Welcome to the second interview in our blog series 'Meet the Icelanders', where we introduce some of the Icelandic authors appearing at Iceland Noir this year, that have not yet had their work translated into English.
Sverrir Norland is an Icelandic author, translator, publisher, and public speaker. His latest book is Stríð og kliður (War & Noise, 2021), a personal essay on nature, technology, and the human imagination, was met with great acclaim in Iceland. Sverrir has also published two novels: Kvíðasnillingarnir (Masters of Anxiety, 2014) and Fyrir allra augum (In Plain Sight, 2016). He runs a small publishing house called AM forlag, and has translated, from both French and English, books by Maurice Sendak, Tomi Ungerer, Pénélope Bagieu, and Carson Ellis, among others, as well as making programs for radio and TV.
Sverrir will be moderating the Trapped panel, with director and creator of the world-renowned TV show Baltasar Kormákur, and stars Ólafur Darri Ólafsson and Íris Tanja Flygenring. Get your tickets HERE.
Hello Sverrir! Please tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a writer (of both novels and non-fiction), but in the past few years I’ve also been doing radio, podcasting, TV, book criticism, scriptwriting, public speaking, event moderations, creative workshops, teaching, book and theatre translations, as well as running a small publishing house with my wife, Cerise (my job there also includes book deliveries, carrying boxes in the warehouse, writing copy etc.). A recent development is now pushing me towards acting (which I did a lot of in junior college – but not seriously since then!).
So! What unites all these activities, I guess, is my love of ideas and storytelling.
I also have two kids, which is a vital part of who I am. In our household we speak three languages: Icelandic, English, and French.
For nearly I decade, I was based first in London, then in Paris, and finally in New York, but I’m happy to be back in my native city, Reykjavík.
You have written two novels and, most recently, a collection of essays, Stríð og kliður (War and Noise, 2021). Can you tell us a little bit about it?
War and Noise takes on huge issues of our times: climate and technology. I explore what effect the destruction of nature and the takeover of technology in every human sphere might be having on our imagination, our creativity.
The response was so strong, it really touched me. I think part of the success of the book might be that I aimed for a more personal take on these issues, and I don’t pretend to offer any solutions. I’m generally not very interested in clear-cut answers, but I like asking questions.
Your novels Kvíðasnillingarnir (Masters of Anxiety) and Fyrir allra augum (In Plain Sight) were hugely successful in Iceland - can you tell English readers a little bit about them?
My first novel, Masters of Anxiety, was actually first written in English, as The Year of Idleness, when I studied in London. My teachers urged me to keep writing in English, find agents etc – but I took the very sensible decision to focus on the Icelandic market. It’s a sort of bilungsroman that follows three childhood friends into their early adulthood.
My second novel, In Plain Sight, is rather short, you can read it in one sitting, and it takes on themes like how a lot of us now cultivate digital alter-egos online that might not align very well with our physical real-world versions.
In 2018 I also did something very fun: I published five very small books, in what I called a book bundle. The books were all roughly the size of a smartphone, so they could replace that little ubiquitous machine in your pocket. Three of the books were “novels of reasonable length”. I like short books – I often find that you can pack more into a short text than a long one . . .
Iceland is famous for its literary culture. What do you think it is about living in Iceland that brings out so much creativity?
In such a small society, the idea of becoming a famous, say, writer or musician, isn’t so crazy. So we just give it a shot . . . It’s also nice that you can reach out to pretty much anyone and get encouragement, tips, help.
Maybe it’s brennivín. Maybe it’s skyr. Maybe it’s lýsi (fish-liver oil). Maybe it’s the winter dark. We need something to light up the days, and it might as well be art.
What are you working on at the moment?
So many things. I’m writing a new novel, a short one –and I have several others that I then want to get to . . .
I’m also writing a novel with another author, a thriller set in our times and the past.
Then I’m co-writing a TV show that I’ll also star in – a mix between a comedy and a documentary. We’ll be exploring modern masculinity.
At the moment, I’m also putting the final touches to a translation from French of a play by Florian Zeller that will be staged in the fall at Borgarleikhúsið, the city theatre.
Who are you most looking forward to seeing at the festival?
Well, so many interesting names this year: Bernardine Evaristo, Paula Hawkins, Richard Osman, Marian Keyes . . . Just to name a few.
Then it’s always great fun getting to hang out with all the Icelandic authors. Last year’s festival was one of the best literary festivals I’ve ever attended. Such nice atmosphere, it really was magical. Can’t wait for this one.
If our visitors do one thing in Reykjavík, what should that be?
What I mostly love about the neighbourhood where I now live (Hlíðarnar, where I grew up), is that I’m five minutes away from a rather big (man-made) forest. I love walking there, and I love running through it and then by the sea (Nauthólsvík, Ægissíða). If you want to go further, the area by Grótta is beautiful, lots of bird life. All great places to walk.
After, you could do worse than go for a nice coffee and pastry at either Coocoo’s Nest, in Grandi, Hygge, a very nice café in a nearby hotel, or a local favorite, Kaffihús Vesturbæjar (the locals call it Kaffi Vest).
Find Sverrir on Instagram and Twitter