Iceland probably has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. What is it about the crime fiction genre that thrives here?
I think the appeal of crime fiction is very different from actual crime. If you’re interested in crime, you read the newspapers. Fiction is more about the feelings of the people involved, what drives characters to murder and how others respond to it. So it’s more about the mystery and the drama involved.
The main character of your crime novels is attorney Þóra Guðmundsdóttir, a smart, single mother of two. Does her character embody the Icelandic female?
Yes, she’s supposed to be a typical Icelandic female—not that they are typically single mothers—but juggling family life and work is something that most Icelandic females will do when they become mothers.
As a mother of two, and an engineer by day, how do you find time to write?
I don't watch very much TV. It's not as hard as it somehow sounds. A lot of Icelandic writers have fulltime jobs, but perhaps it’s the fact that mine is technical that makes it unusual.
Your novels have been translated into more than thirty languages and sold in more than 100 countries. What do you think it is about them that most appeals to the world?
It's probably something similar to what makes Scandinavian crime fiction popular. Nordic societies are looked upon as being very kind and sheltered; it’s a bit like blood on white snow. Nobody is interested in murder in a war zone.
Nordic crime fiction also tends to focus more on social issues than your average crime fiction. The close-knit ties that people have here with their friends and family is very much part of the characters and the development of the story. Lastly, I think the gloomy nature and dark nights here are fertile grounds for crime fiction.
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, who began her writing career in children’s fiction, wrote her first crime fiction novel in 2005. She has since then become one of Iceland’s best-selling contemporary authors and is now working on her eighth crime novel. Between writing, working as a civil engineer, and caring for a family, Yrsa fielded a few questions for us…