According to this article on the BBC website, Iceland is a country where one in 10 people will publish a book. I can understand that. The winter months in Iceland are long, dark, and cold, and for years the winter months have been a traditional time for learning, and study. Writing, music, or other forms of the arts are an extension of that practice of studying.
It is a tradition across the world that we have long summer holidays from school and the reason is universal, and goes back to when families needed their children to help bring in the harvest. In Iceland this reason has been doubly so. Children would be sent to stay in Reykjavik for the long winter to study, and then would return to their families on their farms in the summer to work. School and education and learning has always been very important. So landscape and nature forms a way of life, and stories are born, and the landscape inspires the stories too.
I’m not from Iceland but I have family their so it has been on my radar more than most for the thirty years of my life before I visited. And when I did visit, not just as a sightseer, but as someone working to improve the access to the country for others, and to help to conserve the natural environment.
I will always owe Iceland a debt of gratitude for my writing career, not because it began my writing career because I have always written, but because it have me my first complete novel, with an ending that measures up to my original vision. Sacrifice of the Gods is probably what you might call my first novel, but that is more a collection of four novellas – with only two and a bit ever completed. Parts of that form another work – a reimagining of the Arthur and Merlin legends – called Stolen Lives. I still think of that story sometimes. Then there are the playscripts and screenplays… and Flyht. I loved – still love – Flyht. I used to discribe it as when Brit Pop met Recency England. It was born out of a dream, became a screenplay, and then a novel. It gave me my style, my confidence, and my way of writing… but it lacked a convincing ending. Endings are always difficult (I think, for any writer).
The End Of All Worlds was the novel that came after Flyht. Inspired by Iceland and with a real story (or stories to tell) it was not my first beginning, but it was my first ending. Since then, I have been working on what I will call my second novel, the curious tale of Mr Tumnal. Already I think that this is a better, stronger book, and I am excited to get it to out there to be read.
My mind is turning to my next novel too: a follow-up to The End Of All Worlds. Where that was a pure fantasy adventure, this next one will be even more of an ensemble piece: a proper modern saga. I am reading some of the old Sagas at the moment, and I am struck at how they are made up of numbered scenes. Hannah Kemp’s Burial Rites too (another foreign author inspired by her travels to Iceland for her debut) is divided up with scenes within chapters that begin with capitalised words and bring to mind the scale of the old sagas. I can see this is the way that my next book will go. There is an over-arching theme, every bit as threatening as in the last book, but at the same time all together different.
Iceland, has not yet run its course with me…
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