Welcome to our new blog series, 'Meet the Icelanders'. Here we will introduce some of the wonderful Icelandic authors appearing at Iceland Noir this year, that have not yet had their work translated into English.
Kamilla Einarsdóttir was born and raised in Reykjavík. She is the author of two novels, and was nominated for the prestigious Icelandic Literary prize in 2021. Currently working as a librarian, but with a varied career history which includes a strip club and the Post Office, Kamilla made her Iceland Noir debut in 2021 and we are thrilled that she will be appearing again this year. We caught up with Kamilla to ask her about her writing, what she is most looking forward to at this year's festival, and of course those cartwheels that we have heard so much about . . .
Hello Kamilla! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’ve always felt like I have the shittiest CV on earth. I’ve never finished any degree in anything, although I’ve started studying all kind of things at university . . . Japanese, education and history among others. I've loved it all but never felt any reason to end my studies with a graduation.
My jobs have all been low-paying, something I go after because of the stories they give me. That is how I’ve ended up working at the Post Office, in libraries and at strip joints. Not as a dancer, but I picked-up some moves that I’m always willing to show after about a dozen beers.
Currently I work at the National Library and I love it. I’m always surrounded by books and people that are passionate about them. Sometimes when I’m feeling low, and I start thinking I’ll never write something interesting again, I just take a little walk around the library. I see all of the books that have been written on subjects like 'how food should be frozen properly', and I am reminded that I can always write about something just a little bit more interesting than that.
Your most recent novel, Tilfinningar eru fyrir aumingja (Only Suckers do Emotion) was nominated for the Icelandic Prize for Literature in 2021. Congratulations! Can you tell English readers a little bit about it, and what you write about?
I never meant to write a book to begin with. Both my father and sister are successful writers so I thought there was far more supply than demand for books from one family already. But then the publisher Bjartur/Veröld contacted me and asked for a meeting. Someone had told them I liked to joke around. I went to their office and although I can't really remember what they said, there was this really cute dog there and I didn’t want to let it down. So I wrote a book for them. Well, mainly for the dog if I'm being honest.
It went surprisingly well, but I didn’t want to do it again. Then I met Pétur, the head of the publishers office at the Reykjavík Literary Festival, and he told me he would buy me beer if I sent him a new book. I did, and a month later it was published.
I had fun writing it. It’s called Tilfinningar eru fyrir aumingja, which translates roughly to Only Suckers do Emotion. It’s about a group of friends in their forties that are bored with spending all their time talking about grown-up things like property maintenance – you know, things like problems with plumbing and stuff like that. Stuff that straight people in monogamous relationships seem to be terribly interested in all the time. To change things up, they decide to start a rock-metal band. They don’t know how to play any instruments, and almost nothing about metal music, but that doesn’t stop them. At the same time it’s about how terrible it is to have feelings whilst trying to find love, when all your one-night stands and the relationships around you should make it crystal clear that love and relationships are usually nothing short of a travesty.
Your first novel was adapted for the stage by the Iceland National Theatre - what was that experience like?
I was both surprised and extremely flattered when Ilmur Kristjánsdóttir, one of Iceland's most successful actresses, and Silja Hauksdóttir, Iceland's coolest director (in my opinion) contacted me and asked if I would mind letting them turn my first book into a play.
After meeting them I said yes but I told them I didn’t want to be involved in the process, I only wanted to show up for the premiere party.
I was so worried that I would have to talk to a lot of sincere theatre people about art and feelings. I never know what to say when someone brings up either of those topics. But Silja and Ilmur invited me to rehearsals, and tempted with me in with the offer of free food, so I went – and I ended up loving everything.
The stage designer was so clever and all the stuff she brought was so much fun. The other actors, the lighting department – all the things they could do blew my mind. In the end I think I can honestly say this was one of the most fun and inspiring things I have ever been a part of.
Iceland is famous for its literary culture. What do you think it is about living in Iceland that brings out so much creativity?
Even after living here for centuries, Icelanders don’t have many great old buildings or famous paintings or symphonies to show for it. But we have The old Sagas to be proud of, to read and to read to each other while we wait for the next famine or natural disaster to strike us and wipe most of us out.
Through the Sagas we have learned that one of few things you can do when you are poor and probably going to die soon, is to tell stories and jokes and have sex with your some of your closest relatives. I'm not even kidding. Just look it up, we are terribly inbred here.
What are you working on at the moment?
I really would really like to have a book in the next Jólabókaflóð but I haven’t written it yet. It will be about someone that is always sad and how incredibly ridiculous and funny that state can be.
After I finished the last book, for a while I thought about writing my next book about someone really wholesome, with good digestion and ideal sleeping patterns . . . but after some research, I realised that I just don’t find those kinds of people interesting enough. Although I understand that being that way must have all sorts of benefits.
I'm meant to be halfway through writing it by now, but I broke my right arm so it has been a little delayed. Breaking my arm gave me a lot of time to think, instead – That’s something I usually work hard to avoid. Some people might think I am getting a little late with the book, but I have the same publishers as (festival founder and host) Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, and she has taught them patience and the art of not panicking, even though the printers have started running the machines before the whole manuscript is done. I’m eternally grateful to her for that.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?
When I broke the aforementioned arm I had to go to the emergency room and get some X-rays and see some doctors. At one point, a nurse came over to me, looked at the book I was reading and said “that must be a very funny book, because we don’t see a lot of people laughing with as many broken bones as you have”. I was reading Watermelon by Marian Keyes, and even though I was in a lot of pain, I couldn't stop laughing out loud. So I look forward to meeting her and thanking her for getting me through that ordeal.
Right now, I’m reading The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman and again, I’m laughing so hard that my co-workers have to shush me when I’m reading it at the library.
Last year's festival I was so lucky to meet Liz Nugent and I really look forward to meeting her again. She is such a delightful and funny person to meet and I’m a huge fan of her books, even though I always have to sleep with the lights on when I read her books before bedtime. Her writing is spine curdling!
Obviously I am also looking forward to spending time at the festival with my Icelandic friends like Ragnar and Yrsa and all the other Icelandic authors. I definitely won’t miss the event that Eliza Reid will be at. I read her book Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland's Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World, and even though I’m one of the women she talked to and wrote about, her book is really good. Eliza is very intelligent and funny so it’s always interesting to listen to her at events.
If our visitors do one thing in Reykjavík, what should that be?
I’m not really a sporty or an outdoorsy type so I don’t know about any nature or swimming pools to check out. But I can recommend going to the bar Skuggabaldur. It’s really close to Kjarval and they have delicious food, a good selection of beers and live jazz bands every single night.
I also wholeheartedly recommend a place on Laugavegur called 10 sopar. It’s a wine bar and it’s the best place to go if you want to sit down and chat to someone, either an old or new friend.
When these two close, I recommend going to Röntgen on Hverfisgata if you want to dance the night away in a really cool and crowded place.
Will you ever share the cartwheel story?
I wish there was only one single cartwheel story, but doing tricks like that is my go-to when I get shy and don’t know what to say but I really want to impress. I think this cartwheel tendency might be one of the reasons I never get asked on any second dates.