimes, living in Derbyshire, it feels like all the interesting things take place in other parts of the country, particularly London. However, if you keep your eyes open and take advantage of the internet, you discover plenty of interest.

James Ellroy

The the self-styled demon dog of American crime fiction came to The Dancehouse,Perfidia-by-James-Ellroy Manchester in early November. The event was organised by Waterstones on Deansgate and was very well attended. For my money I would have preferred a more structured interview. It was left to Ellroy to read from his latest book, Perfidia, and then field questions from a very knowledgable audience. Manchester has plenty of fine journalists more than capable of facilitating a more structured event and I think we might have got some greater insights from Ellroy from more in-depth probing. He was, however, great to see and we were treated at the end to his recital of Dylan Thomas’s ‘In my Craft or Gentle Art’.

The Murder Squad.

The Murder SquadLast week, six of the best northern crime writers gathered at Linghams bookshop in Heswall for an evening of crime fiction talk. Cath Staincliffe, Ann Cleeves, Margaret Murphy, Martin Edwards, Kate Ellis and Chris Simms talked about their books and characters in an event of interest to both readers and writers of the genre. Again the evening had a fantastic turnout and is evidence of what a vibrant local bookshop can do to promote writers. The passion that these authors still have for their books is an inspiration and I particularly liked the discussion on which character from another author they’d most like to write about. A white haired old lady from St Mary Mead was a popular choice. Thanks to Dave Mack (via Margaret Murphy) for the photo.

Serial

Those on Twitter will notice the amount of chat taking place about a podcast coming out from the States. Serial is a week by week investigation into the culpability of Adnan Syed who was convicted of murdering, in 1999, his girlfriend, Hae Min Lee, in Baltimore, US. I’m not a huge fan of real life crime and certainly tend to avoid reading about it. But these podcasts are excellent and compulsive listening. The host, Sarah Koenig, has an impressive grasp of the minutiae of the case but it is the human element of the broadcasts that make them so fascinating. She oscillates between trusting and disbelieving Adnan’s innocence and we, as listeners, are right there with her. I don’t normally review books until I have finished them but for Serial, it is the real time unfolding of the drama that is one of its attractions. Highly recommended.

Iceland Noir

Next Thursday, Iceland Noir begins. I’ll give a full update in my return as there is a intensive programme ofIcelandnoirlogoSm events and panels. Those who want to follow the event can see live tweeting from @NordicNoirBuzz with the #IcelandNoir hashtag. Last year’s conference was a huge success and it’s fast becoming a ‘must attend’ event for readers, writers and fans of Scandinavian crime fiction. Watch this space.

While I’m in Iceland I’m hoping to catch up on my backlog of reading. If you’ve sent me a book for review, I will get there, I promise. I hope you’re all having a good reading month.

 

 

Iceland Noir #3

A final update on the crime fiction event that took place in Iceland last weekend.

Ann Cleeves

Ann Cleeves gave an interesting account of how her writing career had developed. What came across strongly was Ann’s love of storytelling and how success had come after many years of developing her craft. She revealed that she is hoping to arrange her own Shetland Noir event in the future which I’m sure will garner significant interest amongst crime fiction fans.

A panel on the future of publishing featured Penguin author James Oswald whose books were originally self- published, Quentin Bates and Icelandic writers Sigurjón Pálsson, Sólveig Pálsdóttir. Moderated by Zoe Sharp, the panel discussed the success of self published authors such as Oswald who have been successful in securing contracts with larger publishers. Oswald revealed that temporarily reducing the price of his books resulted in 50,000 people downloading his debut novel.

A fascinating interview with John Curran discussed the work that he had undertaken to edit Agatha Christie’s notebooks. John CurranDespite the deceptive simplicity of her writing, Christie planned her novels in great detail: Three Little Pigs, for example, had around 75 pages of notes. It sounded a gargantuan task that Curran had undertaken given Christie’s slightly chaotic way of thinking. Plot notes, for example, were followed by recipes and shopping lists. Curran revealed that Sophie Hannah’s new Poirot story won’t feature Miss Lemon or Inspector Japp.

Arnaldur Indridason

Finally, a panel entitled The Perils of Translation featured Anna Yates who translates from Icelandic into English and Tina Flecken who translates from Icelandic into German. Both have translated Arnaldur Indridason’s books who was also on the panel. He emphasised the influence of Icelandic sagas on his writing, with their emphasis on telling the story and moving on with the plot.

So that’s the last word on Iceland Noir 2013. Many of us there are already rubbing our hands at the thought of 2014’s event. I hope to see many more writers, reviewers and readers there next year. It really was a blast. Thanks again to Markús Már Efraím for the photographs.

Iceland Noir #2

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The second day of Iceland Noir was a more casual affair with delegates making the most of their free time to explore Reykjavik and the surrounding areas. I went on the Golden Circle tour that took in the geyser geothermal area and the waterfall at Gullfoss. Iceland is a seriously beautiful country and thanks to Jorunn and her team at All Iceland for organising the trip. I was also impressed by the esteem in which crime fiction is held in the country. On the right is an advertisement for Arnaldur Indriðason’s latest novel in downtown Reykjavik. In the evening, Icelandic writer Yrsa Sigurðardóttir hosted a party for Iceland Noir attendees which was a great opportunity to informally chat with writers, readers and other reviewers.

The main event kicked off at 10am on Saturday morning with the first panel of the day: What’s so special about the North? Moderated by English writer Quentin Bates, on the panel were Ann Cleeves, Jørn Lier Horst, Ragnar Jonasson, Sabine Thomas and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. Attempting to unpick the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction, Ann Cleeves suggested that the mixed communities found in small towns in Scandinavia (and Shetland) hark back to the days of golden age detective fiction. An interesting exchange, in response to a audience question, was the influence of other writers on their works. Yrsa doesn’t read at all while she is writing to avoid distraction while Ann Cleeves has to avoid the novels of John Le Carre as he has such as strong voice.

The second panel was an interesting discussion on transferring crime fiction onto the screen. The eloquent John Curran, who has published two books on Agatha Christie, was vocal in his disapproval of adaptations of Christie’s works that significantly alter the structure of the plot. A lively discussion ensued and it’s fair to say that those involved in filming detective fiction 2013-11-23 15.00.01take a more relaxed approach to the importance of maintaining the integrity of the original narrative than most readers would like. I’m 100% behind John on this one and can’t watch some adaptations of Christie’s work when they deviate so far from the original. A quick chat afterwards, however, revealed we both agree that the filming of ‘Final Curtain’ starring David Suchet was a fitting and moving end to the series.

The final panel of the morning was entitled A Sense of Time and Place and featured writers who set their books in Hull, Russia, Alaska and Iceland. Many of the panellists don’t live in the countries where they set their books and there came across a strong sense of stories that need to be told. M J McGrath referenced the vast amount to Innuit stories that remain unknown to the wider world. In contrast, Nick Quantill is a Hull based author who writes about the city he lives in, partly in an attempt to make sense of his surroundings. William Ryan, whose books are set in Stalin’s Russia revealed that his next novel will be a standalone thriller set in the Christmas of 1944 which should be an interesting departure for him.

So that’s a summary of the first three panels of the day. The final instalment of Iceland Noir will be coming tomorrow with more news from the main event. If was wonderful to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. In particular I want to direct you to a talented photographer that I met. Markús Már Efraím has a website entitled Literary Reykjavik that marries the images he takes at events with quotes from the authors’ work. I’ll be featuring more of his photographs on the post tomorrow but do check out his website and Facebook account. The images are wonderful and below are some he took of the readings that took place on Thursday evening.DSC00945

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