Beyond Words – Full Line-Up and Programme

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Institut français has announced an impressive line-up of author events and films screenings for the inaugural Beyond Words Live French Literature Festval.

2017 has been a busy year for translated fiction, with an exceptionally dense list of books coming out in English translation, and a flurry of European writers attending UK festivals. Amongst an unusually rich French contingent of books published this year, there are no less than four Goncourt prizes (Lydie Salvayre, Alexis Jenni, Mathias Enard and Laurent Binet) one Renaudot Prize (Delphine de Vigan), and three selections for major UK prizes (Maylis de Kerangal shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust prize, Mathias Enard and Alain Mabanckou longlisted for the Man Booker International 2017).

The Beyond Words Festival will be showcasing these works and other recent books with a relevance to France, through an entirely bilingual series of guest writer appearances, panel discussions, staged reading performances and film adaptations. The festival opens on Thursday 11 May

Venue: Institut français, 17 Queensberry Place, London SW7 2DT – Info & bookings: www.beyondwordslitfest.co.uk

Programme – at the Institut français

Thursday 11 May 2017

David Bellos: Victor Hugo revisited

Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables is the most loved, most read and most adapted novel of the nineteenth century. Prizewinning biographer and translator David Bellos argues that it outshines even its most illustrious contemporaries— for War and Peace, Madame Bovary, Great Expectations, Crime and Punishment were all published within a few years. His talk will bring to life the extraordinary story of how Victor Hugo managed to write his epic work despite a revolution, a coup d’état and political exile; how he pulled off an astonishing deal to get it published, and set it on course to become the novel that epitomizes the grand sweep of history in the nineteenth century. This biography of a masterpiece insists that the moral and social message of Hugo’s novel, its plea for a new sense of justice, is just as important for our century as it was for its own.

5.30pm -6.30pm – £10, conc. £8
In English

The End of Eddy by Edouard Louis

“Before I had a chance to rebel against the world of my childhood, that world rebelled against me”. The festival opens with an exceptional staged reading of a book which took the French literary scene by storm. Translated into twenty languages and now into English by Harvill Secker, Edouard Louis’ The End of Eddy (translated by Michael Lucey) tells the life of a young gay boy growing up in a French town crushed by misery, alcoholism, racism and homophobia. Giving a voice to the voiceless, it is a painful and vibrant story of escape and revolt. How to reinvent what has been forced upon us? How to get the better of a life not chosen? Adapted to the stage by French director Richard Brunel, director of the Comédie de Valence National Theatre, with Henry Pettigrew in the title role, and actors newly graduated from the Manchester School of Theatre.

7pm – 8.30pm – £15, conc. £13
In English

Friday 12 May 2017

Michael Rosen: The Disappearance of Emile Zola

Discover the incredible story of Emile Zola’s escape to London in the aftermath of the scandalous Dreyfus Affair. Michael Rosen, Children’s Laureate and author of more than 140 books enjoyed by children and adults alike, offers an intriguing and personal insight into the mind, the love, and the politics of Zola in a book published this year by Faber & Faber. He will take you behind the scenes of the famous “J’accuse” that forced Zola to leave Paris in disgrace.

6pm – 7pm – £10, conc. £8

French Poetry Live

Poems are to be shared, embodied, whispered and spoken out loud, and our poetry libraries are full of fragments of wisdom and beauty waiting to be re-read. Come and bring to life an exciting selection of French poetry from the National Poetry Library’s collection, by Baudelaire, Cendrars, Apollinaire, Vénus Khoury-Ghata and more. A collective performance led by Erica Jarnes – no preparation necessary, just bring your voice and ears.

6.30pm – 7.30pm – £10, conc. £8

In English and French

Alexis Jenni and Hisham Matar: Rewriting History

To celebrate the UK launch of The French Art of War (Atlantic Books) and the French publication of The Return (Penguin/Gallimard), we welcome Goncourt prize winner Alexis Jenni and PEN America 2017 laureate Hisham Matar. Jenni’s novel spans essential decades of recent French history, from the aftermath of the Second World War in the 1950s, to the decolonisation and Algerian war of the 1970s. Meanwhile, Matar tells his illuminating journey to find his father, kidnapped and handed over to the Libyan regime in 1990, and retraces his steps to rediscover his country after years of exile. Both authors will be joined by their translators, French writer Agnès Desarthe and Frank Wynne, for a discussion on writing, generations, history and violence.

7.30pm – 9.00pm – £10, conc. £8

Corniche Kennedy
Film
FRA | 2016 | dir. Dominique Cabrera

Adapted from a novel by Maylis de Kerangal, Corniche Kennedy follows a group of adolescents from the working class neighbourhoods of Marseille who defy the laws of gravity in this ode to youthful sincerity and blue summers by the Mediterranean sea. Maylis de Kerangal has just been shortlisted for the Wellcome Trust prize for Mend the Living (MacLehose Press). Followed by a Q&A with director Dominique Cabrera.

8.40pm – 10.30pm – £12, conc. £10
In French with English subtitles

Saturday 13 May 2017

Truth and Fiction

For this special festival edition of our Café Philo, come and discuss the question of truth and fiction. In times of PostTruth and alternative realities, what do we hope for when we read fictional stories? To what extent do fragments of reality impact the imaginary quality of the narrative? What narratives and fictions seem most relevant to today’s concerns?

10.30am – 12pm – £2
In English

Emmanuelle Pagano and Ananda Devi

Join Emmanuelle Pagano, Ananda Devi and the brand new Librairie Caravanserail for an afternoon of readings and more. In Trysting (And Other Stories), Emmanuelle Pagano presents a myriad of minutely choreographed vignettes on love and desire. Ananda Devi sets Eve out of her Ruins (Les Fugitives) in her native island Mauritius, telling the loss of innocence of four teenagers against the backdrop of postcolonial fin-de-siècle. Pagano and Devi will talk about their work and the influences of other voices and art forms. The talk will be followed by a festive moment to celebrate the launch of Caravanserail.

3pm – 4pm – £10, conc. £8
In English and French

A Woman’s Life
Film
FRA | 2016 | dir. Stéphane Brizé

In this compelling adaptation of Guy de Maupassant’s A Woman’s Life, Jeanne, a young noblewoman, copes with the loss of her ideals as she sets out on the path of adulthood and gradually experiences the harsh realities of a woman’s life in the nineteenth century.

4pm – 6pm – £12, conc. £10

In French with English subtitles

Mathias Malzieu: Diary of a Vampire in Pyjamas

“To have had my life saved has been the most extraordinary adventure I have ever had” says Mathias Malzieu. Best known as the lead singer of the French band Dionysos, Mathias is now also an acclaimed writer. He will join us – possibly with some music – on the occasion of the UK launch of his latest book, Diary of a Vampire in Pyjamas by Quercus. Insightful, tragic and funny, it is the memoir of one who lives to tell the tale of his close encounter with death, and of his addictive wonder at the triumph of the human spirit.

5pm – 6pm – £10, conc. £8
In English and French

Man Booker International Readings

Mathias Enard’s nocturnal and musical Goncourt-winning novel Compass (Fitzcarraldo Editions, translated by Charlotte Mandel) spans the restless night of an insomniac musicologist drifting between dreams and memories of the Middle East, of Aleppo, Damascus and Tehran, as well as of various writers, artists, musicians and orientalists. Meanwhile, Alain Mabanckou’s Black Moses (Serpent’s Tail, translated by Helen Stevenson), a larger than life comic tale set in 1970s Congo, shows the struggle of a young man obsessed with helping the helpless in an unjust world. Storytellers Alia Alzougbi and David Mildon, accompanied by oud player Rihab Azar, invite you to celebrate these two novels, both longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

6.30pm – 7.30pm – £10, conc.£8
In English and French Related

Sunday 14 May 2017

Sophie’s Misfortunes
Film
FRA | 2016 | dir. Christophe Honoré

Christophe Honoré’s recent adaptation of the Comtesse de Ségur’s classic collection of stories about mischievous little Sophie will delight kids and young at heart. Far from being a model little girl, she’s constantly up to no good, cutting her mother’s fish into tiny pieces, making chalk tea or torturing her wax doll.

11am – 1pm – £5
In French with English subtitles

Hiroshima mon Amour
Film FRA | 1959 | dir. Alain Resnais

One of the most influential films of all time, Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour features Marguerite Duras’s clear, minimalist and haunting prose and revealed Emmanuelle Riva to the world as a French actress who engages in a brief, intense affair with a Japanese architect in postwar Hiroshima.

2pm – 4pm – £9, conc. £7
In French with English subtitles

Lydie Salvayre: Cry, Mother Spain

Goncourt Prize-winning Cry, Mother Spain takes us to the heart of the Spanish Civil War, as seen through the delicate transcription of a politically, emotionally and linguistically charged conversation between mother and daughter. Montse is fifteen as Franco’s forces begin their murderous purges and cities across Spain rise up against the old order. Those troubled times, both the happiest and most miserable years of Montse’s life, are set against darker extracts taken from the contemporary account Les Grands Cimetières sous la lune by Georges Bernanos. Lydie Salvayre will be in conversation with her translator Ben Faccini.

4pm – 5pm – £10, conc. £8

Delphine de Vigan: Based on a True Story

Based on a True Story by Delphine de Vigan is a prize-winning, sophisticated and chilling novel of suspense which continually blurs the line between fact and fiction. Just published by Bloomsbury in a translation by George Miller, this unputdownable book takes the reader into a nightmarish story of master manipulation. Rarely seen in London, Delphine de Vigan will tell us more about the boundaries between reality and fantasy, friendship and fascination, and a little too about her previous bestselling books No and Me and Nothing Holds back the Night.

5.30pm – 6.30pm – £10, conc. £8
In English and French

Tuesday 16 May 2017

Laurent Binet: The Seventh Function of Language

February 1980. Roland Barthes is knocked down in a Paris street by a laundry van. History tells us it was an accident. But what if it were an assassination? What if Barthes was carrying a document of global importance? A document explaining the seventh function of language – which gives whoever masters it the ability to convince anyone, in any situation, to do anything. Who can you trust when the idea of truth itself is at stake? Laurent Binet, author of the bestselling HHhH and winner of the Goncourt first novel prize, will be presenting this brilliantly erudite comedy, published by Harvill Secker, in discussion with British author and journalist Alex Preston.

6.30pm – 7.30pm – £10, conc. £8

In English and French

Programme – at the British Library and Dulwich Books

Dulwich Books: France Country of the Month

A discussion with Alexis Jenni, Emmanuelle Pagano, Mathias Malzieu and Ananda Devi led by British author, historian and French literary critic Graham Robb. Dulwich Books, shortlisted for the British Book Awards 2017 Independent Bookshop of the Year, celebrates France as their country of the Month this May.

Sunday 14 May
3 – 5pm – £5
Venue: Dulwich Books Bookshop
6 Croxted Road, West Dulwich
London SE21 8SW
www.dulwichbooks.co.uk

Le Grand Tour: The Best of Contemporary French Fiction

Join the crème de la crème of French authors, Alexis Jenni, Lydie Salvayre and Delphine de Vigan at the British Library, where they will showcase their newly translated works through readings and short performances.

Monday 15 May
7 – 8.30pm – £12, conc. £8

Venue: British Library Knowledge Centre Theatre
96 Euston Road
London NW1 2DB
www.bl.uk

Desert Island DVDs: Thomas Enger

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Norwegian crime writer Thomas Enger is a former journalist. Rights to his debut novel, Burned, sold to 26 countries including the UK and USA. The sequel, Pierced, was shortlisted for the Riverton Award, a prize given out to the nation’s best crime fiction. Compared to Stieg Larsson, his dark and gritty series will continue in 2017 with the publication of Cursed.

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Heat (USA, 1995)

‘This is probably the one movie I have watched the most times since its release in 1995. It has a wonderfully structured plot and a brilliant cast. What more can you wish for? Great music, perhaps. It has that as well.’

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Glengarry Glen Ross (USA, 1992)

‘I may have lied a little bit about the «watched the most times» thing in reference to Heat. The last 45 minutes of Glengarry GlenRoss probably holds the number one spot. This movie is originally a play written by David Mamet, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1984. The dialogue in this novel is music, it’s poetry, and when you have a cast that includes the likes of Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey and the legendary Jack Lemmon – to name but a few – you are in for a treat. The scene with Alec Baldwin in the beginning is also a classic.’

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Shawshank Redemption (USA, 1994)

‘Originally a short story by the one and only Stephen King, this movie is incredibly beautiful. I could listen to Morgan Freeman’s voice over all day. Thomas Newman’s score is also magnificent. Another one of the movies I have watched over and over again.’

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10th Kingdom (USA, 2000)

‘This pick might come as a surprise, but one summer a few years ago we went to the local supermarket and looked for a DVD to watch as the weather was really bad, and we just picked this DVD series mainly because it lasts for seven hours or something (so we could fill the rainy days…) Much to our surprise it was highly entertaining. It depicts the adventures of a young woman and her goofy father after they are transported from New York City through a magical mirror into a parallel world of fairytales. While it’s not normally my kind of genre (I only watch it with my kids), it’s easy to tell that people had a lot of fun while making this.’

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The Newsroom (HBO, 2012-14)

‘As a former journalist not having missed the profession much after I quit, this series made me yearn back a little bit to the news desk when stories are breaking. It’s written by Aaron Sorkin and has that Sorkinesque super sharp ping-pong dialogue throughout. Highly entertaining. Too bad it wasn’t renewed for more than three seasons.’

Iceland Noir booking information.

Thomas Enger is published by Orenda.

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Desert Island DVDs: Annamaria Alfieri

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Annamaria Alfieri is the author of three historical mysteries set in South America. Her current series takes place in British East Africa, now Kenya, beginning in 1911. The Richmond (Virginia) Times-Dispatch described her Strange Gods as having “the flair of Isak Dinesen and Beryl Markham, the cunning of Agatha Christie and Elspeth Huxley and the moral sensibility of our times.” The second in this series, The Idol of Mombasa is just out. Alfieri is also, along with Michael Stanley, the editor of the new mystery/thriller anthology Sunshine Noir, which Peter James called “a gem of an anthology—a whole new movement,” in crime fiction.

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‘My passion is historical fiction. The mysteries I write take place in times past and often in remote places. So it is no surprise to me that I am drawn to the same kinds of stories when it comes to movies and television. Hence, my pick for the best of the best, when it comes to TV series, is Foyle’s War. For me it has everything. Nothing tops it.’

‘The series takes place in Hastings, on the English coast beginning in 1940, just as World War II is getting underway in earnest. The main characters are a trio led by DCS Christopher Foyle, an experienced detective, a WWI veteran, who wants nothing more than to have a serious job with the government in fighting the war. But his superiors insist that he is more valuable solving crimes, and aren’t we glad of that. His sidekicks in this effort are Samantha Stewart, a driver seconded to him from the women’s military corps and a partner who is a clear thinking policeman daunted by the fact that he lost a leg in Britain’s first military disaster of the war, in Norway.’

‘The creator and writer—Anthony Horowitz—gives us carefully drawn characters and twisty, surpassingly engaging plots. But he never gets overly precious with the surprises. Just enough to keep us guessing. Like all good historical fiction, these great stories are wrapped around legendary events—such as the evacuation of Dunkirk. Each episode focuses on a different aspect of life on the English home front during wartime. Oh, the events we expect to see are all there—the Blitz, the food shortages, the evacuation of children. But the show is much more than that. There is just enough hope and glory for us to admire the brave lads in their Spitfires fighting fascism. But we also get an unblinking look at home-front hanky panky of everyday Brits, attacking innocent German and Italian immigrants, looting bombed out factories, stealing priceless works of art as they are being moved from threatened London into safe keeping in Wales. There is just enough romance in the stories to give us a bit of relief from wartime tragedy. The underlying social issues cross the gap of decades—generational antagonisms, sexual politics, class warfare. And like all good historical fiction, the stories reflect what’s on our minds today, politically and socially.’

‘The art direction is superb. The period set decoration is perfection, and the episodes are worth watching for the scenery alone—like the vintage cars and especially the buses, the half-timber houses, the thatched cottages. Great direction, camera work, Foyle’s War has it all. Each episode, on its own, reads like a good film.’

‘The tales are character driven and the acting is superb. Led by the incomparable Michael Kitchen, who can say more with a close-up of the look in his eye or the slightest twist of his mouth than most television actors can say with twelve lines a dialog. His co-stars are up to the mark: Anthony Howell, as Foyle’s sergeant –Paul Milner, Honeysuckle Weeks, as Samantha Steward—Foyle’s driver, and Julian Ovenden as Andrew, Foyle’s son. All perfectly cast and unforgettable in their roles. (I confess that when Ovenden showed up as one of Lady Mary’s suitors in Downton Abbey, I said, “Oh, look. It’s Andrew Foyle.”)’

‘At one point, one the characters looks at the series DCS and demands, “What sort of world is this, Mr. Foyle?”’

‘The sort of world this series creates is one that recounts history without letting the background get in the way of great detective stories.’

Runners Up for my choice:

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Endeavour

‘The prequel to the ultra-popular Inspector Morse series. Another historical offering, if you can call the 1960’s historical. The third episode of Season One—“Fugue”—is my pick for the best episode of a detective series ever.’

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Inspector Montalbano

Based on the totally engaging mysteries series by Andrea Camilleri, these shows bring the brilliant Montalbano to the small screen along with great bonuses of realistic, yet wonderfully attractive actors, gripping plots, and oh, so gorgeous Sicilian scenery. The stories move like lightning. The food described is mouth watering. The people have a YUM factor all their own.’

Thanks to Annamaria Alfieri and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Annamaria Alfieri is published by White Sun Books and Felony & Mayhem

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Desert Island DVDs – Michael Ridpath

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Before becoming a writer, Michael Ridpath used to work as a bond trader in the City of London. After writing eight financial thrillers, which were published in over 30 languages, he began the “Fire and Ice” series, featuring the Icelandic detective Magnus Jonson. He has also written two spy novels set at the beginning of World War II. He is a frequent visitor to Iceland and an enthusiastic participator in Iceland Noir.

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Borgen (Denmark, 2010 -13)

‘I don’t understand why I like Borgen. It’s about party politics in one of Europe’s dullest political systems, it’s about pig farming regulations and shifts in minor party coalitions. The female protagonist juggles her job with getting her kids’ homework in on time. A journalist can’t decide whether to take another job or not. How humdrum can you get? Yet for some reason, I absolutely loved Borgen.

The series follows the career of Birgitte Nyborg, the fictional first female prime minister of Denmark. It is superbly acted and written; there is something about the relatively clean and dull background of Danish politics that puts all the political shenanigans into stark relief. The characters seem much more realistic and easy to identify with than, say, The West Wing or House of Cards, excellent though both of those series are. Somehow this makes the viewer care more about them. “Borgen” is the nickname for Denmark’s Parliament building, by the way.’

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Rams (Iceland, 2015)

‘This is a 2015 Icelandic film brilliantly directed by Grímur Hákonarson, who owns a nifty little flat cap. It concerns two grey-bearded brothers, Gummi and Kiddi, whose sheep farms are next door to each other, but who haven’t spoken for decades. They communicate by sheepdog messenger. When there is an outbreak of scrapie in their dale, the vet orders their ancestral flock to be destroyed and the brothers are almost forced to work together to save their sheep.

This is shot on a very low budget with actors who are so authentic that they look like amateurs, but aren’t. There are wonderful views of wide dales, and some great sheep scenes. The traditional Icelandic characteristics of hardiness, toughness, self reliance and unbending stubbornness are here in spades. It is Halldór Laxness’s Independent People for the twenty-first century. I was brought up in the Yorkshire dales and I like sheep, so I loved this film.’

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Deutschland 83 (Germany, 2015)

‘This German series concerned two subjects I have considered writing novels about in the past: East Germany and the nuclear standoff in 1983, when the world was almost as close to blowing itself up as in 1963. Moritz Stamm is a 23 year old East German Stasi agent who travels to the west standing in for a murdered aide to a West German general. Deutschland 83 shows the startling differences between east and west at the time, and also the similar impulses of disgruntled youth on both sides of the iron curtain. It’s also really exciting as our hero uses the traditional techniques of creeping around offices at night and bonking secretaries to discover cruise missile secrets. I am surprised the producers allowed the writer to get away with the massive holes in the plot, for example the way Stamm can pass himself off as a graduate of West German military college yet not find his way around a western supermarket. But I’m glad they left the holes in, because it makes the series much more exciting.’

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Pressa (Iceland, 2007 – 16)

‘I need an obscure Icelandic TV series (at least to non-Icelanders) and this is my choice. Pressa is a drama series about a tabloid newspaper in Iceland, which lurches from dodgy headline to dodgy headline. The heroine, Lara, is a single mother, desperate to keep her job on the paper and to fend off the unwelcome advances of her bosses. Pressa is fast paced and tense. The temptation to compete for the bottom in gutter journalism is universal, as is the corporate corruption. Pressa perfectly sums up how Reykjavík is a both a dull small town and also one of the most extraordinary cities on earth. It’s the kind of series that makes you wish that Hampstead Garden suburb (where I live) had its own little lava field. But it doesn’t. Which is why I write about Iceland instead. I bought my copy, in Icelandic with English subtitles, in a bookshop in Reykjavík.’

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Yes Minister (UK, 1980 – 88)

‘I think I’m allowed one British choice. Or am I? After Brexit, does a British TV series from the 80s count as European? After Brexit, we all need to watch Yes Minister. It is a timeless comedy from the 1980s, where Sir Humphrey Appleby, a senior civil servant, spars with Jim Hacker, the Minister for Administrative Affairs, whose sporadic displays of eagerness to get things done, are cleverly disrupted by Sir Humphrey and the forces of inertia. It’s what I watch when my wife is out, I am feeling a bit glum and I am too tired to read. I suspect it is also being watched at the moment by today’s British civil servants as they seek inspiration to preserve the status quo in a country where – let’s be honest – nobody has a clue what they are doing. There is so much here for the rest of Europe to learn from us.’

Thanks to Michael Rodpath and Iceland Noir.

Iceland Noir booking information.

Michael Ridpath is published by Corvus

Thin Ice: Quentin Bates Interviewed

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Author of acclaimed Icelandic crime series talks about his lead character, translating, and plans for this year’s Iceland Noir festival..

After a decade spent living in Iceland Quentin Bates returned to the UK and embarked on a career as a journalist for a nautical trade publication.

In addition to being the author of a series of novels featuring Officer Gunnhildur Gísladóttir from the Reykjavik Serious Crimes Unit he has translated Ragnar Jónasson’s Snow Blind and Night Blind for Orenda Books.

Gunnhildur was a sidekick when you started writing your first novel. Did making her the lead character cause any major story problems which had to be rectified in subsequent drafts?

In the original draft of Frozen Out she was the sidekick to the male protagonist who I fairly quickly realised wasn’t working. He was the archetypal grumpy geezer with a bottle problem and a weight problem. I admit it, I’d been reading too much Wallander and he had rubbed off far too clearly. Fortunately I could see what was wrong with what I’d been trying to do, got rid of the bloke who was so unmemorable that I can’t even remember what name I gave him, and promoted his far more interesting sidekick to the main role.

That happened quite early in the process, so replacing him was quite seamless. I hardly noticed he was gone. What did cause problems came at the editing stage and was to do with Gunnhildur’s age. Originally she was an older character, in her late forties. The publisher wasn’t happy with that and wanted a younger character, someone with a career ahead of her and not with an eye on retirement. They wanted to go much younger, so eventually we compromised. That meant re-arranging the ages of her children and fixing all kinds of conflicts in the plot, and one or two items from the original version slipped through the net.

How thoroughly do you research Icelandic policing methods?

Actually, I don’t research that side of it at all thoroughly. I have some friends in the Reykjavík police force and I can take questions to them, so I’ll ask if you have XYZ, what would you do, or what could you do? I’m more interested in listening to them talk among themselves, hearing how they treat each other, what they chat about, what their attitudes are to various things that may have nothing to do with police work. It’s the incidental details rather than the procedure that interest me. But if there’s anything specific I’m unsure of, I can ask.

You have a long standing connection with Iceland. As a “Scandi-Brit” Is it easier for you to be more critical in your writing about how the country has responded to the aftershocks of the 2008 financial meltdown than would be the case for a native Icelander?

We’re into sensitive territory here. It’s incredibly easy to criticise both the run-up to the financial crash and the aftermath. Both have been pretty disastrous. It has to be borne in mind that a country teetering on the brink of bankruptcy like this is a rare event and it’s virtually impossible not to criticise, especially when, like me, the critic has a vast emotional investment in Iceland. I’m enormously fond of Iceland and it hurt watching the place hit so hard. Friends and relatives lost jobs and homes. It was painfully close to home watching it all happen.

It’s easier to be critical as an outsider as being outside maybe gives you a clearer view. But I’m also very conscious that as both an insider and an outsider, criticism from me is going to be taken badly. I can’t get away with being as openly critical as a local writing in Icelandic for a domestic readership could be. Having said that, when I wrote Frozen Out, I was sure I had gone overboard in describing some of the excesses, but for years afterwards things were still coming to light and in fact I hadn’t even come close.

Icelandic crime fiction is flourishing after years of being overshadowed by by its Nordic neighbours. Why has it taken so long for British readers and the publishing industry to recognise the country’s crime fiction scene?

Ask the publishers, both UK and US. For some reason publishers on both sides of the Atlantic are traditionally wary of foreign stuff and we see a far lower proportion of translated material on bookshop shelves than you’d see in a European bookshop.

To start with there were Sjöwall & Wahlöö, plus a few others, then Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, followed by Henning Mankell’s books. The arrival of Stieg Larsson triggered a rush for Nordic crime stuff, but in reality the bulk of what publisher snapped up in the wake of the Larsson phenomenon was from Sweden, plus some Norwegian books. Danes, Finns and Icelanders stayed pretty much out in the cold, although this has finally started to change now.

There are still only five Icelandic crime writers available in English; Arnaldur Indriðason and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir who are well established. Then Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson and Árni Thórarinsson were published by Amazon Crossing, although there’s only one of Árni’s books in English (translated by Anna Yates). Then Karen Sullivan came along and took a punt on Ragnar Jónasson, which was definitely the right thing to do.

There are more to come… Lilja Sigurðardóttir (no relation to Yrsa), Jónína Leósdóttir, Ævar Örn Jósepsson and more. The sooner a few more are snapped by by British publishers the better.

Do you regard translation as an art or a craft?

Technical translation is a craft and literary translation is closer to being an art. Translating a novel calls for all kinds of interpretation, especially with those wonderful untranslatable words, swearing, idioms, nursery rhymes, and so on. These things can’t be rendered directly into English so it’s a process of finding roundabout routes and substitutes that equate to what the author would have written if he or she had been writing in English. It’s certainly a fine way of exercising the grey matter.

When translating Icelandic fiction do you have to make concessions for readers who may be unfamiliar with with the country and its culture?

I try not to. In places I’ll add a line or use one of those roundabout routes if something deserves explanation – although the editor has to approve these additions and may well ask for a few more. But I have faith in the readers of translated nordic crime fiction as being discerning, intelligent types who can use google if there’s something they find genuinely baffling, and who hopefully don’t mind being challenged occasionally by something new and unfamiliar.

What are the biggest challenges facing a translator in the age of ebook publishing?

I’m going to stick out my neck here and say that I deplore the number of foreign authors who translate their work into English themselves. I have read a few of these things and I haven’t seen a good one yet – although I’m possibly more critical than many people would be. It’s an exceptional person who can translate out of their native language and into another one. Fair enough, your conversational or business English is good, even excellent. But that’s not quite enough. I know authors who speak outstandingly good English, but who admit that there’s a crucial 2% shortfall they need to overcome to be able to write English themselves.

But still… when I see those words ‘translated by the author,’ that tends to be as far as I get.

Having said that, Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov both wrote in English which wasn’t their first language. But they were exceptional. They must have mastered that final 2%.

Do you have a wishlist of books that should be published in the UK?

The one mentioned above, Lilja Sigurðardóttir, Jónína Leósdóttir and Ævar Örn Jósepsson are prime candidates. Apart from them, I’d like to see more of Dominique Manotti’s books translated from French as her fiction is outstandingly good. Then I’d like to see crime fiction from more far-flung places, the Balkans, North Africa, Greenland…

As co-founder of the Iceland Noir festival you are currently arranging this year’s line up. What are you able to reveal about the event?

This year we wanted an all-female line-up of headlining authors, and that’s what we have. Our stars are Val McDermid from Scotland, Leena Lehtolainen from Finland, Viveca Sten from Sweden and Sara Blædel from Denmark.

Thin Ice is published by Constable

Iceland Noir booking info

Blog Tour

Event News: Crime Fiction At This Year’s Jewish Book Week

De-Botton

CRIME FICTION AT THIS YEAR’S JEWISH BOOK WEEK

20-28 FEBRUARY 2016

 

● Mishka Ben-David ● Professor Saul David ● Jenni Frazer ● Jonathan Freedland ● Mark Lawson ● Adam LeBor ● Harri Nykänen ● Kristina Ohlsson ● Matt Rees ●

 

 Jewish Book Week (JBW) will be welcoming a number of critically acclaimed crime writers to its festival in London next month as part of its ten-day events programme.

Authors speaking include ex-Mossad officer Mishka Ben-David; two of Northern Europe’s most celebrated crime fiction writers – ex-OSCE Counter Terrorism Officer Kristina Ohlsson and former crime journalist Harri Nykänen, creator of Jewish-Finnish detective Ariel Kafka – with talks including everything from historical thrillers, to the real-life story of the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris and the mission to save the hostages.

Authors participating in the 2016 programme include:

·         Sunday 21 February, 17:00-18:00.  Location: Kings Place

Award winning crime writer Matt Rees teamed up with the late Yehuda Avner, adviser to Israeli Prime Ministers, to write The Ambassadors, an historical thriller set in Nazi Germany.  What if Israel had been founded before the Holocaust?  Might its existence have changed the course of European history?   This event will be chaired by journalist Jenni Frazer.

·         Wednesday 24 February, 19:00-20.00.  Location: Kings Place

Bestselling author and award-winning journalist Jonathan Freedland will discuss The 3rd Woman, the first thriller to be published under his own name, in conversation with author and broadcaster Mark Lawson.  His book is a high-concept thriller set in a world in which the USA bows to the People’s Republic of China, corruption is rife and the government dictates what the ‘truth’ is.   Jonathan Freedland will explore the genesis of his novel about an individual’s quest for justice.

·         Friday 26 February, 13:00-14:00.  Location: JW3 (in association with Halban Publishers)

‘Spies: Fact and Fiction’Mishka Ben-David served in Mossad as a high-ranking officer. Now a full-time novelist, he writes tense thrillers about Mossad agents worldwide. Forbidden Love in St Petersburg is his second translated novel and he talks about his time in Mossad and how it informs his writing, in conversation with international bestselling author, Adam LeBor, whose novel The Reykjavik Assignment, features rogue ex-Mossad agent Yael Azoulay.

·         Sunday 28 February, 15:30-16:30.  Location: Kings Place

‘Nordic Noir’ – Two of Northern Europe’s most celebrated crime fiction writers, Finland’s Harri Nykänen, creator of Jewish detective Ariel Kafka, andKristina Ohlsson, one of Sweden’s foremost crime writers, introduce their latest page-turners to UK audiences with fellow crime writer Adam LeBor.

 Non-fiction events in the programme include ‘Operation Thunderbolt’ with historian and broadcaster Professor Saul David talking about his fast-paced account of the 1976 hijacking of an Air France flight from Tel Aviv to Paris, and the daring, secret mission orchestrated by the Israeli government to save the hostages, which will take place at JW3 on 25 February.

 In addition to events focusing on crime fiction, JBW, London’s International Festival of Arts and Ideas, will feature topical debates, interviews, performance, debut writers, writers-in-translation and fringe events, designed to appeal to all ages, faiths and ethnicities,covering, amongst other areas: art and photography; biography & memoir; religion & society; science & technology; private passions; and war & conflict.

 Please see www.jewishbookweek.com to view the full festival programme and pricing information.

 Venue information:

Events will be held at Kings Place, 90 York Way, London N1 9AG; and at JW3, 341-351 Finchley Road, London NW3 6ET

Box office information:

Tickets can be purchased online by telephone or in person through:

·         The Jewish Book Week website at www.jewishbookweek.com

·         Kings Place Box Office, tel: 020 7520 1490, www.kingsplace.co.uk/jbw

·         JW3 Box Office, tel: 020 7433 8988, www.JW3.org.uk

Book Review: Christmas is Coming by Jóhannes úr Kötlum (Trans by Hallberg Hallmundsson)

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Something festive this way comes: classic collection of verse reintroduced figures from Icelandic folklore.

In the early 1930s Icelandic literature was undergoing a golden age. Having gained independence in 1918 the country was experiencing an emboldened sense of self identity which was expressed throughout the arts. An age of introspection and exploration that saw the country’s writers and artists reinterpret Icelandic heritage from a nationalistic perspective.

Possibly influenced by adult literature’s coming of age, children’s fiction began to exhibit greater sophistication and spoke to a nation that although primarily dependent upon agriculture and fisheries for its sustainability was taking tentative steps towards urbanisation and consumerism.

Into this age of transition Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s seminal seasonal text Christmas is Coming was published. First issued in 1932 the text reintroduced Icelandic society to figures from pre-Christian Nordic Yuletide folklore albeit in a slightly sanitised form more palatable to early twentieth century readers.

An alternative to Father Christmas, according to Icelandic folklore children’s homes are visited by elves over a number of nights leading up to the Yuletide festival. Until the publication of Christmas is Coming the precise number of elves and individual characteristics varied regionally. Malign and occasionally murderous figures traditionally used to scare children into behaving were transformed by Jóhannes úr Kötlum into mischievous elves. Fixing the number of Yule Lads at thirteen each was given a distinct personality.

In modern Icelandic society children are told that Yule Lads will visit homes leaving gifts or rotting potatoes depending on their behaviour. Jóhannes úr Kötlum’s verse was written at a time when agriculture was the dominant industry and in his poem the elves play a series of pranks upon farmers homes.

This seasonal bestseller remains in print and is now available in English. The collection also includes The Ballad of Grýla the tale of an ogre who feasts on badly behaved children and The Christmas Cat a dark account of a terrifying feline who prowls around Iceland looking for children wearing old clothes because she is unable to eat infants that are wearing new garments.

Providing an invaluable glimpse at the birth of modern Icelandic festive traditions, Christmas is Coming is a macabre and impish collection.

Christmas is Coming is available to order from Amazon.