A great weekend for Icelandic crime fiction by Quentin Bates

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I’m recovering after three tumultuous days at Crimefest in Bristol. What began as something fairly modest a few years ago has become one of the fixtures of the crime fiction calendar in Britain. The Marriott hotel fills up with a joyous bunch of writers, critics, bloggers, publishers, agents, publicists, and most important of all, crime fiction readers, those wonderful people who come to listen to us pontificate on panels and help prop up the bar afterwards.

At this kind of convention it would be easy to run yourself ragged, rushing from one panel to the next with just time to snatch a hasty sandwich in between, but the trick is to pace yourself. Pick the panels you really want to listen to and drop in on a few others that look like they might be interesting. Don’t stick slavishly to the writers you know – take the opportunity to check out new names as well. Anyone who speaks well and has interesting opinions is more than likely to be entertaining in print as well.

This time I was asked to moderate a panel, a Nordic-themed wet, dark and windy panel of Clare Carson, Kati Hiekkapelto, Craig Robertson and Nordic crime fiction royalty Gunnar Staalesen. Nobody threw any bottles, I managed to not run out of questions and so it must have been all right.


The wet and windy North Atlantic crime panel, Kati Hiekkapelto, Craig Robertson, Gunnar Staalesen and Clare Carson

The following day was a more measured panel, writing the other, chaired by Alison Joseph, with Aly Monroe, MR Hall, Kate Ellis and me. Interesting stuff, as we all write characters who are so different from ourselves in terms of gender, colour or background.

The high point of Crimefest was Maj Sjöwall interviewed by Lee Child. There was something of a crush to get in, a rush for the best seats and a standing ovation as she entered the room. May Sjöwall and her husband Per Wahlöö wrote ten ground-breaking police procedurals in the 1960s and 70s that many of us believe haven’t been bettered in the intervening years and it was fascinating to listen to her explaining how the series came about – they wanted to make a serious political point about Sweden’s drift to the political right and the militarisation of the police, but were determined to do so in a format that was entertaining.

She spoke to a hushed room, slowly, choosing her words precisely in careful English, and even cracked a few wry jokes.

To his credit, when discussing the cultural changes taking place in Sweden in the 1950 and 60s, Lee Child had the excellent good grace to apologise for Cliff Richard having been exported to Sweden along with rock ’n roll.


Lee Child interviews Maj Sjöwall. That’s Ali Karim filming from the floor at their feet.

It was also a fantastic weekend for Icelandic crime fiction, my own personal stamping ground.

The Petrona Award for Nordic crime fiction in translation, named in honour of outstandingly astute critic Maxine Clarke who blogged as Petrona until her untimely death, is awarded at Crimefest.

This year authors from Finland, Norway and Iceland were on the shortlist.

In the bar before the awards, one of the hopefuls, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, was so positive that she wouldn’t be the lucky winner that she hadn’t even bothered with an acceptance speech. So, obviously, she won for her novel the Silence of the Sea, translated into English by Victoria Cribb.


Judges Sarah Ward and Kat Hall, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, Maj Sjöwall, and judges Barry Forshaw and Karen Meek (pic borrowed from www.petronaaward.co.uk)

To add to the glee, Ragnar Jónasson’s debut novel Snowblind was one of Amazon’s Kindle daily deals the same day, and by midnight had climbed to the number one spot, to our amazement. It’s still there in the top spot as I’m writing this. As Snowblind’s translator, I can’t be anything but delighted that Icelandic crime fiction, which has in the past often struggled to make its way in English translation, was able to have such a fantastic weekend in Bristol. Long may it last…


A great night for Icelandic crime fiction – Snowblind hits the number 1 spot on Kindle

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