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Friday, 25 November 2016

Iceland Noir 2016

Report by Marsali Taylor

Stars and newcomers from all over the world, a variety of interesting discussion topics, a mix of writers, editors, publishers and actors on the panels, a magical tour and some serious partying made Iceland Noir 2016 a fantastic event.

The weekend began on Thursday afternoon in the main conference venue, the Nordic House, which was a friendly, wood-lined space with a good gathering area and cafe outside for those who didn’t want to attend every talk. Each panel lasted forty-five minutes, giving everyone time for a breather, stretch and chat between sessions.

After registration, Quentin Bates kicked off with
New Blood in Iceland’s Crime Fiction
and it was encouraging to see that new blood doesn’t always mean young! Hildur Sif Thararensen, Ingvi Thór Kormáksson, Kristján Atli Ragnarsson and Óskar Guðmundsson talked about their inspiration, first  novels and future plans.

That was followed by a walk beside the Pond, Reykjavik’s central lake, the crisp air loud with the sound of swans honking as they settled down for the night, along to the Reception at the Reykjavik City Hall, where we were welcomed by the British Ambassador to Iceland, who seemed in two minds about this crime business: great fun to read, and boosting the tourist trade, but it might give Iceland the wrong reputation as a crime capital of the world, which would depress the tourist trade... He was followed by Val McDermid, giving the keynote speech of the conference. McDermid talked about the role of crime fiction writers as social commentators, especially in the current climate of increasing austerity and cost-cutting, which hits the poorest in society.

There was an evening of readings in English and Icelandic at Sólon, hosted by the Icelandic Crime Syndicate, which I’m told was great fun – two hours in the Blue Lagoon had wiped me out!

Friday, 18th November began at 0900, with Yrsa Sigurðardóttir moderating a panel on
Emotional Rescue: Passion, sorrow, regret, love and how to use them.
  Her panellists were Alexandra Solokoff, Alison Baillie, Michael Grothaus, and editor Stacia Seaman. Yrsa kicked off with a quote that ‘literary fiction deals with the stronger emotions, like love and passion; crime fiction deals with the weaker emotions, like hate and revenge’, and this sparked off a very interesting discussion. For Alexandra, her novels were about revenge and outrage at the sexual abuse of children, and violence against women. Alison felt her novel was purely about emotion, lives distorted by murder, with sorrow and regret the predominant notes. For Stacia, the key emotion in a crime novel was trust, and betrayal of trust. Michael, who used to work in the film industry, had seen sex trafficking there, and felt it was the most horrible crime out there; he didn’t write to sensationalise, but he didn’t want to sugar coat it. Yrsa made the interesting point that Icelandic’s vocabulary made writing about sex come out as pornography, and Alison felt this was also true of German. Stacia pointed out that LGBT authors feel pressure to include sex, because that’s how readers define LGBT people, and you’re not expected to have explicit scenes in ‘straight’ novels. In answer to an audience question, the panellists agreed that one genre they wouldn’t do was ‘torture porn’. For creating emotion, Yrsa said that emotion is often heightened by its repression, as in policeman who are exposed to horrible events; Stacia pointed out that setting and atmosphere can evoke fear. Alexandra gave the first good epigram of the conference, ‘emotion is the experience you’re trying to give the reader’ and pointed out that you can layer emotion in during re-writes. She explained different kinds of film script, the selling one with the emotions in, and the shooting one with them left out, because the actor can do that. Michael also told us about Cicada C3301, an elaborate worldwide virtual reality game which almost nobody solves, and Stacia left us all wondering if a rule that said Gone with the Wind wasn’t a romance (no happy ending) meant genres were getting too rigid.

Helen Cadbury and Jessica Crokett Estavao
 The second panel was 
Heroes, Heroines and Villains
moderated by William Ryan, with panellist writers Helen Cadbury, Jessica Crockett Estavao, Quentin Blake, and actor Thorvaldur David Kristjánsson.  Jessica’s heroine was partly a villain – a mediumistic con artist of the 1850s – but also a good person; she went on to give a fascinating example of her own clairaudient experiences. Discussing villains, Thór said that as an actor, he would be given the script, and would also read the books to get more information on the characters – if his role was a bad person, he found the human child within. Helen agreed; writing was about stepping into a person’s shoes. Her prison work had showed her how crucial it was to have empathy, and often she’d see the damaged childhood of her perp – she’d sometimes like her villain to get away with it.  Thorvaldur pointed out that plot-driven movies leave no space to let the audience see the human being beneath the villain. The panellists spoke about the advantages of being an outsider, in spotting things that others are accustomed to. On story construction, they agreed that you begin with a plot, but then as you develop the characters, they take over, and your story can go in a totally different direction. Asked how law-abiding they were, only Thorvaldur liked being ‘on the grey line – it’s more exciting.’ Jessica spoke of how her rural local police force had been sucked into Seattle, leaving a cowboy mentality, and Quentin and Helen compared Norway to Singapore in the cost of driver fines – apparently in Singapore it costs 60,000$ just for your licence.

Barbara Nadel
The 11:00 panel, led by David Swatling, looked at 
Crime fiction as social commentary.
Panellists Barbara Nadel, Helen Cadbury, Hildur Sif Thararensen and Valentina Giambanco agreed that it was important to address social issues, but that the story came first – readers don’t want to be preached to, it had to be show, not tell. Barbara felt her novels set in Turkey have shown the changes in that country – her recent murder set against the backdrop of the recent attempted coup gave her the chance to explore another persepctive. She also deplored the community destruction caused by the gentrification of the East End. Helen and Hildur both felt the novelist did have a duty to address issues and show what’s around us, like the increasing number of beggars on the streets. Valentina pointed out that you need to be real; Seattle has a reputation for police brutality, but following police offers has shown her it’s not all as it’s painted in the media. Helen gave us the story of a woman prisoner coming back into the world with a new identity – she’d never used a mobile phone, or been on the Internet. The panellists were agreed that the background had to be important to the story – there was a duty, Barbara said, to use an historical event like 9/11 in a sensitive way. The discussion moved on to justice in stories, where closure can be achieved, unlike real life crime – for example, Helen said, an offender in a psychiatric ward doesn’t satisfy the victim’s family because it’s not a ‘real prison’ but casts a stigma on the offender’s family. Audience questions asked Barbara if she wasn’t afraid of writing so openly in Turkey when she lived there, and she agreed that she was – it’s getting really difficult to work out what might get you put in prison. The latest crime is “you were thinking of joining the organisation blamed for the coup”. Asked about social issues for future novels, Valentina highlighted the police cuts in rural areas that she’d mentioned earlier; Helen cited rough sleepers, asylum seekers and assaults on women; Barbara went for radicalisation among young girls, and pointed out that the methods used to attract them were the same as those used by paedophiles.

SJI Holliday and Ragnar Jonasson
After lunch, Sarah Ward moderated panellists Ann Cleeves, Ragnar Jónasson and SJI Holliday on 
Small Town Skulduggery.
The panellists began by describing their fictional small towns: Ann writes about small North Yorkshire ex-pit villages where secrets are still kept, and Shetland, where you can’t get off; Ragnar’s Sigluförður is also an enclosed area, with a tunnel which can be blocked – an island within an island; Holliday’s fictional town is only seventeen miles from Edinburgh butpeople choose not to leave – they need two weeks notice for a visit to Edinburgh! Her town is a memory of where she grew up, and parts of it are fictionalised; Ann fictionalised her murder places; everywhere in Ragnar’s book is real – ‘When I’m reading, I love that you can visit the places in the book.’ Panellists agreed that the fun of a small community is the secrets, which can fracture a close community, and that the ‘cosy’ reputation of small communites made murder therer more shocking. Ann admitted to worrying about her next book, which is set in Whitley Bay, where she lives, and deals with council corruption – ‘It may be a bit close to the wire’. None of the panel was interested in creating monsters, but in domestic, plausible urders, where ordinary people have been pushed to their limits, and they all agreed that they type of murder and motive were specific to the place.  All three have tackled rumour in their books; Holliday has used social media and modern communications, but Ragnar ‘hates all that as a crime writer – there were no mobiles in the 1980s!’ and Ann is happy to put her protagonist in a mobile phone blackspot (there are plenty in Shetland!)

Michael Ridpath
At 14:00, Michael Ridpath moderated a panel on
Darkness – what frightens you?
Panellists AK Benedict, Grant Nicol and Thomas Enger began by describing their books, then looked at fear – Thomas was afraid of something happening to his kids, so he turned that into the overarching theme of his novels. Benedict loves scaring other people, and sees herself as externalising depression, the darkness you carry with you. Grant agreed that depression is frightening, and pointed out that a lot of people suffer mental health issues in Iceland, perhaps because of the long darkness of winter. However Benedict described her character Maria who had been blind, and found darkness a comfort; her world was completely changed by being able to see it.  Asked what they do to counteract darkness, all three said they listened to music. Looking at how culture affects darkness, Grant compared Iceland to his native NZ, where darkness is drug dealers, etc, not literal. Thinking about current politics, Benedict thought things will get more extreme – some readers will seek happy books, others will want analysis of the darkness. Thomas felt that crime offers a guide through the darkness – and something good at the end was part of the contract with the reader.

Jacky Collins, Sólveig Pálsdóttir and
Sara Blaedel
Jacky Collins and her 
Dangerous Nordic Women,
Kati Hiekkapelto, Jónina Leósdóttir, Sara Blaedel, and Sólveig Pálsdóttir  took the floor at 15:00. They went straight into discussing whether gender mattered. Sólveig felt that it did; women were brought up to be well-behaved, and had to step out of those shoes. Sara felt there wasn’t a difficulty for women getting published in Denmark, but agreed that you had to step out of your comfort zone. Kati agreed that there was no difficulty with getting published, but ... and then she gave statistics for awards: for the best crime novel since 1985, only four women had won, the first in 1997; the International dagger was similar ... and as for review space, only 20 – 25% goes to women writers. Jónina felt that trailblazers like Christie and Rendell made it easier for women to be accepted in crime writing, but she’d looked at advertising space, reviews and awards, with similar results to Kati’s – and that was why they’d established the Icelandic Women’s Prize. But how did you change men who ‘didn’t read books by women’? ‘They like Yrsa’s books!’ Jónina said. Asked how their work challenged stereotypes, Sólveig said she hadn’t thought about gender when she created her male protagonist, but she’s surrounded him with strong women. Sara’s new protagonist is a tall, not-curvy woman (“uncharming” one reviewer said) who, like James Bond, enjoys one-night stands. Kati’s main character is an immigrant woman with a misogynistic alcoholic boss – Kati was challenging herself to make him likeable. Jónina’s protagonist is a fighting-fit, interesting, funny pensioner whose family wants her to stick to her knitting. The panel discussed sexism, and how their protagonists deal with it: Kati’s heroine Amma compares the Finnish culture with the misogeny of her native Balkans, and is glad to be in Finland. Jónina feels the use of technology has empowered women, and Sara features Tinder in her new serial. An audience member commented that in the US women are more stereotyped, and always saved by the man – it was so encouraging to hear about these characters!

Susan Moody
The final panel of the day had Alex Gray, Amanda Jennings, Sarah Ward and Susan Moody discussing 
Skeletons in the Closet –
family secrets
with Jake Kerridge. Sarah kicked off with one family ‘trait’ – she’d been researching her maternal line, and found that back to the 1700s, almost all the women married younger men – she’s now carrying on the tradition! Her mother was a Welsh speaker, not that articulate in English, so she only got the family stories from other members after her death. One of her novels explores the theme of sisters, secrets between siblings, their closeness and how that can be broken. Amanda began a book by thinking about how protective teenagers are of their rooms and how a search of that room might bring out all sorts of secrets. Alex spoke about layers of secrecy in her latest book – the executioner, then the secrecy of the victims. She wanted to explore the moral problem of euthanasia as it’s shown in the book, where people do bad things for good reasons. Susan felt you never know even the people you’re close to as well as you think. ‘I don’t have many family secrets,’ she finished, ‘except that two of my brothers might not have been my father’s...’ As the audience listened, agog, she explained that one of them had written a ‘misery memoir’ of his abusive childhood, not one word of which was true. The panel then discussed the difference between a secret and something being private – a secret, they decided was something that would hurt, shatter, destroy ... but there could be a secret which everyone but the person concerned knew, like a child being brought up by his grandparents, and not realising his ‘sister’ was actually his mother. Alex felt there was danger in being too open, and quoted J K Rowling’s media experience. ‘Where there’s a hit, there’s a writ!’ They all agreed that bits of their own lives did find themselves in their books, but they would be protective of other people’s secrets. At this point an audience member shared her family secret: a fortnight after her sister died, her sister’s boss contacted the family to say she’d embezzled 10 million dollars from the firm ... there had been no sign of anything odd, and it broke up the family. Every writer present reached for a pen. Later, discussing it, we reckoned it was a fiddle by the firm, using the sister as a scapegoat ... Susan said she was intrigued by real-life secret keepers, like the family of Fred West and others who ‘must have known’.

The day closed with the
Reykjavik Crimewalk.
By now it was dark, and while we’d been in the warm Nordic house, winter had begun outside. The Pond was iced over, and there was a layer of ice on the pavements, and snow crisping the grass. The wind was bitter ... but Magnus, our guide, strode out ahead of us, giving us tales of murders committed in Reykjavik. We paused by the cemetery gate for Ragnar Jonasson to read an extract from his newest book, where a man in one of the lit-up houses opposite saw a sinister stranger in his garden, then we were led into the cemetery itself and told about a double husband/wife murder and the ghost of a child – very sinister it was too, with the snow underfoot, and the darkness, and the wind moaning in the trees. After that we headed directly for the welcoming Iða Zimsen bookshop, where books by all the conference authors were laid out on a table, and hot coffee and chocolate waited. The evening ended in a crowded and very enjoyable party at Yrsa’s house just out of Reykjavik.

Stacy Allen
The first panel on Saturday morning, was with Andy Lawrence talking to Barbara Nadel, Stacy Allen, Steph Broadribb and William Ryan about
Strange Places
Stacy’s novels feature a marine archaeologist, and her aim is to take the readers to places they’d never go. Steph, like her Everglades heroine, is a qualified bounty hunter, and she’s fascinated by the darkness under the glitter. Barbara writes about two ancient cities people think they know, London and Istanbul; she loves the layers of history in each. Bill does a lot of research using photos, showing the everyday things memoir-writers don’t bother to describe, then aims his writing at someone who lived then – readers can fill in blanks. Stacy agreed – the research seeps into you, and you only use 10% of it. ‘You write half the book, the readers write the other half.’ The panel agreed that setting is as important as the crime – Barbara chooses books to read by setting – and has a huge effect on it – climes for example influences how the investigation proceeds. However the characters in the story were what drove the plot. The question of gender came up again: Stacy wanted to write a female adventure novel, even though her publishers wanted a male protagonist, and Steph agreed – as a reader she wanted the woman to do her thing, not be saved by a man. Bill pointed out that 85% of books are purchased by women, and 65% of Lee Child’s readers are women. Andy then asked whether the panel had had difficulties with editors unfamiliar with the locations, but the panel agreed that their editor trusted them, they were looking it at the story. However, Bill warned, you can have trouble with readers ... never, ever, specify a make of gun! Again, as with the small town discussion, there was a split on how real authors would make their settings. Steph put her bad happenings in fictitious places. Barbara considered historical sites fair game, but invented the street for private houses. Stacy kept her settings accurate – ‘Readers want to feel like they’re going to the real place.

Michael Ridpath, Annamaria Alfieri, and Jeffrey Siger
The 10:00 panel was my own, on 
Taking liberties with history,
, and I had the pleasure of moderating Annamaria Alfieri, Jeffrey Siger, John Lawton and Michael Ridpath. We looked first at researching place – by visits and residence, the panel agreed, and then at adding the historical layer. John, who has TV background, uses film, but all the panel agreed that the  memoirs of the time are more useful – film, Michael said, is great but you have to keep remembering that the past was in colour. The most important source though was talking to people who were there – Jeffrey’s novels often refer back to the time of the Colonels, the last of whom died recently. We then talked about how novelists can use the reader’s knowledge of the past to create tension, and whether absolute accuracy mattered. The panel agreed that where the novelist scores over the historian is that they don’t have to take a black or white view of a real character – they can use the events to try and protray a real human being who is somewhere between the two.

Nina von Staffeldt, Leena Lehtolainen, Marsali Taylor and James Oswald
This was followed by William Ryan moderating
with James Oswald, Leena Lehtolainen, Nina von Staffeldt and me. Bill started by asking James and I about our use of the supernatural in our writing, then we all discussed the influence our landscape had on our novels, both as a setting and how it affected the plot. We moved on from there to talk about how much of ourselves was in our main character, and finished by talking about what we were each currenlty working on.

Iceland Noir’s Nordic Crime Fiction Stars,
moderated by Katrin Jakobsdðttir, showcased Ann Cleeves, Leena Lehtolainen, Sara Blaedel, Val McDermid and Vivica Sten in the wonderful surroundings of the new Harpa Concert Hall, and was held in association with the Reykjavik Unesco City of Literature. This was a great opportunity to see five top-class writers together ... I was just too tired to take advantage of it.

Back to the Nordic House for
Tension: make your reader sweat,
with Jake Kerridge moderating John Gilstrap, Mark Dapin, Mark Hill and Zoe Sharp. Each writer described their own main protagonist, then looked at the way theiy used that character for tension. Zoe wanted to reconcile her ‘superwoman’ with her vulnerability, as a woman – and yes, she’s tried all the self-defence moves. Mark Hill wanted a fallible male character (and remarked in passing how you always have to say strong female character, but never strong male). Mark Dapin’s novel involves a murderer talking to a journalist who may not be what he seems. John called a hostage situation ‘murder in slow motion.’ Asked for top tips, Zoe said, ‘Surprise your reader every ten pages, shock them every twenty!’ Mark Hill advised plotting fastidiously – tension is keeping a secret as long as possible. Mark Dapin said, ‘Give your perosn something to love, then make them lose it.’ The panel agreed there were different sorts of tension – you could undermine drama with humour, then give the shock, or there was tension like the possibility of losing a relationship, as used by Edna O’Brien.

Jacky Collins, Lilja Sigurðardóttir and Mari Hannah
At 15:30, Jacky Colllins led David Swatling, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Mari Hannah, Vl McDermid and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir in
Queer Crime,
which looked at the difficulty LGBT writers have in getting published. Jacky began with a quote, that gay men’s writing is campy and satirical, where lesbians are more serious, and Val felt there had been some truth to this in the 80s and 90s. However, she pointed out, crime novels per se dealt with serious issues, but that didn’t mean they lacked humour. Mari paid tribute to Val as their trailblazer – she had pushed open the door to mainstream publishing, but she herself had only achieved that because her agent was determined – she had to wait a long time. The barriers weren’t quite gone though, Val felt – you still had to be that bit better than the rest to get your toe in. Asked about Iceland, Lilja felt it was hard to say, as she was the only on, and her books sell well in Iceland, but she was surprised how hard it was to get foreign rights, and some markets were just closed. Yrsa, who’d joined the panel as the token straight person, felt that LGBT novels shouldn’t be on the fringe of festivals – she was here to de-fringe-i-cize. We’re all just writers! David mentioned an Icelandic review of a novel set in Reykjavik, where the fact that the protagonist was gay was carefully not mentioned. Val felt the comversation was still needed – for many people there’s no gay community to give you a template for your life, and books is one way to give that. It’s important we’re out there, and let people see our faces.  Mari said she’d had a really positive reader response to her lesbian protagonist and her partner, Jo, who’s also in the police, but not come out yet. She wasn’t writing a lesbian book, she was writing a crime novel with a gay protagonist. Lilja pointed out guiltily that she had gay criminals, but Val retorted that lesbians had the right to be criminals too. Yrsa said when she looked she hadn’t had any gay characters in her books, and was developing one now. Lilja siad the freedom of being a writer was that you could be anyone you liked – she’d started off with a male protagonist to attract male readers, but for her new publisher she wanted to do a lesbian woman, and wanted to do it well. She felt it was important for the lesbian community, but she wanted to let the general audience experience that life. Val felt there was pressure on us to write books reflecting our world, but we also have to challenge ourselves as writers – we shouldn’t feel we ought to be poster boys and girls. David agreed there was a fair bit of himself in his hero, but he wasn’t writing a ‘gay story’ – he sees the world like that all the time. Asked if they’d been pressurised to put sex in their novels, the panelists agreed it would only be there if it was important for the plot or character development – otherwise, it slowed down the main story. Yrsa said she’d once steeled herself up to writing a sex scene by a drink beforehand, and when she read it the next morning, she couldn’t delete it fast enough! Lilja said she had a reputation for writing vivid lesbian sex, but actually there weren’t physical descriptions, it was just very passionate – she let the reader’s imagination take over. 

There was a mid-afternoon pause from panels to allow the presentation of the Icepick award for crime fiction in translation into Icelandic, and this led to an interesting discussion on different languages. The authors agreed that you had to trust your translator to do a professional job, and leave them to get on with it. Winner Ragna Sigurðardóttir was meeting her author Marion Pauw for the first time. Bjarni Gunnarsson, Jo Nesbø’s Icelandic translator, had met him only once in ten books, and all contact was through his publisher; Eiríkur Brynjólfsson had neither met nor talked to his author, Erik Valeur, but had visited the places he writes about it. The fifth short-listed translator, Þórdís Bachmann, was represented by his author, Ann Cleeves. Some interesting translation problems included Icelandic having no dialects, so that translators had to use slang and the small class differences to substitute for dialect in dialogue. 

JS Law and Craig Robertson
The final panel of the festival was 
The ****ing Swearing Panel,
moderated by Grant Nicol, with panellists Craig Robertson, Derek Farrell, JS Law and Val McDermid. Law’s Navy background had caused him problems with editors: ‘they made me take out ‘normal’ Navy language which wasn’t even swearwords.’ However he felt there was no need to use a lot of swearing throughout – you introduce a character as a swearer then tone it down. Derek’s publisher had objects to his ‘proficient use of vulgarity’ and right enough, he conceded, when he counted there was quite a number. Val recokend that there’s poetry in the way Scots swear – Germans, apparently, don’t and when she was at a German festival, reading her work in English then having an actor read it in German, there was no audience reaction to what was supposed to be a shocking outburst. The actor said, ‘We swear in Berlin’, was given carte blanche, and got the right reaction at the next gig. The panel discussed radio rules (1 x bugger or 4 x bloody per hour), or eumpemisms like ‘wee fud’, and agreed that swearwords just slung into a novel to shock didn’t work. Craig reckoned the ‘lack of vocabulary’ reaction was a dumb argument, and Val reckoned invective let you be inventive – how about a ‘weetabix-wigged cockweasel’ for the President-elect? And, while she was at it, a famous book could be ended, ‘Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a trump.’  Craig came up with the story of the radio commentator whose mate, when asked who’d crossed the ball in, gave him the foreign player Fuctifah No. JS Law began reminiscences of what men get up to in a submarine crossing the Atlantic, and at this point I was laughing so hard I stopped taking notes, but you really, really don’t want to know some of it ...

Ragnar Jonasson and Ann Cleeves
There was just time to change before the conference dinner, in the Hotel Borg. Our toastmaster was Stefán Eriksson, who seemed to have been head of every branch of town government at some point but was currently (I think) head of Police – or was it Social Services? AEvar Örn Jósepsson was quizmaster, and gave us fifteen questions on all aspects of crime – I won’t name the well-known writers who were on my end of the table, as between us we scored only 7 out of 16, but there was a lot of hilarity guessing, and the other end of our table got 13. The winners were ‘The Lezzies’ led by Val McDermid and Lilja Sigurðardóttir, with 14 and a tie-breaker. There was also a surprise award to Ann Cleeves – the first Honorary Iceland Nor Award. ‘We couldn’t have done it without you,’ Ragnar said, as he presented it.

Jar City Church
One of the delights of going to crime festivals is seeing something of the country, and All-Iceland had organised a ‘mystery wilderness tour’ which took us down to the peninsula of Reykjaness, and round the south coast of Iceland. It was the most beautiful day, with a clear blue sky, and little wind. As we drove south, the sun gradually rose in a glory of scarlet and gold over the jagged mountains, and an arctic fox slipped across the road and into the lava fields. We walked briskly down to a former fishing station which had been used as one of the scenes for Jar City, and had a magnificent view back towards Reykjavik, its low tower blocks silhouetted against snowy Mount Esja, still pink-tinted with the sunrise. Our next stop was another Jar City site, where we talked to some Icelandic ponies; then the church in the film; then, after a beautifully clear explanation from the guide about why this area was particularly unstable, we continued to the bridge between the Eurasian and American tectonic plates. After that it was the south-west corner, with jagged black cliffs and sea-stacks rising from blue, blue water, and, only a mile away, coral and rose and cream desert with steam rising from it. Finally we went into the interior, driving between chocolate-red hills dusted with snow to a white landscape, with ponies pawing the snow aside to get at grass, and the sun dimming on a large lake which, our guide told us, had a monster in it. On the way she told us some ghost stories, and stopped to feed us Icelandic lamb on flatbread, and cake (final quote of the conference, which I’ll pin above my desk: ‘A yawn is a silent cry for cake.’) It was a wonderful day out, and oh, what an amazing country.

And that was it. A lot of sleepy crime-writers waved at each other in the departure lounge of the airport in the morning dark ... I hope we all meet up again soon. Thank you and congratulations to organisers Yrsa, Ragnar, Lilja, Quentin and Grant for a truly magnificent festival. In two years time it’s going to be held in Hotel Husafell, an hour and a half out of Reykjavik, in the country, with a good chance of seeing the northern lights – it sounds like an Agatha Christie! I can’t wait.

Marsali Taylor grew up near Edinburgh, and came to Shetland as a newly-qualified teacher. She is currently a part-time teacher on Shetland's scenic west side, living with her husband and two Shetland ponies. Marsali is a qualified STGA tourist-guide who is fascinated by history, and has published plays in Shetland's distinctive dialect, as well as a history of women's suffrage in Shetland. She's also a keen sailor who enjoys exploring in her own 8m yacht, and an active member of her local drama group.  Marsali also does a regular monthly column for the Mystery People e-zine.

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