Iceland Noir dispatches: Day two

It’s day two here at Iceland Noir. It’s bucketing down outside and the wind is blowing a gale. So it’s a small mercy that we’re inside enjoying more back-to-back panels at the Iðnó theatre.

This morning, we saw Danielle Ramsay, Laura Castoro (DD Ayres), Valentina Giambanco, William Burton McCormick on one panel; Felicia Yap, Jeffrey Siger, Louise Voss and Stuart Neville on another; and Louise Mangos, Mary Torjussen, Sarah Ward and Sandra Ireland on another.

The audiobooks panel was really fascinating. The whole festival is sponsored by Storytel – a subscription service for audio books and streaming – and this is the way the world is going now. Iceland seems a good fit as moderator Lilja Sigurðardóttir explained – the country has a culture of storytelling and, more importantly, telling stories to one another out loud. On the panel was Ed James, publisher of Orenda books Karen Sullivan, Storytel’s Stefán Hjörleifsson and one of Iceland’s best-selling and best-known authors, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir.

With the advent and popularity of podcasts and audio streaming services, this is an important subject. It was fascinating to hear what the authors and Karen, a publisher, and Stefán, head of Storytel, had to say about it. They spoke about the whole construction of the stories, what actors are best to tell the stories and, in Yrsa’s case, how she hates to listen to her own books. But the most important aspect of the discussion was the ethical side of streaming services, and the fair payment of authors. It’s something that the likes of Spotify grapples with and makes people feel uneasy when it comes to payment of musicians. Stefán was keen to stress that his company was transparent in its payments to authors, and Yrsa described the way that previously free audio services to the blind had been abused by people.

It’s the eternal conundrum – streaming services in every medium (whether it be Netflix and Amazon for TV, Spotify and Deezer for music, and Audible and its ilk for books) offer a great, all-you-can-eat way to watch and listen to a variety of media, but they must be fair to the creators of content and pay a decent wage.

Michael Malone, Christopher Brookmyre, Craig Robertson and Doug Johnstone

Next, a group of fantastic Scottish authors held court: Michael Malone, Christopher Brookmyre, Craig Robertson and Doug Johnstone. In a wide-ranging discussion, the whole concept of ‘Tartan Noir’ was thrown around. Of course, we’ve had Nordic Noir, which has always seemed to me a lazy handle, but Tartan Noir is a thing now. Craig said that he also felt it was a lazy tag, because there’s such a diversity of output. Doug, on the other hand, didn’t mind so much because internationally, it’s recognised and can only be a good thing for Scottish authors.

They all bigged up Irvin Welsh and the late, great Iain Banks, and discussed how the early 1990s saw a huge explosion in Scottish crime fiction. Christopher mentioned the impact of football fanzines, which provided much more authentic takes on football and culture and argued that Welsh’s work came out of this fanzine culture.

It was good stuff.

Later on the afternoon, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir (M), Antti Tuomainen, James Oswald, Johana Gustawsson and Lilja Sigurðardóttir treated us to crime fiction’s first ever Eurovision panel!


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