Q+A: Katrín Júlíusdóttir

Apr 15, 2024
Dimitris Passas
  • Before I begin, I would like to congratulate you for a sweeping debut. “Dead Sweet” earned both the respect of the critics and the Blackbird Award, one of the newest established crime writing prizes in Iceland. Did you expect such a success when you wrote the final word of your first-ever fictional story?

K.J.: I had no expectations when I wrote Dead Sweet except to have fun while writing and to see if I could actually finish a whole book. I had the plot in my head and was not sure if I could write it into a whole book. So when the writing was finished I was just, ok let´s see what happens. However, when it was published and I was awarded the Blackbird Award reality hit me. I was extremely grateful but at the same time I do not think I have ever been as shy! Being used to doing interviews on different political topics is one thing but talking about and showing what really happens in your own head is another. But then I decided to continue to enjoy the process that begins once the book is published and I really love meeting readers and hearing how they experienced it. The reader is the other half of the book and we all see different things based on our own background and experience.

  • In terms of plot, you’ve crafted a complex/labyrinthine narrative involving several aspects and angles. The workings of the upper echelons of the Icelandic political and financial system, fraught family dynamics, obscure pasts and all that incorporated into a storyline which spans two continents. How long did you plan your story before you’ve written down your first sentence?

K.J.: Before there was ever a word written I had created the characters in my head. They had been swimming around there for a couple of years. My husband, who is an author, encouraged me to start writing. He had been listening to me describe interviews that I had been watching with Psychopaths as well as their families, victims and others impacted by their often-evil deeds. I was sometimes thinking out loud what a smart, cunning, person like that could be doing in our daily surroundings. So the characters started to come alive in my head. I imagined their voices, their back story and how their presence would be when entering a room. When the plot and main characters had taken shape, the storyline started to build and the writing started. At first I wrote 17 pages and then I stopped for months. But then finally I felt I had everything ready to come pouring out, so the rest of the book was written quite fast over a few months. So you could say that I had lived with the characters for so long that they were quite developed once I started writing for real.

  • I’ve read in a brief bio of yours that can be found on the Internet that you’ve studied Anthropology in the University. Did that help you in crafting with such accuracy and plausibility your main characters?

K.J.: I think everything you have studied or learned through life experience comes together in different ways. I have always been interested in people, communities and the dynamics that lie beneath the surface. So yes studying Anthropology and reading quite a few ethnographies has probably helped while crafting the characters and their back stories. But I would also like to add that while serving four terms in politics I met a lot of people, and visited many different parts of my country and the world which helped too. Everything we do throughout life compounds into knowledge that you can´t pin point directly but it gives you insight and ignites curiosity when needed.

  • You’ve been majorly involved in the Icelandic political scene for more than a decade. Which are the things you want to keep from that run and which to forget?

K.J.: This is a great question, and you are really making me think! I don´t think I want to forget anything but there are somethings I would have liked to have done a little bit differently in hindsight, but you don´t have hindsight when you are on the spot having to make a decision. When I decided to leave politics I did it with a good conscience, knowing that every day for over a decade, I had woken up and done my best and I am proud of many things I took part in doing for my community, whether it was in the role of parliamentarian or minister.

  • A more personal question. How hard was it to juggle between a highly demanding family life, you’re a mother of 4 boys, and finishing your novel? Did you work at nights, a time when -almost- every house is silent?

K.J.: I had a very demanding job when I wrote Dead Sweet so yes much of it was actually written in the dark of night while my family slept. I put music in my ears and hammered away, and there were a few nights where I saw early signs of daylight before I turned off the computer. I loved it but it is probably not a sustainable way of working and wanting to stay healthy! I have found it quite hard to have a routine in writing, when it comes it comes and it can´t be forced or stopped.

  • Icelandic crime fiction has conquered the world during the last 10-15 years. Which authors did influence you the most when it comes to your writing style and choice of main themes?

K.J.: It is very hard to say. I did not try to fit my story into any style, but I have read a lot since childhood so in the same way as creating characters, there is influence from different directions, without it being calculated. I have followd the Icelandic authors in admiration and read everything they have published. I find it amazing how different their styles are, coming from such a small country. They have paved the way for us newcomers and what I find is very heartwarming is their generosity and welcoming spirit. So I am very grateful to them all in different ways and I get so proud when I see their books in bookstores around the world.

  • Tell us something about your future writing plans. Are you currently working on the second instalment in the series or are you taking a break in order to decide what comes next?

K.J.: Currently I am writing my second book in the series and like before I have the plot and the characters dancing around in my head doing their thing and creating one chapter after another. I do not pin each chapter down before hand I just let them come like I am telling the story to a friend. I just hope I can continue to write in the coming years, meet more readers and enjoy the ride. This is a humbling experience and I am enjoying being a newcomer, learning and experiencing life from new sides. That is important to me and nurtures my curiosities.

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