Iceland Noir, take two by Quentin Bates

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I was going to write a roundup of Iceland Noir a few weeks ago, and then other stuff that I really needed to pontificate about got in the way. So here it is.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, replete with curry, beer and good company. Iceland has had literary festivals often enough that tend to be highbrow affairs, but no crime fiction festival.

Ragnar Jónasson, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and I had talked about the lack of a crime fiction gathering in Iceland a couple of times. As it seemed that nobody else was going to do it, we decided to organise our own. It couldn’t be that difficult, surely?

To be fair, it wasn’t a struggle to float the idea to start with, although with typical Icelandic optimism we left ourselves less than half a year to get it off the ground.

‘A crime festival in Reykjavík?’ People said as we told them what we were planning. ‘Great idea. Next year?’

‘Erm… No, this year,’ we said and we saw people’s eyebrows disappear upwards.

It was Ann Cleeves who made it happen. We asked her if she’d come to Iceland in November 2013 for a one-day crime festival and she said yes, no hesitation. If she hadn’t been so positive straight away, then it might have waited until this year after all.

Ragnar did much of the heavy lifting, organising Reykjavík’s Nordic House as the venue, and from that point onwards, there was no turning back. A bunch of other events sprang up around what we decided to call Iceland Noir. Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir of the City Library organised a crime walk through Reykjavík in the footsteps of detective Erlendur. The Icelandic Crime Syndicate held its annual reading evening to coincide with Iceland Noir. We added an extra Sunday evening session on top of the all-day Saturday event.

There was plenty of support and a lot of encouragement. The plan was to keep it small and friendly – and low cost. We weren’t looking for a big event, more a small, friendly day – which is what it turned out to be.

Now we know what a headache it can be organising panels for a convention. With authors and other interested parties signing up to take part, the process of placing people on suitable panels became a jigsaw in several dimensions, and eventually we had to start saying no, sorry, it’s full up. The same with the readers, those fine people who wanted to spend a day listening to us blathering. The size of the Nordic House meant that the number of seats was limited, so while entrance stayed free, we asked people to register in advance.

A few people had registered and then didn’t show up, which was galling as each of those seats could have gone to someone else. But that’s part of the learning process and while we had all been to crime fiction conventions before, this was a first stab at organising one.

Anyhow, it all worked out well. Of course there were a few headaches along the way, but nothing to lose too much sleep over. My own single biggest worry was moderating a panel for the first time. Fortunately the timekeeper tapped her watch just as I was about to run out of questions.

I had expected our star writer Arnaldur Indriðason to be deadly serious, he turned out to be an engagingly witty speaker with a subtle sense of humour. Ann Cleeves charmed everyone and left Iceland with her devoted following substantially swelled. The scurrilous panel to finish the day raised the roof as carefully selected characters were encouraged to behave badly in public, and did just that in a panel that took in pet detectives, sweating and feminism before veering elegantly off at a tangent into mud wrestling.

It was a something of a relief once that last panel was underway. That left just the buffet at Hotel Borg, the brave souls in search of the aurora borealis to be shepherded onto their bus and a sedate gathering the following evening for readings and a few questions.

Will we do it again…? Hell, yes. Preparations are underway for Iceland Noir 2014. The venue’s the same, so there’s a limited number of places and the four of us running it feel it’s important to keep it small and friendly, but this time it’s planned as two full days instead of last year’s one day plus a few extra events around it. Oh, and this time it costs a few shekels. The first one was done on a zero budget and things like the badges and the programmes were scrounged, begged or borrowed, which works for a one-off but we can’t do that again. So this time there’s a modest fee to hopefully deter the tyre kickers who didn’t show themselves, as well as to cover printing the programme, provide coffee on tap, plus a few other items that needed to be fixed at the last moment. So here’s to Iceland Noir 2014.

Two days in Reykjavík at the darkest, coldest time of the year? Sounds tempting?

Iceland Noir, 21st-22nd November 2014, at the Nordic House in Reykjavík. Details at www.icelandnoir.com and www.facebook.com/IcelandNoir. Registration page here.

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