Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Writing in Ice: Michael Ridpath guest blog

I first came across Michael Ridpath's name in the 90s, when he burst on the scene with a financial thriller that sold for big bucks and attracted a lot of publicity. More recently he's become associated with Icelandic mysteries and I was delighted when he wrote a very good short story in that vein for Motives for Murder. Even more delighted when his story was shortlisted for a CWA Dagger! 

I've always found Michael to be one of those people from whom one can learn a great deal. He's just written a book about his experience as a British novelist writing books set in Iceland and I must say that I think it is a very good read. Michael has kindly contributed a guest blog explaining the background:

'It takes a lot of guts to write about a country you know nothing about.  Or maybe just a certain amount of stupidity.

I started my writing career in the 1990s writing financial thrillers.  They say “write what you know” and I knew the financial world – I had worked for a bank in the City of London. But, as is the way of these things, after eight books my sales languished and I needed to come up with a new plan.  This time I wanted to write about something I didn’t know.  Some poor innocent country that was small enough for me to have a chance of learning all about it, yet remarkable enough to grab my readers’ attention and keep me interested for half a dozen books.  A place whose murder rate I could have fun doubling.

When put that way, the answer was obvious.  Iceland.

So I began researching the country.  This involved not just reading all about it, but also visiting the place many times and talking to dozens of Icelanders.   It was a challenge, but it was fun.  Over the last ten years and five crime novels featuring my Icelandic detective Magnus, I have amassed an Iceland research file running to over 400 pages, neatly broken down into sections that tell me what the waffles in the Mokka Kaffi smell like, the differences between interrogating a witness and a suspect under Icelandic law, and how to deal with unruly elves.

Perhaps the most encouraging titbit I stumbled across was the saying “Glöggt er gests augad” which roughly translates to “Clear is a guest’s eye.”  I believe there is some truth in this.  Iceland is a country where the ordinary is extraordinary: both the astounding landscape of lava fields and fjords and the vigorous, often eccentric citizenry.  An Icelandic author might not notice this.  I can.

I have just published Writing in Ice: A Crime Writer’s Guide to Iceland. Based on my blog, it’s a memoir of how I researched Iceland.  It’s the story of how I fell in love with the country, with some tips on how to research and write a detective series about foreign lands thrown in.  Plus there is advice on how to deal with an obstreperous elf or to pacify a hotel ghost, should you meet one.'   

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