Sólveig Pálsdóttir Iceland’s Nordic supreme

Having taken a keen interest in all the different Nordic countries literary awards and festivals honoring some of the best Nordic Noir authors, I kept coming across a name of one Sólveig Pálsdóttir. People were certainly viewing her as a respected contender for literary awards.

Having her work described as “fastpaced, highly visual and psychologically complex” was high praise indeed, but then learning that the film rights to her fist novel in 2012 were sold in just under a month, I knew this was an author that we would be seeing a lot more of, so I wanted to find out more.

Just as with a good crime novel, the more I dug, the more layers I found to this multifaceted author. Not only has she immersed herself in all the Nordic countries when she travelled as a child with her fathers job, as he was the Icelandic ambassador in Norway, but she is also incredibly humble and down to earth, embracing the people she’ve known since her childhood who have shaped her but who may have gone unnoticed to others around them.

Sólveig is also passionate about the arts in general and has powerful views on how the scales of balance should be fair for all. This is an important subject that she talks about in her interview, as the arts, whether literature, fashion, music or art work, which is coming out of the Nordic regions at the moment are so on trend and setting the various scenes a light, it truly is a worthwhile area to highlight.

Sólveig Pálsdóttir has a very intriguing and important family history with Iceland and is certainly joining the high ranking Icelandic authors which are giving the other larger Nordic countries a good deal of competition.

Sólveig Pálsdóttir started writing only five years ago and since then her writing career has taken off quickly.

She has an unusually diverse background. She is a trained actor and has performed in theatre, television and radio. She has a Bachelor‘s degree in literature from The University of Iceland and a degree in teaching. Alongside her writing she is working on a Master‘s degree in Cultural Management.

Sólveig taught Icelandic, drama and public speaking for many years and has produced many radio programmes and managed cultural events.

Her first novel Leikarinn (The Actor) was published in 2012 to rave reviews and weeks at the top of the best-sellers lists. It is now being developed into a motion picture. The second novel, Hinir Réttlátu (The Righteous Ones), was published the year after, and also became a best-seller. Both novels have now been published in Germany by publishing house Aufbau under their German titles Eiskaltes Gift and Tote Wale. Her third novel, Flekklaus (Spotless), will be published in March 2015.

The same main characters appear in each book but they are all independent of each other. The novels follow the detective team of Guðgeir, the decent family man, the ambitious Særós and the blood spatter expert Andrés, who dreams of finding a nice girlfriend.

Flekklaus takes place over two different time periods. In 1985 a respectable company in Reykjavik catches fire, killing a young woman. The case is never investigated but a witness saw two teenagers running away from the scene. Decades later detective Guðgeir travels to Sweden to rest after a difficult illness. His stay on a farm in Småland will have unforeseen consequences. Can his Swedish host be connected to that mysterious fire in Iceland all those years ago?

Sólveig is married with three children and one grandchild.

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How important is it to you to stay loyal to Iceland when composing your novels? Do you feel you could make your stories work with other Nordic backgrounds?

I have really strong roots in Iceland. I‘m lucky enough to have a connection to Iceland as it was before but I‘m also very interested in Iceland today. Love for the country and its culture is in my blood. My ancestors were visionaries who believed in the country and its future and my grandfather was the president of Iceland for 16 years.

As a child I spent every summer on a remote farm that didn’t even have electricity. The farmer had never travelled anywhere, yet he was one of the wisest men I’ve known. I helped out with all the jobs that need doing on a farm and had various jobs as a teenager. My parents thought it important that me and my siblings developed a strong work ethic and to be able to support ourselves throughout life. This experience helped shape who I am and gave me an insight into the many different worlds existing here.

I’ve visited all the Nordic countries and know them pretty well. My father was the Icelandic ambassador in Norway for years and my older sister has lived there for decades with her family. We also lived in Denmark and Sweden when I was a child.

When I was seventeen I worked as a cleaner for a summer in Copenhagen. That was a great experience. I‘m very fond of Denmark, after all it‘s where I met my husband. He is Icelandic though!

My new novel Flekklaus, coming out soon in Iceland, takes place in part, in Småland in Sweden and Kastrup airport plays a small role in it too. Actually some cataclysmic events in the novel take place there. I visited Småland a couple of years ago and stayed in a small Bed & Breakfast and the surroundings stuck with me.

My first novel Leikarinn has a character visit Scotland so I guess you could say that Iceland is the main inspiration for my novels but the settings are varied.

Iceland is really on the map at the moment for literature and the arts. Do you feel this is nurtured enough and that the artists are supported within Iceland?

I think people are becoming more and more aware of the importance of arts and culture but it takes time. Iceland was very isolated until World War II and we sometimes say that we made a giant leap from turf houses straight into the modern world.

Since then things have happened very quickly. Before, not a lot of people could make a living from art and any sort of creativity was looked upon as a hobby, with very few exceptions. That old attitude still lingers but these last few years have been incredibly vibrant for the arts, especially music, and I think that‘s largely because of our great music schools. I think we have great schools in all the art disciplines.

In some ways the system here in Iceland is antiquated when it comes to the arts. For example every year a special committee selects a few people to receive so-called “artist wages”. Only about a third of applicants receives these wages and then only for a few months. These aren’t substantial amounts of money but they give those who receive it temporary financial security. But they also have to go through having their picture in the papers and some people talking about them like they‘re some sort of leeches on society. And yet the arts industry accounts for 4% of the national income and lots of people make their living working jobs connected to what the artist has created himself. How many people do you think make a living from the creations of Björk or Arnaldur Indriðason for example? I would like to see the “artist wages” in the form of a grant given on a project – by- project basis.

I think all art creates jobs in some form. Not to mention the quality of life it gives to those who create or enjoy that creation. More and more people are realizing this, that other things apart from traditional jobs can be important. By strengthening the arts we strengthen our society.

Flekklaus_

Who inspires you in the Nordic Noir genre?

I was very young when I read my first Nordic crime novel by Sjöwall and Wahlöö and I think I read them all. Later I started reading Henning Mankell, whom I like very much. And also Stieg Larsson, Arnaldur Indriðason, Jo Nesbö and Liza Marklund.

Truth be told I’ve been reading a lot less since I started writing and I’ll usually pick something other than thrillers when I do. I do love a good movie or television show though. Forbrydelsen was amazing and so was Broen. Unfortunately I haven’t watched Borgen yet but I look forward to seeing it.

Crime is relatively low in Iceland, does this change the type of crimes that you want write about?

Yes we are very fortunate to have such a low crime rate in Iceland. I‘m not really interested in crime as such but more in human nature, and that is above all what my books are about. What makes a person into who he or she is? And what event starts that development?

I also love to create tension and plots that rely on people who could be your next door neighbours. I put a lot of work into character development and use my experience as an actress a lot with that.

My experience in other fields has helped a lot too, especially working with professionals in the field of psychology.

In Leikarinn the main theme is silencing and in Hinir Réttlátu I‘m dealing with extremism in many forms. In my new novel the main theme is memory. How do you know whether an old memory is reliable or not? A person can go through their whole life feeling guilty about something they think they‘ve done but can‘t be sure whether that event really took place or not. Memory can be a fragile thing and the mind can even completely make up things that never happened. A lot of people recognize that burden of guilt, although hopefully it‘s rarely to the degree that it is in the book. In the very rare instances that someone is murdered in Iceland it‘s always an act of, for a lack of a better term, temporary insanity. Someone loses control and there is always a personal tragedy behind that terrible deed. Premeditated and cold-blooded murders don‘t happen here.

I write about the personal, I can‘t really see myself writing about international crime syndicates and such.

What can we expect from you in 2015 and onwards?

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400-051
E20-580

My new novel Flekklaus will be published in Iceland on 26th March and hopefully it‘ll get to travel the world a bit. And then of course, I‘m hoping that my books will be published in the Nordic countries because that for me is almost home. I‘ll keep on writing and will surely write more crime fiction because it‘s so much fun, but I‘ll probably try other genres as well and maybe even write plays or scripts. This summer I’m going to travel around Iceland and seek inspiration from the nature and the people. After that I’ll squirrel myself away in “a room of one‘s own” and write. That‘ll be exciting.

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“Sólveig Pálsdóttir Iceland’s Nordic supreme”