mandag den 29. juni 2009

The Nordic Crime Wave rolls on...

The Nordic Crime Wave has reached the shores of the British Isles, and its impact is felt all across the British criminal world, as the shortlist for this years CWA's International Dagger award bears witness to.
Of course, the Nordic Crime Wave has been relentlessly pounding the British shores for years now; so brutally and mercilessly, in fact, that the Brits decided to construct a special breaker along the coastline after Iceland's Arnaldur Indriðason´s Silence of the Grave wrestled the Golden Dagger out of the bloody grip of british crime-writers back in 2005.
No more Golden Daggers for bloody foreigners, they decided (which, to be fair, I think is perfectly in order) and promptly created a special award for translated crime-literature: The Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, and thereby excluding foreign writers from the top-prize...

And this year - well, on a shortlist of six authors, no less than five of them hail from the Nordic countries.

Arnaldur, again (double Glass-Key winner for Jar City (Mýrin) in 2002 and Silence of the grave (Grafarþögn) in 2003), is shortlisted with his Arctic Chill (Vetrarborgin), as is Jo Nesbö from Norway (Glass-Key winner of 1998 for his novel Flaggermusmannen (e: The Batman), for his novel The Redeemer (Frelseren). And then there are the three Swedes: This year's Glass-Key winner Johan Theorin, for his debut novel Echoes from the dead (Skumtimmen); last year's Glass-Key winner Stieg Larsson for his second crime-novel, The girl who Played with Fire (Flickan som lekte med elden), and last, but not least, the winner of the 2001 Glass-Key, Karen Alvtegen, for her novel Shadow (Skugga).
So, the only shortlisted author from outside the nordic region of crime, french Fred Vargas, faces 5-1 odds against her...

UPDATE: Against all (or 5:1) odds, Fred Vargas was awarded the Dagger - for the third time in four years. Wellwellwell, the Brits do like their Freds...
For more information on the nominated/shortlisted novels - and the International Dagger - click

fredag den 26. juni 2009

Spreading crime around the world – the success of Nordic Crime Stories

Notes from a speech at the crime writers’ conference The Nordic Crime Wave in the Nordic house, Reykjavík, 29/5 09

By Halldór Guðmundsson

There is something beautifully ironic about the fact, that for roughly 10 years now, the most characteristic sales trend in international publishing should be the success of crime novels from the most peaceful region of the world; the Nordic countries. The peacemakers are spreading the word about crime. But considering the features of the genre, this is not so surprising at all: Crime novels are about the disturbance of the social peace, and nowhere is this disturbance more drastic than in a quiet place; nowhere does murder make a deeper impression than in a region where you hardly can imagine one.

And so the Nordic crime novels have made a lasting impression, especially in the German speaking market. Ten Icelandic crime novelists have a German publisher. That is about all there are.
Especially in the German market, the success of the Nordic crime novels is the peak of a tendency that has been growing and growing for about 15 years.

In the spring of 1993 I went to London to visit publishers with the intention of promoting Icelandic literature. The trip was hardly successful. The publishers were polite enough, but obviously not in the least interested in my proposals. They quite simply asked why on earth they should search out the one Icelandic-speaking person in the UK to ask him to translate novels from this admittedly exotic but rather insignificant island, while roughly half a billion people had English as their mother tongue.
By far the best reception I got was at Harvill press, where the gentleman Christopher MacLehose was the publisher.
While he frankly told me that, in his opinion, the time was far from ripe for him to publish an Icelandic novel, he seemed genuinely interested and asked a lot of informed questions.
This attitude was quite askew in relation to that of his colleagues, who did their best to inform me that Christopher was constantly on the look-out for new poets from Schleswig-Holstein.
Christopher, on the other hand, told me that he had just bought the translation rights for a Danish novel - a thriller, featuring a woman from Greenland as the main character. He thought he was giving me a hot tip when he suggested I should publish the book in Iceland.
Of course, I thought that it was a crazy idea...

In retrospect, the timing of my journey was a bit funny, as 1993 turned out to be the year in which the attitude of publishers towards Nordic literature would drastically change, in England and the world over.
In the autumn, Frøken Smillas fornemmelse for sne (Smilla’s sense of snow) was published in English, by Harvill Press. The following year the book was published in America and became a best seller for translated novels. The rest is history, and Peter Høeg’s novel, the first Nordic crime novel to gain the attention of the world since Sjöwall og Wahlöö, has now been published in 34 languages and has sold over 20 million copies worldwide.

1993 was also the year in which Michael Krüger at Hanser publishing house in Munich published a Norwegian book on philosophy for teenagers. This unlikely book, Sophie’s World, by Jostein Gaarder, topped Der Spiegel’s list of best sellers and stayed on top for nearly two years. Since then, the book has been published in over 50 languages and has sold in ca. 40 million copies. Sophie’s world was the world's best selling novel in 1995.
This was the beginning of a tendency. The eventful year of 1993 facilitated the work of publishers and agents trying to sell literature from the Nordic countries. Publishers are governed by a herd instinct, and they will flock to a place, if they get wind of green pastures of good works and sizeable profits. And now, they looked North.

At first, there followed a wave of translations of Nordic fiction in the world; the interest had shifted from South American fiction, which had played a dominating role for 15 years. But in 1998, the tide turned again - but this time not to another part of the real world, but to a specific genre - towards crime fiction.
Again, it was Michael Krüger from Hanser publishers in Germany who set the trend by publishing the Swedish author Henning Mankell. Before that, two of Mankell’s books had been published in German, but both sold less than a thousand copies.
Now, Henning Mankell has sold 30 million copies worldwide. A new television series, made by and starring Kenneth Branagh as Wallander, will most certainly strengthen the interest in the English speaking world.

One should be careful, though, not to emphasize the distinction between crime novels and other fiction too much. In my view, Arnaldur Indriðason for example, is first and foremost a good novelist, who happens to be writing about crime. The sales of the crime novels have also added to the success of other types of literature, and vice versa. If one could name two factors that strengthen the translation and success of crime stories in particular, they are, on the one hand, their entertainment value, of course, but, on the other hand, the fact that they usually envoke a strong sense of place. And if you want to read a book from a foreign country, you are very often exactly looking for this sense of place.

The result is obvious: More books of fiction written in the Nordic countries are now translated to other languages than ever before. This turnaround is clear and significant, even in light of the fact that the number of published titles in the big markets, such as the British or German ones, has also increased: More than a hundred-thousand titles are published annually in each country.
An example from the smallest Nordic country, Iceland, is also a case in point: Forlagid publishers, and their predecessors, have made over one hundred contracts for translation rights per annum for five consecutive years. Icelandic publishing houses are by now quite successful in this area. Going back twenty-five years or so, no more than ten contracts for foreign rights was signed per year. Many of the most significant novels written in the sixties in Iceland were generally not translated; some of them are just now being translated for the first time.
The downside of this, for the publishers and authors alike, was not just a financial one. Small language communities, like the Nordic ones, necessarily need a dialogue with the literature of other, larger language communities and translation is vital in this respect.
Only in this way can a Nordic book become a part of the world literature, fulfilling the vision Goethe introduced two hundred years ago.

The wave of Nordic crime novels in international publishing has now been on the rise for ten years. Henning Mankell was the pioneer, but many more authors from the Nordic countries have been doing very well, and in presenting them, the reward to be handed out today [may 29th, 2009]; the Glass key, has proved very important.

Arnaldur Indriðason is the best known Icelandic crime writer, with over 5 million books sold worldwide, but many follow in his footsteps, as for example Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, who has been doing very well in the English speaking world and was recently the first Icelandic author ever to be published in Arabic. She received great reviews in e.g. The Times, where she was said to be among the best Nordic crime novelists - which also means that it is regarded as a sign of quality to be a Nordic crime writer.

Is the tide turning?

In preparing this little talk I called a few friends in foreign publishing and agents and they said no, at least not yet.
Let me quote what aforementioned Christopher MacLehose said in a letter:
“The tide of Scandinavian crime is not yet exhausted. The fact is that a rich vein of real storytellers has been found and is still filled with the promise of years to come. Whether readers in the rest of the world will find something else to amuse them over the next ten years, that is not sure. But true storytellers of genius – Arnaldur Indriðason, for example -- will always and forever find a huge readership. He could find a readership even if he decided to write mere philosophy.”

What will the future life of the Nordic crime novel depend upon? Probably the same quality as any other kind of fiction: First and foremost, that it is well written.
But, if we look a bit further:
It's ability to adapt to new media and new perceptions of life that come along with this new media. The fascinating Icelandic computer game corporation CCP has one central task: To invent stories, mostly mythological, but also of a criminal nature. And the players of their most well known game, eve online, can play a part in creating and "living" these stories.

But the prospect will also depend on the crime-novelists' ability to adapt, at least here in Iceland, to a new type of crime. The crime novel is often built on a strong sense of place, but also on a strong commitment to it’s time, to being contemporary. And Iceland has just lived through a period where the whole banking system collapsed in two days, partly because of crimes committed by people we least expected to commit them.

Half a century ago, Raymond Chandler, in a famous article, stated that the important task for the crime writer was to give murder back to the people likely to commit one, with the tools that are available, and not with tropical fish.
Maybe now it is the other way round. This most peaceful place of the world has been raided by people we thought were especially unlikely to commit crimes.
By this, I am referring to the huge economic crimes committed behind our backs while we thought that we were living in the most peaceful region of the world. In that sense, Icelandic crime writers, and maybe crime writers all over the world, are facing a very important, new challenge.
Maybe we Icelanders will be able to present the first results of that challenge at the international book fair in Frankfurt in 2011, where Iceland, the first of all the Nordic countries, will be guest of honour. This position opens up immense possibilities for Icelandic writers on the international bookmarket.

The first important agreement has already been reached. A German publisher, Fischer Verlag, will in 2011 publish a new translation of the Icelandic Sagas which one might, without insulting anyone, call the best Nordic crime fiction ever.
The Sagas are, at long last, coming back to Germany, after having been almost taboo there for half a century, because they were abused by other criminals, the Nazis.

So, what started only as a sense of snow, to refer to Smilla, has led to the rehabilitation of the Nordic tradition on one of the world’s most important book-market.

Halldór Guðmundsson

onsdag den 3. juni 2009

What a Crime wave it was...

Dear partners in crime.
I want to thank all of you, who attended and participated in the double AGM's of AIEP and SKS in Reykjavík this last weekend, and the accompanying conference/series of lectures and panels: The Nordic Crime Wave.

The members of the Icelandic GK-jury told me this was an unusually good year in a row of many good years of nordic crime, and this manifested itself in, amongst other things, the fact that an extra-round of voting was needed to get to the final result. I congratulate, once more, Johan Theorin on his Glass-key prize; he is a worthy winner amongst worthy competitors.

Although many of those attending this weekend of crime kept congratulating and profusely thanking me, personally, for a brilliant conference (and it was brilliant, there's no arguing about that) I want to state it for the record that it was by no means all my doing, far from it.

On the contrary, a lot of people put in a lot of effort to make this work as well as it did.

Eiríkur Brynjólfsson, the Don/Gangleader of The Icelandic Crime Syndicate is the first amongst equals in a long line of people you have to thank for this successful meeting of criminal minds from all over the world.

Viktor Arnar Ingólfsson, a long-suffering board-member of the ICS, is another.

We, in the ICS and the SKS/CWS, also owe a huge debt to Max Dager, the manager of the Nordic house, and Ásta G. Rögnvaldsdóttir, the Nordic house's chief librarian, for their hospitality, generosity and all-round helpfulness during these merry days and nights of crime.

Three major, icelandic publishing-houses also deserve a big, fat thank you from us: Forlagið, Uppheimar and Bjartur-Veröld, for their support and for making their respective authors participation in the saturday-panel possible: Diane Wei Liang, Jo Nesbö and Yrsa Sigurðardóttir. And of course, our gratitude extends to these three masters of crime themselves as well.

Special thanks go to the Icelandic Writers Union, its president Pétur Gunnarsson and its manager Ragnheiður Tryggvadóttir for their generous contribution, without which you would have had to pay for your own drinks on thursday and eat outside in the rain on friday...
And to our second host on thursday evening, of course, the GrandRokk-pub.

I also want to thank the Glass-key candidates, all six of them, for showing up and participating in our panel, deciding to come to Iceland and/or participating in the panel without anyone of them knowing beforehand who was going to win.
They all had the option of getting to know who the winner was, some half an hour before it was announced, and all of them graciously decided to wait for the official announcement. Arnaldur, Lene & Agnete, Vidar, Marko and Johan - thank you all.

And, of course, Kristján Jóhann Jónsson, who introduced the candidates and their works, as well as interrogating them afterwards, is yet another person we have to thank for a criminally good weekend, as is our minister of culture, education and science - and long-time member of The Icelandic Crime Syndicate - Katrín Jakobsdóttir, who not only presented the Glass Key, but also made this conference possible in the first place.

You and I also owe a big thank-you to Halldór Guðmundsson, Rannveig Þórisdóttir and Ólafur Ísleifsson for their invaluable input, and, of course, to Bob Cornwell, the only "foot-soldier" amongst the conference-guests burdened with a heavy task outside the business-meetings, a task he executed brilliantly as everyone who was present can vouch for.

Hótel Loftleidir, the Teitur Jónasson bus-service, the Saffran-restaurant (catering on friday), the Dill-restaurant (caterers in the Nordic house) all put in their two-cents worth, and quite a bit more, actually, by giving us great deals and great value.

Last, but by no means least I want to thank all of you who came here, to enjoy this weekend with us - without you lot, there would have been no conference.

So - to you delegates from Japan, the USA, Bulgaria, Switzerland/Germany, Austria, Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium/Spain, Sweden, Finland, the UK, Italy and Iceland - many, many thanks for joining us and making The Nordic Crime Wave the success that it truly was, if I say so myself...

ævar örn.