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Publish and be Damned: Magnus I Becomes Where The Shadows Lie

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  Writing a novel is all very well, but at some point it has to be let out into the world to take its chances. My agent Carole Blake and I had agreed that her assistant Oli would act for me on this one.   I would be one of his first clients. But he had to like the book.   He read it. He liked it. Together, we came up with a plan. Oli sent the manuscript out. I was nervous. Extremely nervous. Submitting the manuscript It takes a while for publishers to respond to submissions, even when supplied by an agent, but I received a couple of quick rejections of the ‘not one for us’ variety. That’s better than the ‘this book is a load of old crap’ variety. I tried not to panic. I told myself that if a publisher was going to say yes, they would take their time to get back: the manuscript would have to be shown round to colleagues; sales and marketing would need to be convinced. But, frankly, the waiting was difficult. What the hell would  I do if they all said ‘no’? There was no Plan D. They did

Writing Magnus I: Tap Tap Tap

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  Writing Magnus I was a lot of fun. I liked Magnus, and it was good to know that we were just getting acquainted; in my previous novels, my heroes, as I naively persist in calling them – protagonist is just too analytical even for me – had come and gone. I hoped Magnus and I would be together for a while. And it was fun to write about Iceland. When the writing is going really well, I feel that I am actually there, on the streets of Reykjavík or the slopes of Mount Hekla. Research File I had my photographs of Iceland to refer to, and my notes. Lots of notes. I had spent a week cutting and pasting notes from all my reading and my trip into a Word document, sorted under headings like ‘Bars’, ‘Thingvellir’, ‘Police procedure’, ‘The Tjörnin’. In the ten years and four novels since Magnus I, this document has become massive, over four hundred pages. But it definitely helps when writing a novel. Or even a blog. The Quarterly Review When writing my eighth financial thriller, I came up with

Time to Write: Magnus I

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  Back to London, and time to write the book.  I was looking forward to it, but I was also scared. I’m always nervous when starting a new book. Nobody wants to write a dud, but my first Magnus novel was really important. After the slow demise of the financial thrillers and the failure of the spy novel, this was Plan C. There was as yet no Plan D, and I didn’t fancy drawing one up. Plan C had to work. For encouragement and perhaps a few tips, I read the novels of two British crime writers who had successfully set detective series in foreign countries: Craig Russell and his Fabel series in Hamburg, and David Hewson and his Nic Costa novels in Rome. They were convincing, well plotted with believable characters and, most importantly, authentic settings. They were extremely well written. On the one hand that was encouraging. On the other hand, could I write that well? Welcome to author paranoia. We all have it. It may even be a prerequisite for success; at least that’s what I tell myself.

The Hunt for a Lost Saga

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I was on the hunt for a plausible lost saga. How did it get lost? Whom was it about? Originally, the sagas were written down by monks on vellum (calfskin). They used quills from the left wings of ravens or swans better for right-handed scribes and ink made from willow or bearberry. There were hundreds, possibly thousands of copies of the sagas scattered throughout Iceland. Árni Magnússon By the eighteenth century, an Icelandic scholar who lived in Denmark named Árni Magnússon became worried that the stories might become lost, and travelled around Iceland for ten years collecting them. Iceland was poor, and he found scraps of vellum containing sagas repurposed for all kinds of everyday uses, such as shoe insoles or the back of a waistcoat.  He gathered his collection together in fifty-five boxes, and took them all back to Copenhagen in 1720. He became the librarian at the Royal Library, and stored the sagas there. In 1728, a fire swept through Copenhagen , destroying the library. Árn

Seeing a man about a saga

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  I needed someone to speak to about sagas. I found a lecturer in Icelandic Literature, Thorsteinn.    His office was on the top floor of the old building of the University of Iceland. Rather unsettlingly, this reminded me a little of my trip to Berlin to research my 1930s novel: it had a touch of the Nazi Gothic about it. Thorsteinn’s office was small and academic, with the exception of an unexplained Barbie doll on the top shelf. Nothing in Iceland is ever completely serious. There was a view over Reykjavík City Airport to Thingholt and the Hallgrímskirkja. Just in front of the university is a rather elegant statue of an early Icelandic academic, Saemundur the Wise , and a seal. Like many future Icelanders, Saemundur studied abroad, at the Sorbonne in Paris, specializing in the devil and black magic. In the eleventh century, travel from France to Iceland was tricky, so Saemundur did a deal with the devil, who promised to take the form of a seal and give him a lift home. Saemundur hit

Favourite Places - Mokka Kaffi

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Reykjavík has plenty of good cafés, but my favourite is Mokka . It’s a few yards up Skólavördustígur (the Skola Street) on the left, in a building that used to be white but is now raspberry red. It is supposedly the oldest café in Reykjavík, founded in 1958 by an Icelander returning to Reykjavík from Naples where he had been studying music. The warmth and friendliness of the place hits you as soon as you walk in, subtly conveyed by the smell of coffee mixed with waffles and strawberry jam, the house speciality. It’s a small café with leather benches, booths and wood-panelled walls under yellow light. These are hung with pictures by Reykjavík artists that rotate monthly: abstracts, photographs, landscapes, all for sale. Often, the artist will be there too, willing to talk about their work. The staff are young, friendly and of course speak perfect English. I have often suggested Mokka as a place to meet my sources. It has a reputation as a hangout for artists, writers and intellectual

Locked up

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  I was looking for two things from my police contact Páll: the details of how the police would undertake an investigation from the discovery of the body to the eventual conviction of the murderer, and what difference Magnus would notice to homicide investigations back home.   Iceland's police officers Icelandic police have a friendly, almost cuddly image, especially when compared to their American counterparts. They have become experts at Instagram and Facebook, on which they rescue kittens and perform weird dances. It is an entirely different experience being stopped by an Icelandic traffic cop with her helpful smile and bobbing blonde ponytail, than by a shaven-headed American policeman with peak cap, sunglasses, jackboots, a gun wobbling at his hip and that special unsmiling look that asserts authority and, occasionally, fear. The pots-and-pans protests In 2009, the Icelandic police lost their weekend leave when they spent every Saturday protecting Parliament during the pots-a