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One man and two women men walk into a bar: a banker, a priest and a detective

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  I was still on the hunt for real-live Icelanders with which I could people my second Magnus novel. The banker I met Birna, a middle executive in one of the banks, who had lost all of her savings in the bank’s money-market fund, and then her job. In London I met Kristján, an Icelandic graduate student. Pétur told me about Icelandic writers. I was getting to know my characters. Now we come back to the thorny issue of stereotypes. In the first draft of my very first financial thriller, I included a character who was the ‘muscle’ working for an American businessman. I called him Luigi, gave him thick dark hair and an overcoat. As one of my friends said, he was a cliché. So it’s all very well figuring out what a typical Icelandic fisherman, or student, or banker is like, but sometimes you need to make them different from the typical. The priest An example is Hákon, a rural priest in Where the Shadows Lie . I found myself an Icelandic priest, a woman named Sara, and she gave me a portrait

Characters: it's all about the people

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  What if a group of ordinary Icelanders, angry Icelanders, met at one of these protests in the Parliament Square? What if they decided that those responsible for the crash deserved to be punished? Directly. By them. That was my idea for Magnus II . My character invention technique I decided my ordinary Icelanders would be a fisherman, a middle-ranking bank executive, a writer, a student and a junior chef. Now I needed to find something out about these people. I have developed a useful technique for exploring my characters. First I locate someone similar to the character in question, usually the contact of a contact, and arrange to meet them. I don’t know why, but in my experience almost everyone wants to meet an author writing a book about people like them. I don’t ask extremely personal, direct questions. I tell them about my character, what he or she is like, their parents, their fears, their ambitions, where they live, what car they drive. I then ask them what’s wrong with my descr

Justice: Lock'em up! But only for a bit.

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  Throughout the world, people wanted to lock up those bankers who were responsible for the 2008 crash. Iceland is one of the few countries that actually managed to do it. It started with a public discussion on the TV show Silfur Egils, the name of which refers to our thuggish poet friend Egil from the sagas and his lost silver, but is presented by the journalist Egill Helgason. One of his guests, Eva Joly, was a Norwegian-French judge who had some bracing suggestions for bringing the perps to justice. She was persuaded to spend several months in Iceland advising the government. There was a strong suspicion among many that the Outvaders, the bankers, the politicians and indeed the lawyers of Reykjavík all knew each other too well, so the government searched for a prosecutor from outside the capital to go after the culprits. Ólafur the salmon catcher They found one in the small town of Akranes, Ólafur Hauksson. This all seemed a bit of a joke at first. Ólafur had no experience of fin

The Pots and Pans revolution of 2009

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  The crash, when it came, was dramatic. The global financial crisis of 2008 didn’t start in Iceland. Bankers in the US found clever ways of lending too much money to mortgage borrowers who couldn’t repay it, and passing these risks on to other banks throughout the world. No one could quite work out how many of these bad mortgages there were, and who ultimately held the risk. The banks didn’t trust each other. When Lehman Brothers, an American investment bank, could no longer borrow to fund its activities, it went bust. Now nobody trusted any bank. For a few days in October 2008 it looked as if the ATMs in Britain and America would stop working. And in Iceland. The Icelandic banks were reliant on the goodwill of foreigners, and this was no longer forthcoming. They didn’t have the funds to repay international depositors who were becoming nervous. Every Icelander knows where they were on the afternoon of 6 October 2008 when Prime Minister Geir H. Haarde addressed the nation . Clearly sha

Bust: Viking pillagers in the 21st century

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  While I had been writing Where the Shadows Lie , happily losing myself in thoughts of sagas, rings, volcanoes and Gull beer, the financial world was melting down around me. I remembered how I had explained to the German author ten years before that it would never be possible to write a financial thriller set in Iceland, and now the country was smack in the middle of the biggest financial crisis the world has yet seen. Friends urged me to write another financial thriller. I was reluctant. But I couldn’t ignore it. Especially since I had resolved to write about issues that went beyond Iceland. As a foreigner, I wanted to write about Iceland’s interaction with the outside world, about big issues, not small ones, and there was no bigger issue as far as Iceland was concerned than the financial crash. It was a subject that I knew well, and the intersection of greed, hubris, ambition and self-delusion in the people who caused it was exactly the kind of thing I had examined in my financial

Favourite Places – Selatangar

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  There are two ways to get to the Blue Lagoon from Reykjavík – the Blue Lagoon is the large geothermal pool-spa next to a power station, and is well worth visiting, although it is expensive. One way is to take the main highway to the airport and turn left on a well-paved road following the tourist buses. The other way is by the back roads, turning off the main road just past Hafnarfjördur and following signs to Krýsuvík. The small road passes Seltún , a geothermal area of vents, mud pots, hot springs and sulphurous ponds that simmer and burp amid hillsides of red, yellow and orange, and water of an other-worldly green-blue. Just south of these is the ‘draining lake’, Kleifarvatn , which sprang a leak in its floor in 2000, revealing a hundred metres of black volcanic sand and rock around the shore (Arnaldur Indridason wrote a great novel set here). All around here, you are very aware that something in the ground beneath you is unsettled. The place is spooky, especially when the mist m

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