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Time for the crime

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I have decided to pull together these blog posts into a book, which will be published at the beginning of July. Like this blog, the title is Writing in Ice: A Crime Writer's Guide to Iceland .  The book includes the posts I have published here and more that I have already written.  You can pre-order the ebook or paperback from Amazon .  If you would like a signed copy, or one not sold by Amazon, you can order one from my local bookshop, Lutyens and Rubinstein in Notting Hill, London. By far my most important appointment on that first research trip to Reykjavík was with my police contact, Páll. Some very successful crime writers get by without worrying at all about police procedure — Agatha Christie springs to mind, but there are many other more modern examples. Others are obsessive, like Peter James. I had always aimed to get the details right in my financial thrillers, and I wanted to do the same in these Magnus mysteries if only to create as vivid a portrait as I could of Icela

Favourite Places - Grótta

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  What you think of Grótta depends on the intersection of your mood and the weather.   If you are feeling tired or impatient and the wind is blowing and it's cold and raining and you can’t see for more than a hundred metres, then Grótta can be a bust. But when it is calm and still, and it is warm enough to sit and stare, and the sun is taking its sweet time to duck below the horizon, it is a special place.   The name Grótta refers to a tiny island at the tip of Seltjarnarnes, on which a lighthouse stands.   On the west side of this tip is a beach of black stones. At sunset, the sea shimmers in silver, gold, yellow, orange and even green as the sun creates a path heading westwards to the Atlantic and beyond (see photo above).   On a clear day, the snowy cone of Snaefellsjökull shimmers far away to the north. Sleek black cormorants slip in and out of the water and multicoloured ducks paddle about their business.   Terns wheel and dive, letting out their distinctive cry of ‘ kria’

More Reykjavík: Laugavegur and the 'burbs

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  Laugavegur My Reykjavík researches continued along Laugavegur, which is Reykjavík’s smartest shopping street. Laug means ‘hot spring’, so this was the road from Ingólfur’s original Norse settlement to the geothermal spring, which is now a swimming pool with hot tubs near Borgartún.  It became the route women took to do their washing, and presumably a crowded thoroughfare on Saturday, or laugardagur, when everyone went off for a bath. It’s still a hot place on Saturday night, after my bedtime, since most of the trendy clubs and bars are on this street. The trendiest of these is Kaffibarinn (see above). This is a small metal town house, painted bright red, a few yards up Bergstadastraeti from Laugavegur. It is easily identifiable by the London Underground sign hung above the door. It has an awesome reputation: the place to go on a weekend night for music and violent dancing. It’s supposed to be or have been part-owned by Damon Albarn of Blur, but it’s hard to pin that factoid down: m

Checking out Reykjavík, walking where my characters walk

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  I checked out Reykjavík. I was looking for places people might live, places people might meet, and the odd place someone might get stabbed or shot. It’s a bit morbid, but it’s my job.  I was to revisit all the spots I saw on this first trip many times over the following ten years. In May 2008, the global financial crash was just beginning its downward lurch. It was to hit Iceland particularly hard over the following twelve months. Parliament Square I started where Ingólfur Arnarson started, in Austurvöllur Square, which is a couple of hundred yards south of the bay and in the middle of what is now known as ‘Downtown’.  Austurvöllur is a bit of a mouthful, so let’s call it the Parliament Square, since Parliament is on one side. If you think Reykjavík is small for a capital city now, this is where you realize how seriously small it used to be a hundred years ago.  The square is a patch of green with a statue of a politician in the middle, some scrappy grass and daffodils and a few ben

Favourite Places: Thingholt

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By ‘Thingholt’, I mean the bloody great hill in the middle of Reykjavík with a church on top. I assume that in Viking times, they held one of those ‘thingi’ things here, meaning an assembly. It’s bordered by the Tjörnin pond on the west, Laugavegur to the north, the National Hospital to the east and the City airport to the south. It’s a residential area bang in the middle of town, full of small houses with brightly painted corrugated iron roofs — predominantly red, but also green and blue. The walls are either concrete or corrugated iron, and many are brightly painted too. Most of the houses with corrugated metal walls were built between 1880 and 1925. The rain in Reykjavík frequently falls horizontally, so wooden walls tended to rot. Wood was also expensive, since it all had to be imported, and it burns: much of Reykjavík burned down in 1915. Corrugated iron was all the rage until the Icelanders discovered concrete in the 1920s. The dwellings are small, with little gables and tiny g

Time to go: researching Reykjavík

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In my last post, I described my arduous research trips to places like Rio and South Africa.  But now, for better or worse, I had decided to write several books in a city with appalling weather: Reykjavík. I have looked back at my notes on this trip in May of 2008, and these were my rather disjointed first impressions. First Impressions "It’s small and northern. Despite the cloud, there is a feeling of lightness about the place. Most of Reykjavík is in shades of grey, many of them light grey, brightened by a number of small houses with brightly coloured metal roofs.   It’s a hip, fashion-conscious city, yet innocent at the same time, clean, easy to walk around. Although many streets are narrow, you can usually see some distance to the sea and mountains, so it doesn’t feel cramped. It’s friendly in rather a repressed way.   The air is fresh and cool, with an occasional hint of sulphur. There is not much smell of traffic. The main sounds are the hum, not the roar, of traffic, the la

How to describe places: my research technique

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My first visit to Iceland was going to be very different from the book tour in 1995. This time I had to build up a store of the impressions, the feelings, the sounds, the smell and the little details to fuel my writing of the first draft of my novel over a six-month period. Research Technique I had researched many settings for my previous novels — Fife, Brazil, Massachusetts, Prague, Clerkenwell, the Cote d’Azur, Wyoming, South Africa and 1930s Berlin — so I knew what I was doing, but I was daunted. Before, most of my characters had been flying in and out of places. This time Magnus and my characters were stuck in Iceland for at least three books, maybe more. I had better get it right. Over the years, I have developed and refined a method for gathering information on locations for my books. I wander around with a tape recorder, a camera and a notebook, my eyes and ears on high alert, taking note of anything I see or hear that might be useful. I use the tape recorder most, muttering in