May 31, 2010

Top of the World, Ma!

by 

IcelandAlthough Iceland seems like it should be far, far away, it actually took me more time to get from Oklahoma City to Boston (my jumping off point), than from Boston to Reykjavik. A nation slightly smaller than Kentucky, but with only 306,694 people, Iceland most recently made the news for the horrific breakdown of the banking system there.

The woman at the currency exchange in Logan airport said she hadn’t stocked the Icelandic kronur for many months, and high-rise construction projects along the shore in Reykjavik showed no sign of ongoing work, but other than that, life seemed to be continuing without too much distress. Most of the Americans on the plane with me were taking advantage of Icelandair’s low fares to connect  on to London without leaving the airport at Keflavik. This was too bad. They were missing out on one of the most interesting places on the planet.

IcelandMy first surprise was the landscape. I expected the island to be desolate, which it certainly is outside of Reykjavik, but I was shocked how familiar it looked. Last March, I attended Left Coast Crime on the Big Island of Hawai’i and was surprised by the desolation of the western side. The cliché image of Hawai’i is verdant lushness, but the volcanic areas are surprisingly desert-like. Along the route from the airport, Iceland has a similar look, intermittently interrupted by cones that look like a kid’s science fair volcano. Curiously, however, Iceland looked much greener than Hawai’i because of the moss. The Gulf Stream makes the climate much milder than one would expect at that latitude, though the winds are stiff. Ævar Örn Josepsson, our host, warned us that umbrellas were useless against Icelandic wind, which pops them, and the rain, which moves horizontally. Trees are scarce and stunted. “How do you find your way out of an Icelandic forest?” several locals asked. “Stand up,” they said. Without much wood or other local materials for building, many buildings use corrugated steel as siding, (the kind of sheets one often sees on barn roofs), painted in bright colors.

IcelandIACW/AIEP was meeting concurrently with the Scandinavian Crime Writers, which gave out its Glass Key award for the best crime novel of the year and also with a conference called the Nordic Crime Wave. The Glass Key pits the best novels of Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and Iceland against each other, despite the fact that the Icelandic and Finnish novels have to be translated to be read by the judges from the other countries. Finnish, of course, is in an entirely different language family, more akin to Hungarian, and the notoriously difficult Icelandic has not evolved along with Swedish, Danish, and Norwegian, remaining ancient enough for Icelanders to read their medieval Eddas without much difficulty. This year’s Glass Key went to Swedish author Johann Theorin. The popularity of Nordic, particularly Swedish crime writing, was the primary frequent item for discussion. Is Henning Mankell pulling his compatriots in his wake? Is something about Nordic culture particularly applicable to crime writing? Do Nordic writers find the crime novel to be the genre that most fits their world view? These questions are particularly interesting in light of the fact that crime is a much smaller problem in these five countries than it is elsewhere. AIEP was treated to a lecture on Icelandic crime. To have five murders in a year up there is a murder fest, and in two years of the 21st century there were none. If you steal a car, the police should find you in a couple of weeks. Most of the crime that does occur is alcohol-fueled petty thievery. All of this leads you to wonder why there are over 50 crime writers in the Icelandic branch. Oh, well, there aren’t many vampires in America, but look at our book shelves.

IcelandOne particularly enjoyable evening was spent at Gunnarshús, the former home of author Gunnar Gunnarson, now the headquarters of the Writers’ Union. AIEP members from Japan, China, Bulgaria, and most of the nations of western Europe mingled, ate lasagna, and sampled a variety of duty-free beverages, some of which might have melted the fuel line of a Tata Nano. One local spirit is nicknamed “the Black Death.” Talk went far into the night, but of course the sun never sets at that time of year. At 2 am, you think it’s getting darker, but at 2:30 it is getting lighter again. This puts a weird spin on jet lag, but necessity is a mother—Icelandic curtains and the down comforters on the hotel beds are photon impenetrable.

What else? During an authentic Icelandic lunch, a financial journalist explained the bank collapse in terms even I could understand, and our farewell banquet featured an international crime writing quiz about everything from Precious Ramotswe to Natsuo Kirino. On the final Sunday, Ævar provided a bus for sightseeing outside of Reykjavik, and AIEP was treated to the Blue Lagoon (a swimming hole warmed by the volcanoes) and the Thingvellir, the site of the world’s first parliament.

IcelandMixed in with all these enjoyable activities, AIEP held its business meetings, enjoying reports from the branches and discussing several topics. Next year we will meet in Norman, Oklahoma, June 3-6, hosted by the University of Oklahoma’s Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication. In 2011, we will meet in Zurich, and the possibilities were raised that in 2012 our congress will be held in either Tokyo or in the United Kingdom. Our web site is under revision by Roland van Wanrooy of Belgium and should replace the old site soon.  Bob Cornwell updated us on the Crimetime project which should become an invaluable resource on international crime writing. He also, by the way, moderated an excellent panel of the Glass Key contenders. There was discussion about the absence of our friends from Latin America, with the hope that Oklahoma will be a good choice for their attendance. Given the horrid state of the world economy, our business meetings ended with a general discussion of the state of publishing around the world. Jerry Healy gave a detailed description of the Google settlement pursued by the Author’s Guild. Janet Laurence presented her interesting research on the state of translation and its possibilities in the uncertain environment created by financial pressures and the manic dance of technology.

IcelandThanks to Ævar (who is tired of being thanked, but deserves more), the Iceland meeting gave us all of the best that AIEP can offer—serious discussion of pressing issues, old and new friends, convivial social events, and the sense that our differences as crime writers are also our bonds.

Jim Madison Davis

Prof. Jim Madison Davis is the author of several crime novels and several nonfiction books, including the forthcoming Van Gogh Conspiracy. A President Worldwide of the International Association of Crime Writers, he teaches novel and filmscript writing in the Professional Writing Program of the Gaylord College of Journalism & Mass Communication at the University of Oklahoma.

Website: www.ou.edu/content/gaylord/people/j__madison_davis.html

Authors

  • Charles den Tex (Australië, 1952) studeerde fotografie en film in Londen, doceerde Engels in Parijs,…
  • In 1988 publiceerde Chris Rippen (Haarlem, 1940) zijn eersteling Sporen en maakte als auteur van…
  • Eva Waiblinger, MSc, PhD (Dr. sc. nat.), is a Swiss zoologist and science journalist as…
  • Prof. Jim Madison Davis is the author of several crime novels and several nonfiction books,…
  • José Latour was born in Havana, Cuba, on April 24, 1940. He started reading at…
  • Jutta Motz wurde in Halle an der Saale geboren und ging in Frankfurt am Main…
  • Kriminalromansekundärliteraturexperte mit einer Vorliebe für lange Wörter, die es nur im Deutschen gibt. Hat Österreichs…
  • Sabina Naber arbeitete nach ihrem Studium in Wien u.a. als Regisseurin, Journalistin und Drehbuchautorin. 2002…
  • Sandra Balzo turned to mystery writing after twenty years in corporate public relations, event management…

Resources

logo.nownovel

While there are some excellent books on writing, the web is also filled with terrific sites on the topic. Now Novel has made an extensive list of the very best writing websites, and they’re organised for you by subject and genre.