Iceland – RAGNAR JONASSON – Something fishy going on…
Well, we never thought we’d be sat in the Icelandic town of Siglufjörður with a place of fish in front of us. Here to meet Ragnar Jónasson author of Snowblind. The herring capital of Iceland he tells us. Thankfully that is not on the plate but dried Icelandic fish is…do we try some to be polite? Or shall we just crack on with the questions we’ve prepared?
So then Ragnar….tell me…Snowblind…it grips you by the throat from the very first page. Can you tell us more about the meaning of the term ‘ snow blind’ and the importance of snow in your novel?
The story actually had a very different working title but my Icelandic publishers sent me back to the drawing board to look for a new title. It took some time to find it, but when Snowblind occurred to me, I felt it was the right one. There is ‘a bit’ of snow in the book, just like in real life in the northerly town of Siglufjörður in winter. The word ‘snowblind’ actually means a temporary loss of vision caused by exposure to bright sunlight reflected on snow and ice. In this case, however, the lead character is blinded by the snow, isolation and darkness to the extend that he finds it hard to maintain focus in his job. It does snow a lot in Siglufjörður and often the snowfall is so intense that people literally need to dig their way out of their houses. When I decided on Siglufjörður as setting, the snow had to be there.
Ari is an outsider who enters a closed and claustrophobic world. Why was it important to have an outsider reveal these crimes?
An outsider is able to look at the town and its inhabitants in a different light than the local policeman, which hopefully benefits the reader, who is in most cases ‘visiting Siglufjörður for the first time. And even though I’ve spent a part of most summers in Siglufjörður, I’ve never actually lived there, so as a writer I am also an outsider in a way. It’s also true that an outsider in new surroundings opens up various options in terms of contrasts and interaction between characters. We trust Ari Thor because he is unbiased.
Can you tell us more about the real setting and what it’s like to live there – with the threat of isolation and the snow tunnel?
Siglufjörður is the northernmost town in Iceland, a really beautiful place both in summer and winter. In wintertime the sun disappears behind the mountains for a few months, from November to January, so it gets very dark, and it also snows a lot (which is possibly an understatement). There is also the very real danger of avalanches on the road into town. Fairly shortly after Snowblind was written, a new tunnel was actually opened on the other side of town, through a different mountain, so the town isn’t quite as isolated as it used to be. Siglufjörður used to be the centre of herring fishing in Iceland in the mid-20thcentury, with lots of people moving there for work. It is a smaller town now, but it is actually becoming a very popular tourist destination, with great ski slopes in winter and sunny weather in summer. In the summertime it hardly ever gets dark, the midnight sun making the nights very bright, and that is also a theme I’ve used in my Dark Iceland series.
Can you tell us about the places that we should visit in order to see the locations in the book? The map at the start of your book is fantastic but tell us more…
In Siglufjörður, I would visit the theatre where the murder takes place, the mountain Hvanneyrarskál overlooking the town, the local church, the local fish store (where you can buy such good fish!) and – last but not least – Ari Thor’s house, but I won’t tell you exactly where it is in the town. It is real, but it actually is not on the street where it is said to be in the book. Ugla is from Patreksfjörður, a lovely town in the Westfjords of Iceland, quite far away from Siglufjörður but a very nice part of the country to visit. Reykjavik, of course, in particular the old west-end in the centre, where Ari Thor lives at the beginning of the book, near the marina is a great part of town for a walk. The road trip from Saudarkrokur (where the airport is) to Siglufjordur is amazing, with glorious ocean views and mountains.
Do you really have several words for snow?
Snjór, slydda, él, snær, drífa, fönn, hríð, mjöll, lausamjöll, hjarn, nýsnævi, skari, kafsnjór, kafald, éljagangur, hagl, hundslappadrífa, hríð, ofankoma, bylur, skafrenningur … How many do you want?
What is the best thing about this small Icelandic town that we might not know from your novel?
The peaceful sound of the waves, the lovely scent of the sea and the very quiet pace of life. It’s not always snowbound.
More in the series? What’s next?
The next book in the Dark Iceland series is called Nightblind. Like Snowblind, it is almost entirely set in the town of Siglufjörður, a few years later. The other three books in the series also have Siglufjörður as a centrepoint. One of them is also set in the neighbouring town of Skagafjörður, another one in a wondefully beautiful spot called Kálfshamarsvík (try googling it), where there used to be a small village that sort of disappeared; yet another one is set in the fjord next to Siglufjörður, called Héðinsfjörður, a very beautiful place that has been uninhabited for decades. My story deals with the fictional last inhabitants of the fjord, around 50 years ago.
Well thank you so much for that chat Ragnar! What’s that? A present? Ooh what can it be? That’s very nice of you. Some fish? Suddenly the fear that we could be trapped in that tunnel if it snowed and all we would have to eat would be this fish….
Thankfully, it was just Ragnar having a laugh. He gave us a nice bag of Icelandic sweets instead..chocolate covered salted liquorice for the plane ride home. Now that is an Icelandic treat – as much as this book is!
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