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

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 person inside myself, the touch of their skin and their inner thoughts... To be truthful, sometimes I play the characters I’m creating, acting out conversations and improvising short scenes to work out for myself whether the characters and the interplay between them work out. That’s how I bring the theatre into my writing.

I started writing late in life. Looking back, it seems that everything I had done up to writing my first book had been preparation for the work of a writer. As a child and a young teenager, I was a huge reader but from the age of fifteen, acting captivated me. Every weekend and one evening each week were spent with around thirty other youngsters taking part in theatre courses with some of Iceland’s best-known actors, and at nineteen I completed a three-week induction test and was subsequently accepted by the Icelandic College of Theatre Arts (now the Iceland University of the Arts), and studied there for the following four years.

After all the effort that had gone into fulfilling my dream, I wasn’t a full-time actor for long. I played some roles at the National Theatre, others with independent theatre groups and some on television and radio. But after ten years and three children, I took a conscious decision to leave acting behind. I turned down some offers, as by then I’d had enough of financial insecurity, irregular working hours and not least because I had become aware that my passion for being on the stage had faded. 

I went to university, and graduated after studying literature and training as a teacher. I taught at a school for students of eighteen and over who struggled due to illness, emotional difficulties or social problems.

Alongside teaching, I took on cultural work and was active in local politics.

The following seventeen years flew by and my salary appeared punctually in my bank account on the first of every month. These were good times, and no less important a way of building up the experience bank than the theatre years had been. I had learned a great deal in my student years at university, but guiding people, helping them build themselves up and break out of vicious circles of tough circumstances taught me so much more about the diversity of everyday lives and personalities than any classroom training had. Literature and theatre show us the way into new worlds and if they do their job well, they broaden our horizons. But the years spent with my students in educational rehabilitation taught me most of all. This was where I gained a real understanding of how diverse life can be, and knowledge that I frequently call on in writing.

But why start to write books? Well, a few years after retiring from acting, I had a call offering me a small part in a popular TV serial. I was surprised, as it was so long since I had left acting, and quickly replied ‘no thanks, not interested!’

My family didn’t have words to describe how crazy I had been to turn down such an offer and after some discussion, I called the casting director and said I’d like to change my mind. To cut a long story short, filming The Day Shift (one of the Night Shift, Day Shift and Prison Shift series that have achieved cult status) was great fun and it was enjoyable to act again. Since then I have played roles in some television dramas and advertisements, two or three a year, and some years none at all. I have no desire to go back to being a working actor, but it’s always fun to drop back into that world now and again, without needing to do so. The theatre is a branch of the arts in which you do nothing alone, and are constantly subject to the decisions of others. That doesn’t suit my personality.

What happened was that my natural need to create, to be an artist, had been re-ignited. I enjoyed performing for the cameras and dropping back into the world of performance, but found that the passion for this art was no longer there, so instead of taking the opportunity to return to acting, I started to write.

I took a course in creative writing, and the teacher, a well-known writer who passed away long before his time, encouraged me to use my improvisation skills in my writing and to take the plunge into creation. This was where I found the passion once again, and haven’t stopped. It’s now around ten years since my first book was published. 

Altogether, I have written six crime novels and one book based my childhood memories. I grew up with and around people who had a gift for narrative. I was told tales and even a mundane coffee break could become a wonderful storytelling session. Stories are constantly being told in the theatre, as they are in the classroom as the teacher tries to engage students with narrative, and that’s what this is all about. It’s having something to say and telling a story well. That’s where my passion lies.

Three of Solveig’s novels have been translated into English: The Fox, Silenced and now Harm, all translated by Quentin Bates. They are published by Corylus Books, a small British publisher that has done an excellent job bringing Icelandic crime writers to English-speaking crime readers.

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