Today we proudly present to you a guest blog written by the Icelandic author Arnar Már Arngrímsson. Arngrímsson won the Nordic Council Prize in November 2016 for his debut novel Sölvasaga unglings.
It was the summer of 2012, I was sitting in a café in my hometown, Akureyri, and I had this idea. It wasn’t an idea for a novel or anything, just a scene that wanted to be written. A fifteen-year-old boy is driving a car at a high speed. He doesn’t, of course, have a driver’s license but the situation is grave and above the law. Soon the scene started to grow and after three years of writing it turned into a novel. This scene starts on page 193 in the Icelandic version.
In the beginning the thought of publishing a novel was distant. I just enjoyed writing and I had to tell the story of this lost boy. At the time I was teaching at a junior college and time for writing was scarce. But I had the weekends and holidays (I’ve never been able to write after four o’clock in the afternoon). And then we had this beautiful teacher’s strike… for three weeks I would walk these ten minutes from my apartment, down the hill and to one of the cafés in the centre and write for 3-4 hours. I like having people around me when I write, it prevents me from cheating. And I would put on my headphones and listen to Sonic Youth, Joy Division, Miles Davis, Kanye West and Frank Sinatra’s album, Watertown, his masterpiece that few know about.
Gradually the story started to take shape but the first draft was pretty awful. Deep inside I knew it was just a question of keeping on, just doing the job, or like Philip Roth said (my favorite quote on writing): “Stick with your shit.”
It all started with that scene in the car. There was no big plan, I had no idea where I was going. I just wanted to tell the story about this boy and how he ended up driving that car. Then characters started to appear out of nowhere and other scenes and then a plot. It was starting to look like a novel and I decided to send it to a publisher. The editor was rather positive and gave me good advice, but declined, which was good. The book needed another year.
I completed the book, if you can ever say that, in the summer of 2015 and it came out in November that same year. In Iceland books and Christmas are interwoven; the one doesn’t exist without the other. The majority of books in Iceland come out between 1st November and 15th December. And for two months we take a break (not really) from the digital world and talk about books and some even read them.
December is dark in Iceland and you get tired and some of us take a nap after lunch, or before dinner, or just whenever. I think it was around four in the afternoon, I was having a nap on my green sofa when the phone rang. It was Tómas, my publisher: “Are you lying down?” He asked. I thought it was strange that he suspected that I was in fact lying down and felt a little offended. “You’ve been nominated for the Icelandic Literature Awards!”. For someone who hadn’t got a medal for thirty years, or ever since that damn final against FC Fram from Reykjavik when I was 15, where we lost 1-3… it was a huge thing for me and a great honor. Gunnar Helgason, who is responsible for Icelandic boys reading again won the award and unlike the finals back then, I didn’t feel that I’d lost.
I think it was in April, I was having a nap when Tómas called again: “Are you lying down?” You’ve been nominated for the Nordic Literature Prize!”
Tómas was with me on the team that lost the game against FC Fram. That’s Iceland for ya.