Julia interviews Arnaldur Indriðason

Arnaldur, tell us a little bit about the Icelandic language. How old is it? What does the character that resembles a melded ‘d’ and ‘t’ in your name represent? I will then try to find it on my keyboard.

The Icelandic language is spoken by only 300.000 people in the world. We came from Norway in the ninth century so it is old Norse in a way and was pretty well preserved in Iceland through the ages. I don’t know what you mean with a melded d and t in my name so ...

How important is the role of a translator? I was struck by the captivating sense of atmosphere in your work, the nuances in your writing, which must rely upon insightful translation. How did you come to work with Bernard Scudder?

He is one of the best translators into english there is and fortunately he lives in Iceland. My Icelandic publisher knew his works and got him to translate my books. He knows the icelandic language well and the people and the weather and landscapes and is great to work with. Also he is a poet and very sensitive to words which I think makes him just great. The role of the translator is essential to writers like me who is published in 25 languages in over 30 countries. Everything depends on him or her and I think I have been very lucky with translators.

Is Elendur autobiographical in any sense?

No, well, it’s hard to say. He is made up from all kinds of persons fictional and non fictional. But we do have similar views on some things. He comes from the countryside and doesn’t like Reykjavík very much. I was born in Reykjavík and like it very much. He fears for the Icelandic language and sometimes I do too. He is afraid of it becoming more English than Icelandic. He lives much in the past and doesn’t care much for the modern world. He has a broken family and is trying to fix it and he has a very sorrowful past. Also he dosen’t like the midnight sun. He loves the deep Icelandic winters. He eats traditional Icelandic foods and is mostly a pain in the ass. I hope I am not.

Are there plans to publish the remaining Elendur novels in the US?

I think so, they have bought the next two in the Erlendur series. All in all the books are seven now and I am still writing about him. I don’t know how many there will be. We’ll see.

My husband grew up on an island, one of the larger on the East Coast. A fishing community off Maine. Families go back 7 or 8 generations; a lot for the US. Do Icelandic sagas, or that tradition, inform your writing?

I suppose so in a major way, my book are all about families and relationships within families. Actually we do have The Icelandic Sagas taking place in and around the year 1000 and they have influenced me a lot with their great stories about heroes and heroines and revenge and feuds and murders and love. The style is very spare, few words are used to describe big things and I like that. And they are all about families and close friendships in this small society Iceland has always been.

Which brings us to writing (or trying to) a book a year. Outline or freestyle?

Freestyle. I never do any outline. I have a certain thematic idea in mind when I start like the domestic violence in Silence of the Grave and I go from there with very few persons.

And aren’t you are a film critic by trade? How does that affect your craft, and do you ever wish you’d become a veterinarian?

The movies made a great impact on me from early age because the first film I remember seeing was Little Caesar in the television. I think I was three and Edward G. Robinson has been my favorite actor since. I wrote about films for almost twenty years and saw a_ great deal of them and learnd many things about characters and structure and visual storytelling. I suppose I learned more from the bad films and the films I didn’t like because then you see what not to do. No, I never, ever thought about becoming a veterinarian.

So what other authors would you compare yourself to? Any Americans?

I write in the style of social realism and it comes from Skandinavia. I read as a young man the wonderful books about Martin Beck by the Swedes Maj Sjöwall and Per Whalöö, great detective stories full of atmosphere and police realism. One of my favorite in America is Ed McBain. There are few greater than him.

I know what you mean. I want to be THE Julia Spencer-Fleming, not the poor woman’s Deborah Crombie or Nevada Barr. So, enough about us. Who are some NEW voices you enjoy in crime fiction?

I don’t read that much of crime fiction I am sorry to say. I did more of it in the past but somehow when you start doing it yourself you kind of wander into other directions when you read books.

Would you list some of the awards the Elendur books have received? Please don’t be bashful.

The CWA Golden Dagger Award, two Glasskeys (2001 and 2002) for the best Scandinavian crime stories, The Martin Beck Award and the Caliber Award in Sweden, Prix coeur noir and Mystére de la critique in France ...

What’s next for Arnaldur Indridason? Are you touring the US this year? Do you have a website?

I am writing a book that will be published in Iceland in the fall. It is not about Erlendur ( I have written two other books that are not with him: Operation Napoleon – an international thriller - and Betty – a femme fatale story). It takes place in Europe in 1955 where all the old Icelandic manussripts were kept. I will be coming to America in oktober and I do not have a website.

Arnaldur Indridason

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“ I write in the style of social realism and it comes from Skandinavia. I read as a young man the wonderful books about Martin Beck by the Swedes Maj Sjöwall and Per Whalöö, great detective stories full of atmosphere and police realism. One of my favorite in America is Ed McBain. There are few greater than him. ”