Posts

Elves

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  What about the elves? I had written two full-length novels set in Iceland, and it was becoming clear that there was a question I could no longer dodge. What was I going to do about the elves? I have related how I first heard about them, from Helga at that dinner during my book tour to Reykjavík . Naturally, I was intrigued, and when I met Icelanders in London during my initial research, I would casually ask them about the elves, or the ‘hidden people’ as they are often known. They always took my question seriously. One woman told me that her name had been chosen by a hidden woman, who had whispered it to her grandmother when she was born. You can see from the preceding posts that elves, ghosts and trolls are important in Iceland, even today. My editor was keen that I should include superstition and myth in my books. So I needed to write about elves. The Icelandic Embassy I made an appointment to see Gudjón, a senior diplomat at the Icelandic embassy , and his colleague Ágústa. They

New Magnus crime novel out: Death in Dalvik

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  My new Magnus novel is published! It's called Death in Dalvik and is number 6 in the series after The Wanderer . When sixteen-year-old Dísa is given five bitcoin by her divorced father she is unimpressed: she hasn’t heard of the cryptocurrency, and five of anything can’t be worth very much. But a year later, when her grandparents are about to lose the farm near the Icelandic village of Dalvik where their family has lived for centuries, quiet, unassuming Dísa is able to rescue it with the profits from her astute trading of her father's gift. Unknown to Dísa, her mother Helga catches the cryptocurrency bug. Not only does Helga invest in Thomocoin, a new cryptocurrency sweeping Iceland, but she persuades many of her neighbours in Dalvík to invest too, taking a cut for herself. Helga is found murdered on the hillside above the farm and Inspector Magnus Jonson investigates. Magnus realizes that Dísa, now a nineteen-year-old student, can help him unveil the shadowy forces behin

Favourite Places – The Berserkjagata

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  The Berserkjagata is signposted, but it’s hard to locate. As you descend from the pass, you turn left on the main road from Stykkishólmur to Grundarfjördur, the D54, and after a short distance turn right, following a sign to Bjarnarhöfn. After about a kilometre driving through the Berserkjahraun, the road forks. You take the right fork and park on the road just at the edge of the lava field, where the road comes closest to the shore.  Look out for a tiny wooden signpost to the Berserkjagata, but even now it is hard to find. Walk across the grass to the lava and you will find a narrow path cut into the rock. This is the Berserkjagata, the ‘Berserkers’ Street’, a path from Hraun to Bjarnarhöfn cut through the rocks by the two berserkers a thousand years ago. Follow it. In a few moments, you will find yourself out of sight of the road, alone in a sea of stone. By now you will be familiar with Iceland’s lava fields, but this is a great one to walk through. The lava rears up in agonized

The north coast of Snaefellsnes: rugged beauty

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  I explored the north coast of Snaefellsnes, researching the location for my second novel. Stykkishólmur Stykkishólmur is the largest community on the peninsula. A natural harbour is formed by a seabird-strewn island at the mouth of a cove. The harbour is full of fishing boats and a ferry to the West Fjords, on the other side of Breidafjördur.  I dropped in at the local police station to talk to the region’s chief constable and the deputy magistrate, and then went to meet Ásta, an Icelander living in Surrey, who spends her summers in Stykkishólmur working in a hotel there. She told me a little about her childhood in the town. She was terrified of the Kerlingin troll. Until recently much of the town was owned by a Franciscan convent, including the regional hospital of St Francis, which is the biggest building in town. Ásta remembered the French and Belgian nuns, who spoke poor Icelandic, conducting their services in Latin with incense; they seemed to Ásta incredibly exotic. I wondered

The holy mountain and Bjorn's harbour

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  On my search for mythic Snefellsnes, I drove through the Berserkjahraun lava field to Bjarnarhöfn, Björn's Harbour. Bjarnarhöfn I had tentatively decided that this would be Magnus's grandfather Hallgrímur’s farm. I could have invented a farm; perhaps I should have done. Bad things happen in my books at Bjarnarhöfn, and real farmers live there and have lived there in the past. But I much prefer to write about a real place. It’s not just for the sake of the book; it is for my sake when I am writing it. Bjarnarhöfn is seared into my brain; when I am writing a scene set there, I feel that I am actually at that beautiful spot by the fjord. And it is a beautiful spot. It is a large working farm cut off from the rest of Snaefellsnes by mountain, sea and lava. To the east is the Berserkjahraun lava field, to the south, a massive, steep mountain rears up, and to the north and west lies the fjord.  A tiny wooden chapel stands in a meadow between the farm buildings and the sea.  See the

Driving north: wind, fjords and twisted rock

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  I had identified Snaefellsnes as a likely location for some mythic background for my second novel, so I needed to check it out. I jumped on a flight to Iceland, hired a car, and drove north. I passed by Reykjavík and turned on to the Ring Road. This is Iceland’s main road, and it is well maintained. It circumnavigates the island, a distance of about 1,300 kilometres. I haven’t yet driven the whole distance, but I am determined to do it one day. North from Reykjavík the road ducks through the tunnel under deep Hvalfjördur, then emerges and follows the fjord inland for a few kilometres, rounding a mountain on the inland side, and then emerging on one of the most windswept stretches of road in Iceland.  Borgarnes The road is raised and follows a curve with the sea and the flat islands of Borgarfjördur on one side and a high smooth-sloped fell on the other. Gusts of wind are so strong here that cars can be blown off the road. I kept both hands tight on the wheel, and although I could fe

Snaefellsnes: in search of myth and superstition

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  I wrote my story about my demonstrators in the Parliament Square, and their plans to take justice into their own hands. I called it 66 Degrees North , which is the latitude upon which Iceland sits. It’s also the name of an Icelandic clothing company   I checked and they were quite happy to have their brand as the title of the book.  Unfortunately, my US publishers decided that Americans wouldn’t understand the concept of latitude, and so the book is called Far North in America. This is inconvenient for everyone: in an age of social media which transcends boundaries, I live in fear that some of my American readers will buy the same book twice. And, as far as I can tell, Americans do understand the concept of latitude. We need some myth I sent the book to Nic, my editor at Corvus. He liked the story. But he said it should include some of the myth and superstition that infused my first book, Where the Shadows Lie . Very occasionally editors try to make you do things that make no sense