Alda Sigmundsdóttir is a respected writer, journalist, blogger and consultant on all things Iceland. During the economic crisis, she chronicled what life was like in Iceland, mainly for the world’s non-Icelandic speaking media, and on her blog The Icelandic Weather Report. I do wonder how many tourists have unintentionally clicked on her blog, though.
Alda has written several books, both fiction and non-fiction, and written for The Guardian and something called—you may of heard of it—Iceland Review. She has a large international following on social media, and never holds back when giving her opinion on anything happening in Iceland. Alda is often the first person I look up when a big Icelandic news story breaks;her frank, open comments provide a lively insight into what is really going on.
After the success of her latest novel Unraveled, Alda is back with a crowd-funding campaign on Indiegogo for her new book. I took the chance to ask her a few questions.
With your successful blog, several books and frequent commentary in the media, would you agree that you have become an unofficial spokesperson for Iceland? Was this intentional?
Well, I think at one point I was the unofficial spokesperson for Iceland, and that was after the economic meltdown. There was such a thirst for information about what was happening here, and there weren’t many people providing it in languages that were not Icelandic. So yes, I guess you could say that I did become that sort of spokesperson. And no, it was not at all intentional. What is intentional, though, is my downplaying of that role in more recent years. I still get many requests to meet with people, speak to the media and so on about the Icelandic situation, and these days I almost always say no. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that people generally want me to do it on a volunteer basis and it takes far too much time away from other things I want and need to be doing.
Your first book The Little Book of Icelanders was hugely successful. Why do you think this was?
I honestly have no idea. I was completely surprised that it became such a hit. Maybe because there haven’t been many books written about the Icelanders’ national character, and possibly the style of the writing. People tell me that it flows well, and that they like the personal, almost intimate tone of it.
What was the reaction of your fellow Icelanders to the book?
One of the great things about the Icelanders is that they have a wonderfully kooky sense of humor, and they don’t take themselves too seriously. They also love to have “outsiders” mirror them—to see themselves from an outsiders’ perspective, and while I am an Icelander, I am also an outsider [Alda has spent a lot of time abroad]. So to answer your question: I haven’t met an Icelander who didn’t like it, and I’ve met lots of Icelanders who say they liked it a lot.
You are about to publish a follow up book. Can you tell me a bit more about that?
Absolutely. The new book is called The Little Book of the Icelanders in the Old Days, and as the title so aptly suggests it is about the Icelanders in the old days. About three years ago I went back to school and started taking Ethnology as a minor, and many of the courses dealt with Iceland in centuries past. I’ve never been particularly interested in history, but I found myself absolutely fascinated with the various facets of my ancestors’ lives. I was absolutely in awe of how they managed to survive on this island on the edge of the inhabitable world, under a really harsh and repressive colonial regime. And by survive I mean both physically and spiritually—how they found ways to cope with everything. Some of those ways are heartbreaking, and others are absolutely hilarious. So I wrote a book in the style of the first Little Book: fifty miniature essays about different aspects of life, in a light and humorous style. I definitely did not want it to be like a textbook—it is not a history book or a book about Icelandic folkways. It’s a funny book, but with a serious undertone that I hope will leave the reader with a feeling of deep respect for the Icelanders and their survival skills. I have Megan Herbert on board to illustrate—she also did the illustrations for the first little book, and she has a wonderful knack for taking the humor in the text and making it visual. I’m really excited about this project, and very happy with the book.
I see that you are using crowd-funding this time around. I did the same with my book, and I know it’s not easy. Why did you decide to do this rather than the more traditional publishing route?
Well, let’s just say that my experience with traditional publishing has been less than satisfactory. There was a serious breach of trust that came up between me and the publisher of the first Little Book, so I have chosen not to work with them again. And in any case, I feel that the traditional publishing model, the way things have been done for decades or even centuries, has become outdated. There are so many other options open to authors now. That said, going indie is a huge amount of work, especially when you use crowdfunding, and I’ll have to see how this works out. After the initial print run I may decide to pursue a different route with this project. But I definitely wanted to give this a try.
It’s a well quoted fact that one in ten Icelanders will publish a book in their lifetime. Why do you think this is? And aren't you over your quota?!
Yeah, that is a well-quoted fact, but I wonder how accurate it is, really. Also, there seems to be this perception that every one of those publications is highly literary—it doesn’t take into account all the nonfiction books that get published, like cookbooks, knitting books, the latest diet, new age fads, and so on. But maybe I’m just splitting hairs. If the one in ten figure is accurate, it is a pretty high figure. Why this is? Probably because there’s a strong literary tradition here. And why is that? Well, that’s one of the things I write about in my new Little Book, wink wink.
Do you think the Little Book of... could become a series then? What are your plans for the future?
Now there’s an idea! Why not? As for the future, I have a lengthy list of books waiting to be written. Believe me, I’m just getting started.
More details on Alda’s campaign can be found on indiegogo.com.
Edward Hancox - [email protected]