Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is a master of the gritty crime novel. And sometimes, her books veer into the supernatural. For me, her books are an essential part of the Christmas season. Here in Iceland, the period before Christmas is known as the Christmas book avalanche. Books are a popular Christmas present, and authors and publishers compete for the top spots on the best seller’s list. And that is where Yrsa dominates for a good reason. Her books rival masters such as Stephen King, and I have spent many late nights shuddering while enjoying her latest page-turners. Thank you, Yrsa, for all the chills!

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One of the stars of the Iceland Noir Literature Festival

Yrsa is one of the founders and hosts of the Iceland Noir Literature Festival, which takes place in Reykjavik from 16-19th November. She joins authors such as Richard Osman, Ragnar Jónasson, Bernardine Evaristo, and Marian Keyes. First Lady of Iceland, Eliza Reid, the author of the book Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland’s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World, and the star of Trapped, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, also participate in the festival. Last but not least, the Prime Minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, a budding crime novel author, will appear at the festival.

Tickets to the Icelandic Noir Literature Festival

Get your tickets to the festival

Hello Yrsa, and thank you for taking the time for this interview. First of all, thank you for all the great books you have written. What is the secret to a good crime novel?

What makes a crime novel great can be many things, depending on the reader’s taste. Irrespective of the sub-genre, the book must have engaging characters, an exciting plot, and a well-presented sense of place – and course, be well-written prose-wise. My tastes lean towards the macabre and creepy. This means that something horrible is always a big plus for me, as well as twisted events that make total sense when the veil is lifted, and you go: “Ah! Of course.”

Be the all-powerful author

The secret to doing this is realizing that you, the author, controls everything. The weather, all occurrences, the characters’ thoughts, words, and actions – everything. Unlike living one’s life where all you can control is what you do and say. Writing is, therefore much easier.

Make a believable plot

The trick of making strange things happen on the pages without the readers rolling their eyes is not making them coincidental. They must at some point seem somewhat logical, i.e. they must be underpinned so as not to happen out of the blue and appear ridiculous. If you as an author need a duck to fall out of the sky onto someone’s head, then make sure that this falling duck can be expected from what has occurred or described earlier. I have however never needed to revert to ducks falling out of the sky. But you never know. Maybe I will take this reply as a challenge for my next book.

What Icelandic authors do you want to recommend to my readers?

Oh, that is an easy one. Ragnar Jonasson and Eva Björg Ægisdóttir are my favourites.

Do you have favorite places or activities in Iceland you want to recommend to my readers?

Personally, my favorite place is the Westman Islands. It is a small fishing town on Heimaey, the largest island in an archipelago off the south coast of Iceland. The Westman islands are famous for the birth of a new volcano in 1973. It erupted out of a farmer’s field in the middle of the night. The eruption engulfed a good chunk of the town under lava and the rest under ash. The ash was removed. However, lava ruins everything in its wake and is still there. A house or two sticks out of the jagged wall at its boundaries. But the view from the island is fantastic as the surrounding ocean is littered with smaller islands that rise high out of the sea, themselves remnants of ancient eruptions common in the area. But if you are visiting Iceland for the first time and don’t fancy a ferry ride, you cannot go wrong with the south coast. It is a must-see.

Gljúfrabúi waterfall in all its glory
Gljúfrabúi waterfall in all its glory

Favorite waterfalls, beaches and waterfalls

There you can experience waterfalls (my favorite is Gljúfrabúi -closely followed by its next-door neighbor Seljalandsfoss, Geysir and Strokkur in Haukadalur (on the way, although not exactly on the south coast), black beach Reynisfjara (do not get sucked away by the creeper waves), glacial lagoon Jökulsárlón and mystical Stokksnes and Vestrahorn.

Experience the Golden Circle and the Sky lagoon in one tour
Lady soaks in the Sky Lagoon after having enjoyed the Golden Circle.

Other tips would include a trip to an outdoor swimming pool, and if you want to do it fancy and enjoy a glass of bubbly while at it, the Sky Lagoon in Kópavogur (in the Reykjavík area) just opened up and is really nice. Note that you will not swim at all there, just relax.

What advice do you have for those visiting Iceland for the first time?

Dress for any kind of weather, irrespective of the season. This is best emphasized by an old advertising slogan of 66°N – an Icelandic outdoor wear company. The slogan was: “This is our winter collection, also known as our summer collection.” We never put away our parkas here; they can be called for in the height of summer; you just never know. Also, if you are not vegan or vegetarian, order fish at restaurants. Here in Iceland, we serve fish minus  the yucky parts such as the head, the scales, and bones. Wolffish never disappoints.

Enjoy langoustine, ice-cream and swimming

Icelandic lobster tails are also really good, although they are not actually lobster but langoustine. You will not need an apron or special tools that make you feel like some awful torturer while ripping off claws and breaking shells. This has been done for you. And finally, have ice cream from an ice cream parlor, a local favorite all year round, a remnant from the time we had very little imported candy. Recap: dress well, enjoy nature, swim, and eat.