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Interview: Sólveig Pálsdóttir

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Solveig Palsdottir Icelandic crime author

Earlier in 2021, we reviewed Silenced, the second crime novel to appear in English from Icelandic crime author Sólveig Pálsdóttir. Following on from The Fox, also reviewed on our site, Silenced sees Reykjavik detective Gudgier Fransson investigating the death of a woman in prison. Both novels demonstrate Sólveig’s unique, soft and rather contemplative approach to crime fiction. Originally a teacher, Sólveig has become a name to watch in Nordic noir, and we decided to ask her more about her writing.

How did you become a crime author?
I was a full-time teacher, teaching Icelandic, literature and drama. I also took on temporary smaller projects in the field of culture or theater. In fact, I didn’t decide to become a crime writer, I started writing a book based on certain characters and the story developed into a crime novel. I am currently writing crime novel number six, but the last book I wrote was completely different, memoirs from my own life.

Creating the characters, the thrill, the plot twists and the times we are living in – I weave issues that I feel are important into my crime novels. Then the reader decides whether they notice it or not. 

The Fox by Solveig Palsdottir front cover

Can you tell us more about your series with Guðgeir Fransson?
The two most recent ones, The Fox and Silenced, have been published in English but there are three preceding them. The Actor (2012), The Righteous Ones (2013) and Pure (2015). The first three were published by another publisher than I am with now, but hopefully they will also be translated to English. I am currently writing a new Guðgeir novel and I hope English readers can get their hands on it it next year. 

What are the main things you think crime fiction lovers will love about the series?
I write what I would like to read myself. But I am aware that my readers connect with the characters in the books very strongly and identify with their lives. Sometimes they feel like real characters rather than fiction. There are also no graphic descriptions of crimes in my novels, but instead I work with the consequences that crime has on the victims, which is more important in my opinion.

It’s well acknowledged that there is not a lot of crime in Iceland. What limitations does that impose and how do you overcome them?
No limitations, but a writer needs to have a good imagination and be able to use it in their writing.  

You’re one of several Icelandic authors to have their crime novels translated into English. Arnaldur Indridason, Yrsa Sigurdardottir and Ragnar Jonasson are the best known so far. What did you do to find your own niche when it came to creating your character and stories so as not to feel too similar to your compatriots?
Fortunately, we are all very different authors, each with our own writing style. But to be honest, I did not think of other authors, I just go my own way in this like in everything else I do. I would also like to mention another great Icelandic crime novelist, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, she also has her own unique style and has been translated to English.

Why do you think Icelandic crime fiction in particular has become so popular?
I think the success of Icelandic crime writers is absolutely fantastic, but let’s not forget that on the other end of the equation are great people in the UK who have fallen for Iceland and Icelandic literature. I have to mention Jacky Collins, who has been tireless in promoting Icelandic authors, and my great translator and writer Quentin Bates, who is fluent in Icelandic and knows the community well.

Silenced by Solveig Palsdottir front cover

We’ve reviewed The Fox and Silenced. How have they been received and what feedback have you had on them?
The reception has been absolutely wonderful! I’m incredibly happy and grateful. Now I look forward to coming to the UK to meet my readers in person. Maybe some of them will also come to Iceland in November for Iceland Noir.

Does what readers say influence your writing and your stories, and does it differ between Iceland and the UK and US?
I listen, of course, but then I go by my own intuition. I don’t think it’s beneficial to try to please someone else and fall into something just because it’s mainstream, that’s false. But regarding the difference between UK and Icelandic readers, I find it interesting that the focus is sometimes on different things. For example, I feel like the UK readers are very aware of the social aspect of my books and I find that awesome.

Which other authors do you read and how have they influenced you?
When I was a teenager, I read Ruth Rendell and PD James. Once I got a little older, I was fascinated by The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. Then I read everything by the Swedish authors Henning Mankell and Stieg Larson and the Norwegian Jo Nesbø. Crime novels, however, were no more my favorite than other genres. I just try to read as much as possible. 

What’s the next book in the series that we’ll be able to read in English, what happens and when will it be out?
I’m just over halfway through the next book and it will hopefully be published in the beginning of November. I’m not going to tell you what happens, but Guðgeir, Elsa Guðrún and Særós are all present. A 52-year-old doctor from Reykjavík is found dead in a caravan in the Westman Islands, and his younger girlfriend has disappeared. The Westman Islands are an archipelago off the south coast of Iceland. The largest is Heimaey and 4,352 people live there currently. Some trivia for crime fiction lovers: a huge volcanic eruption started there on 23 January 1973. The eruption took everyone by surprise and all residents were evacuated from the island that night. Many lost all their possessions, but only one person died – of a heart attack. If people want to know more then this is an interesting website: https://www.eldheimar.is/um-eldheima

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