Showing posts from November, 2020

Gap years raiding and trading: Iceland's history 874-1264

Before there were people in Iceland, there were trees.  Really.  In the ninth century the whole country was covered with trees, and there wasn’t a soul to cut them down.   Discovery        There are hints that Irish monks may have inhabited Iceland during the early ninth century, and a couple of wayward Vikings sailors stumbled across the island while lost, but the first Viking that we know of who sailed there deliberately was a man called Flóki.  He took three ravens with him to help him find Iceland.  He let them loose.  The first two returned to the ship, but the third flew straight off over the horizon.  Flóki followed it and made landfall.    At first Flóki was dismayed by the cold.  He climbed to the top of a mountain and looking out at drift ice choking the island’s fjords, so he decided to call the country ‘Iceland’.  He returned to Norway disappointed, although one of his mates claimed that in spring butter dripped from every blade of grass.  This optimist was henceforth known

Where's the ice? Background reading on Iceland

  I began to read.  At this stage I was just trying to get a general idea of the country, its society and its people.  Wide was good; serendipity ruled.  I had done this before: I had set books in Brazil and South Africa, and Iceland is much smaller than those two countries, and therefore less daunting. Books  The first book I picked up was  Dreaming of Iceland  by  Sally Magnusson , a charming description of a one-week holiday the author took with her famous father Magnus back to his homeland.    Then I read  Ring of Seasons , by Terry Lacy, an American who has lived in Iceland for many years and  The Killer’s Guide to Iceland  by Zane Radcliffe, an excellent novel about an Englishman visiting the country and getting himself into deep trouble.  Radcliffe has a way with food similes: lava-like digestive biscuits, glaciers like icing on a cake.  It sounds corny, but it’s actually rather good.   I assumed that there were no crime writers of note in Iceland, which was unforgivably naïve. 

The problem: an author in search of a book

In the Autumn of 2007 I had a problem. I hoped – I prayed – that Iceland was the solution. Every successful author has a moment of good fortune. For me, it was right at the very beginning of my career. In 1993 Carole Blake, the ‘Blake’ of the Blake Friedmann Literary Agency, fell while on holiday in the South of France and broke her leg. I was working in the City at the time, as a bond trader. I had decided to write a novel, a thriller. On the strength of the excellent advice to write what you know, I wrote a thriller about a bond trader. It was called Free To Trade . After years of writing and rewriting, I bought a pretty box with flowers on it from the department store John Lewis, printed off the manuscript, put the manuscript into the box and sent it off to agents. Actually, I initially sent them the first two chapters plus the synopsis. All agents and publishers have a ‘slush pile’. Nowadays, it is a virtual pile of zeroes and noughts stored in servers around the world; then