Ragnar Jonasson talks snow and isolation
A christmas chat with a real Christmas Elf today. Name of Ragnar. Lives in a land of snow, accessible by tunnel. When the snow gets too deep, the little elf and his friends have to find things to do. Some bake cakes, others make presents for Santa. One, Ragnar, writes novels about murder mysteries set in a little town of ice, where people get trapped, isolated and sometimes die…..oh
We dug him out of the snow for a bit of a chat…
Blackout – your third novel in the Dark Iceland series. How does it feel to have reached number three for the English speaking audience?
It certainly feels amazing. I am so pleased with the reaction the series has received in the UK, and it’s of course thanks to the readers and their interest that the third book in the series is now being released so soon, just over a year since the first one, Snowblind, was published.
You evoke the time when the Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted. What else do you remember from that time?
In 2010, there were actually two eruptions in Iceland, first in Fimmvörðuháls and then the big one in Eyjafjallajökull. I went out into the countryside to take a look at the first one, which was an incredible sight, but the effect of these volcanic eruptions on the capital of Reykjavik was considerable, due to the volcanic ashes. I remember one day in particular. The volcano had stopped spewing lava, but the ash was still there and a massive cloud had moved over Reykjavik. On a bright summer’s day – when there are usually 24 hours of sunlight in Iceland – the sky suddenly turned black. It was spectacular, yet eerie, and this is the day described at the start of Blackout. We had to deal with the ashes long after that. Young children didn’t take naps outside due to the pollution and kids at kindergarten were sometimes kept inside during warm summer days for the same reason.
Blackout is all about isolation and what we can’t see. Was this different to writing your other books?
Yes and no, perhaps, as the theme of isolation is something I am quite interested in exploring, although from different angles and perspectives. In Snowblind, Ari Thor has to deal with the isolation of Siglufjordur and in Nightblind a part of the narrative is from the viewpoint of a man in a psychiatric ward. Isolation is also a factor in Rupture and Breathless, books no. 4 and 5 in the UK series. The first one is set around the fictional last inhabitants of an isolated fjord next to Siglufjordur in the 1950s, and the second one takes place in an imagined house, the last house standing, in the village of Kálfshamarsvík, a real village which sort of vanished in the 20th century.
What is it about your locations that are so perfect for this kind of novel?
It is important to me that readers are be able to visit the places described in the books, therefore I seek out interesting and strong locations, some of them are isolated and most of them have stunning nature as well, enabling me to use the location as a sort of character in the book.
What’s your favourite Agatha Christie novel and why?
This is an excellent and quite a challenging question. I think her best novel was probably The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, a stunningly plotted novel. Another favorite of mine is Murder on the Links, an early Hastings/Poirot adventure, and perhaps it holds a special place for me because when I wanted to read it in Icelandic a long time ago it was out of print so I had to spend a few Saturday mornings at the national library to read the translation, originally published in Iceland in the 1940s. I also really enjoyed Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, and And Then There Were None is also an amazingly well structured and clever story. If I can name a few others I would probably pick Peril at End House, Murder on the Orient Express, Death on the Nile and Curtain.
Agatha Christie invites you to a dinner party. Which of her five characters would you like to see there and why?
Only five? That’s tough. One the one hand I’d love to meet Poirot and Hastings, Marple and Tommy and Tuppence, but on the other hand I think a dinner party with the murderers from The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, Peril at End House, Endless Night and Curtain would be interesting! In both cases I think I’d also invite Mr Shaitana along, as he knew how to arrange a dinner party.
How do you pronounce Siglufjörður?
Oh, that’s easy. Just the way it’s written.
You often tweet pictures of you at the various locations of your novel. Where else would you like to go on a booktrail – by doing the same but for another book by another writer?
I love to visit locations of novels, and when I go on holiday I usually try to bring with me a book set in the place I am visiting. Having read Peter May’s The Blackhouse, I think the Isle of Lewis would certainly be worth a visit, as well as Ann Cleeves’ Shetland. I’m also a big fan of Johan Theorin’s Öland series, and would like to visit that location. A few booktrails which I’ve done, in a way, also come to mind; when I was in Stockholm a few years ago I visited the island of Sandhamn while reading the first book in Viveca Sten Sandhamn series….
So, Ragnar is a true booktrailer in every sense of the word!
Let’s leave him now, he’s got to rally those other elves in time for the big day…