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Too Much to Write: Guest Blog from Jónína Leósdóttir

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Time for another guest blog.  This one is from Jónína Léosdóttir, an Icelandic novelist who has turned to crime, and the wife of a former Prime Minister of Iceland.  Life changed dramatically when my wife, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, became Prime Minister of Iceland at the beginning of 2009. But not in a particularly good way for me, personally. You might think that being married to a PM must be glamorous and fun, even in a small country like ours. At least some of the time? Well, that might be true in ordinary times (if, indeed, there is such a thing as “ordinary times”), but that is definitely not the case when a country’s economic situation is extremely perilous and the International Monetary Fund is breathing down your neck.  The biggest and most immediate change in our household was that my spouse more or less disappeared from home, often spending twelve to fourteen hours a day at work. And when she was home, she was either on the phone, reading through stacks of papers or watching t

Ravens

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  I sometimes think that the ravens own Iceland and humans are allowed to live there only with their permission.  Remember, it was a raven that led Flóki to Iceland in the ninth century. There are loads of them in Iceland. Huge birds that look much like crows, but often act like eagles, they are extremely intelligent. They usually operate in pairs, exclaiming in their distinctive loud croak that can sound like human speech, although ravens produce a wide range of other cries. They seem to be watching you, whether they are soaring high above, or skipping between stones and fence posts. They circle over corpses, of birds, of sheep or of people. This one above, I spotted while walking along the cliffs in Snaefellsnes. This being Iceland, there are of course plenty of folk tales about ravens. Odin kept two ravens, Hugin and Munin , who served as scouts for him, flying off to gather intelligence. Ravens predict death or weather changes; one even led a girl away from a landslide. Some grand

Favourite Places – Jökulsárlón

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  If you travel all the way to Iceland, you want to see some ice. And the best place to do this is Jökulsárlón, literally ‘Glacier River Lagoon’, an astoundingly beautiful lake of icebergs in the far southeast of the country. It’s a long way from Reykjavík, nearly four hundred kilometres along the Ring Road on the south coast, past the Westman Islands, past Hekla and Eyjafjallajökull, past Vík, and on the other side of that great flood-plain desert.  The lagoon is at the foot of a tongue of the massive Vatnajökull glacier that reaches down towards the sea. It tumbles in extreme slow motion into the lagoon, as large icebergs calve and then drift through the mouth of the lagoon to the Atlantic. There are tours; there are tourists. But the thing to do is escape them, walk back along the road from the main car park, climb over the high bank and scramble down to the shore of the lagoon. Wear warm clothes, arrange for the sun to be out - not quite sure how you do this - an

Re-igniting the Creative Passion: Guest Post from Solveig Pálsdóttir

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Another guest post – this time from the Icelandic crime writer, Solveig Pálsdóttir. Solveig is an actor. I have often wondered whether actors have an insight into character that would help in writing a novel. Here is Solveig’s answer! This morning I started reading Harm for the Icelandic audiobook edition. When the studio session was over, I switched on my phone, and up popped a reminder to send my contribution to Writing in Ice . Michael had asked for an account of what it’s like to be an actor in Iceland, and how my experience in the theatre might have influenced my writing. The reminder couldn’t have been better timed, as it’s when I read out loud that I get such a feeling for every single character I have created. I sense so clearly each one’s peculiarities and what went into moulding these personalities.  I put a great deal of emphasis into creating characters, and in doing this I dig deep into my theatrical training. I’ve sometimes described this as having to search for the p

The Prettiest Volcano

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During 2021, Reykjavik was entertained by a small, pretty volcano at Fagradalsfjall, between the capital and Keflavík international airport. It tossed fire safely into the sky like an overgrown firework, grew a new little mountain and spilled black spongeous lava down a mountainside (see photo above taken by Lee-Anne Fox). It should have been tourist gold, but COVID-related lockdowns made it difficult to reach. I managed to get there in June of 2021. At that stage, the eruption had calmed down, and sadly the day I visited, the new volcano was covered in cloud. I did manage to hike to the foot of the lava flow: black foamy rock in the process of freezing, with red glowing through its cracks, and sulphurous smoke leaking out. The volcano took a little nap and then reawakened in August 2022 at the nearby Meradalir. Once again, Icelanders and hardy tourists were entertained by spumes of bright red lava. This time, it was a five-hour round-trip hike from the road to see the eruption.

The Holy Mountain: Guest Post by Nancy Brown post

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Time for another guest post. This one is from American author and horsewoman Nancy Marie Brown . When I wrote a recent post on elves in Iceland, Nancy’s publishers sent me a copy of her upcoming book Looking for the Hidden Folk . Like me, Nancy has fallen in love with Iceland, and also like me she has quite a hard-headed, sceptical view of superstition. A rational person might ask how can so many people in a modern well-educated society like Iceland entertain the concept of hidden people or elves? This book is her answer, and it’s fascinating. It’s also a wonderful evocation of Iceland, its people and its countryside. Here is an excerpt, about an early visit to Helgafell, Iceland’s “Holy Mountain”, very close to where my detective Magnus’s grandfather’s farm at Bjarnarhöfn. I was a graduate student in medieval literature when I first went to Iceland in 1986. I wanted to see the farm of Helgafell, site of the Icelandic saga Eyrbyggja—a saga Michael Ridpath, my host on this blog, u

Two More Volcanoes: Two Towns Half Buried

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  As you fly towards Iceland from Europe, or as you drive along the Ring Road from Reykjavík to Vík, you see a group of cubic islands, which look like poker dice tossed into the sea by some gambling troll.  These are the Westman Islands, and they contain two volcanoes of note. One is the island of Surtsey, which is the westernmost die. This thrust itself out of the sea to form an island in 1963 in a spectacular eruption that lasted four years.  The island covered one square mile right after the eruption finished, but has already halved in size with erosion. Scientists are trying to keep the island pristine to study how life takes hold on a brand-new chunk of land, but according to the Christian Science Monitor an ‘improperly handled human defecation event’ resulted in a tomato sprouting on the island. It has been removed. Heimaey The other volcano takes up half of the biggest Westman Island, Heimaey. The other half is taken up by quite a large fishing port, with a population of about f