Too Much to Write: Guest Blog from Jónína Leósdóttir

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 the news. What this meant for me was: Goodbye quality time, goodbye social life, hello computer, my old friend. Yes, I had plenty of time to write books and, admittedly, that was a slight bonus, as I absolutely love my job. (OK, I’ll own up: I’m a hopeless workaholic who writes one book per year.) But in 2009 I discovered that you really can have too much of a good thing.

I also had to take on some roles that I wasn’t prepared for or particularly suited for. Strangers started stopping me in the street or at the supermarket and even phoning me up to discuss economic policies and the best ways to stop a country becoming bankrupt. Yet, I am a simple book person with A-level Latin and a degree in English and Literature. And, at college, I opted out of anything to do with figures as soon as I possibly could. I couldn’t run a lemonade stall, let alone a country, in good times or bad.

But, of course, all those amateur economists, who were so keen to tell me about new and wondrous ways to save our country’s economy, didn’t really want to discuss their brilliant theories with little old me. What they wanted, was for me to relay it all to the PM, so that she could wave a magic wand, and all would be well again.

Naturally, I tried to be polite to all those well-meaning people, whether at the cheese counter or on the phone. Sometimes, I even took notes to be able to pass the messages on, but when it came to attempting that, I invariably messed it up.

I was much better at another role that I had to take on because of my spouse’s new job and busy schedule. Overnight, I became a stylist, without any qualifications except my mother’s genes. (My mom was a natural-born stylist.)

As we have already established, my better half didn’t have time for anything other than her job. Therefore, there was no way she could go clothes shopping, any more than she could come with me to the theatre etc. But she needed clothes and accessories. A Prime Minister, at a time of crisis, is in constant demand for media interviews, and a female PM can’t turn up in the same outfit and earrings for weeks on end. (Although Liz Truss might disagree.) So, what could be done? Enter, the multitasking wife/writer/cleaner/cook/sympathetic listener to economic magic solutions … now turned stylist, too.

I contacted the managers of a few clothes stores and shops that sold accessories, and they lent me stuff to take home for my wife to try on. That made things easier for her and turned out to be surprisingly enjoyable for me. I had loved dressing my dolls when I was a girl, and now I could play a grown-up version of that game with a full-scale “model”.

Amazingly, this worked out so well that no longer did I only get unsolicited phone calls about economics. People (well, women) also contacted me for information on the PM’s outfits.

Sometimes, however, it was a bit depressing to get a call, right after an important television debate or interview and be asked about the make and number of the PM’s lipstick.

Just in case you are wondering if the shops gave me the clothes etc. free of charge, I must disappoint you. There were no Hollywood-red-carpet-deals involved. Everything was paid for in full. And, naturally, no glamorous shopping bags for me. You don’t need fancy clothes when you sit around writing all day.

I think, in all honesty, that my brief period as a stylist was the only part of being married to a Prime Minister that I enjoyed.

My wife’s taking on that role not only put her under enormous pressure, due to the state of Iceland’s economy, it also put our private life in the spotlight. Before, we had led a rather quiet existence, mostly just working and spending our spare time with our nine grandchildren. Then suddenly we were getting requests for interviews (as a couple) from around the globe. That was both surreal and uncomfortable, but, of course, we understood the media’s interest in the first out LGBT+ leader in the world. And we knew that it was important to stand up and be counted. But dealing with the economic crisis didn’t allow Iceland’s PM time to also become a worldwide LGBT+ poster girl.

However, as soon as she retired from politics in 2013, having brought Iceland’s economy back from the brink, we published a book about our relationship. The book, called Við Jóhanna (Jóhanna and I), was her idea, but, as I was the writer in the family, I penned it.

In the book, I describe our turbulent 15 years in the closet, the long-awaited moment when we finally set up home together in 2000 … and how the global media came knocking on our door in 2009. And for a few years after publishing that book, we travelled to several countries to speak at LGBT+ events.

That is all behind us now. My wife has retired and enjoys life with no official engagements or demands. And I can concentrate properly on my writing, which has become even more exciting since I “turned to crime” a few years ago. My 20th book – and 7th crime novel – has just been published in Iceland – and now I also have a crime novel in English, Deceit, translated by Quentin Bates.

I couldn’t ask for anything more and certainly wouldn’t want to turn back the clock to those hectic days of 2009-2013.

Deceit, the first of Jónína's novels to be translated into English, came out recently, published by Corylus BooksThe interplay between the sleuthing partnership – a fussy English psychologist and his ex-wife ‘The Bulldozer’ Soffía – is both an absolute joy and very perceptive.  The translators are the ever-reliable Quentin Bates and Sylvía Bates.


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