Iceland Noir began in 2013, founded by Icelandic writers Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and Ragnar Jónasson. The team today includes Óskar Guðmundsson, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Kristjan Atli Ragnarsson and probably many more that I didn’t have a chance to meet. If you haven’t heard of these authors, you’re missing out, so be sure to check out their books.
I first heard about this crime writing festival in 2015 and I was fascinated. I knew if there was any way possible, I wanted to attend.
This year, the conference had the biggest press-team ever with journalists from the Sunday Times, The Telegraph, ITV, LBC, RÚV, DV, Fréttablaðið, GayIceland, Mannlíf and Vikan, plus bloggers and freelancers from Crime by the book, the House of Crime and Mystery, the Killing Times and travellingbookjunkie.
I’m a huge fan of Nordic Noir of all sorts and had become very interested in Icelandic writers after discovering Arnaldur Indridason at my library and caught the series Trapped on Netflix. I was delighted to meet Dr. Noir, aka Dr. Jacky Collins of Newcastle Noir, a passionate supporter of crime fiction. Even the first lady of Iceland, Elísa Reid, and the founding director of Iceland Writers Retreat and the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, both crime fiction aficionados, participated in the conference. I even had a chance to say hello to Martin Edwards often seen at Malice Domestic and many other attendees. For a full list of authors, click here.
This year, the festival was held on November 16th and 17th at the lovely Iðnó theatre at Vonarstræti 3, Reykjavik, by a pond filled with ducks and swans.
I was thrilled to be included on a panel exploring the supernatural – ghosts, trolls, elves and things that go bump in the night – with authors William Ryan, James Oswald and Michael J. Malone. David Headley of DHH Literary Agency and Goldsboro Books was our moderator.
Icelanders are unashamedly mystical. They truly believe in elves and trolls and the hidden folk (Huldufolk). And let’s not forget ghosts. it’s a terribly important subject even for locals who admit they’ve never seen an elf. I chatted with a tour bus driver who told me, very seriously, that his grandmother could speak to the elves. In Iceland, if a large rock is in the way of a building project or a new road, it must not be moved or disturbed until an elven translator is called in to communicate. This is serious stuff! If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a very informative YouTube video about the hidden people.
The panels started at 9:00 a.m. on the first day and continued till 7:00 p.m. By the way, did you know it’s still dark as night at 9:00 a.m.? My hotel was a few blocks away and braving the dark, the wind and the cold, I sat through as many panels as I could. On Saturday evening, everyone was invited to a showing of I Remember You, a film based on the book of the same title by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. I hope it reaches the U.S. soon because it’s one of the best supernatural thrillers I’ve ever seen. The actors were brilliant and the production values were excellent. After the film, the festival continued with a ‘Drunken Authors Panel’ and a live band. I wouldn’t have missed this conference for the world!
Needless to say, I did all the touristy things too. The Golden Circle tour led to a field of active geysers and the Strokkur geyser at Geysir Hot Springs that erupts every five to eight minutes. We crossed the rift valley between the North American plate and the Eurasian plate on the surface of the land, which is constantly moving and slowly making Iceland grow larger by an inch or more a year. Then the tour moved on to the gorgeous Gullfoss waterfall. Certainly not the biggest waterfall in Iceland , but it’s considered to be the most beautiful.
I was hoping to check out the Icelandic Museum of Sorcery and Witchcraft, especially in light of the panel I had taken part in, but time did not permit. It’s located in the town of Holmavik in the Westfjords of Iceland and a little too far for me to travel on this trip. The museum is curated by a sorcerer and If you’re really curious, you can read more here. Fascinating and creepy! There’s even more about Viking magic in this interview with the sorcerer himself at his cottage in Bjarnarfjörður.
Of course, I signed up for the Hop On-Hop Off bus tour of Reykjavik which was very informative, but I think my favorite pastime was taking pictures of the charming Christmas shops and Nordic style homes.
I visited the Hallgrímskirkja Lutheran cathedral in Reykjavík. At 74.5 metres high at the top of a hill overlooking the city, its architecture echoes the basalt columns of the island. In the 10th century, Icelanders worshipped the old pagan gods of their ancestors. But later, conversion to Christianity was a matter of law after a compromise between the Christian and heathen chieftains around 999 or 1,000. Unlike the U.S., there is no separation of church and state in Iceland, although there are ongoing debates about changing this. But there are even more changes in the wind. The old Norse pagan religion is still alive and a new Odinst temple is being erected for the first time in 1,000 years.
The northern lights were at the top of my list but sadly my tour had no luck that night. The bus took about thirty of us out to a vacant field near the town of Akranes to wait in the cold. It was a crystal clear night, with clouds low on the horizon, far away from light pollution. We waited till midnight but only saw a slight glimmer. Our tour guide’s hopes were high, but the sun’s protons or electrons were not cooperating. Reykjavik Excursions generously offered a free tour for the following night, but I had other plans and couldn’t make it. I later learned from other tourists they had a great experience on a boat tour out to sea, where the northern lights cooperated. Sigh . . . maybe someday I’ll see them.
The best tour of all was the Blue Lagoon. There are other less expensive thermal spas, but the Blue Lagoon is very impressive. For the basic admission, you receive flip-flops, a comfy robe and a towel. This also includes a silica face mask and a free drink from the bar in the pool. A wrist bracelet with a scanner was attached to my wrist in case I wanted to purchase different face masks or drinks that were not included. A shower in the nude is the first step, then donning my bathing suit, I ventured out to a very cold meeting room and finally to the outdoors.
It was quite cold but utterly beautiful. A huge baby blue lagoon among black lava rocks with mist rising everywhere. I hung my robe on a rack and ran down the ramp into the water as fast as I could. Two hours later, I climbed out, feeling as though I was embarking on a planet with much greater gravity than our earth. My hair was super shiny from the silica and my muscles felt wonderful.
Oh, and last but not least, I visited the Phallological Museum. (Dr. Noir had graciously given me a free ticket.) The “Penis Museum” was started by Sigurður Hjartarson, a retired teacher, who began a life-long search for peni and research into all sorts of animal and sea creatures. When Mr. Hjartarson’s collection became too big for his living room, his wife put her foot down and insisted the collection had to go, so he set up his first museum in a small Icelandic town. Later with the help of his son, the museum moved to a location in Reykjavik.
The museum claims that its collection includes the penises of elves and trolls, though, as Icelandic folklore portrays such creatures as being invisible, they cannot be seen. There are even lampshades made from the scrotums of bulls. The museum’s quest now is to obtain a human penis and believe it or not, one or two men have volunteered.
I was able to cover a lot of ground on foot and there was no lack of restaurants of all types – Arabic, Vietnamese, French, Italian, not to mention Icelandic. But I have to say after what I’ve heard, I didn’t want to actually try fermented shark. Would I visit Iceland again? Yes, in a heartbeat. The landscape is absolutely awesome and there is so much more to see there.
My trip may have been a once in a lifetime journey, but I do hope I can return someday and continue to explore this fascinating island at 66 degrees north latitude.