Today is a special What’s Your First Draft Like? Q&A as it is the starting post of Ragnar Jonasson’s blog tour to launch his debut English language release of Snowblind by Orenda Books. See below for further stops in the tour.
Ragnar Jónasson is the Icelandic writer of the Northern Iceland Crime Series set around the northernmost town in Iceland, Siglufjord. The series is currently published in Iceland and Germany. Leading Icelandic TV production company Saga Film and award nominated actor Thor Kristjansson are developing a TV series based on the Northern Iceland Crime Series. The books in the series are Snjóblinda (2010) (DE: Schneebraut, 2011),Myrknætti (2011) (DE: Todesnacht, 2013) and Rof (2012). Ragnar’s short story Death of a Sunflower is to be published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in the US in the September/October Issue 2013.
Ragnar is a lawyer and also currently teaches copyright law at Reykjavik University. He has previously worked on radio and television, including as a TV news reporter for the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service. In addition to writing crime novels, Ragnar has translated fourteen novels by Agatha Christie from English into Icelandic.
Ragnar is a member of the Board of the Icelandic Association of Crime Writers and has also recently set up the Icelandic branch of the UK Crime Writers’ Association (CWA), where he is a member. Ragnar has taken part in panels on crime writing at Crimefest in the UK and Left Coast Crime in the US. Ragnar lives in Reykjavik with his wife and daughter.
When you decide to write something new, what is the first thing you do?
Most books have started with an idea for a setting, a character or a plot twist, and at that point I would make a note of it in one of my notebooks.
Do you have a set routine approaching it?
No, not particularly, just a matter of finding peace and quiet to sit down with the computer.
Notes are usually made in my notebooks, but when I start writing the book it’s on my computer.
How important is research to you?
It’s important in relation to getting main points on plot, setting or history correct. The plot and characters are of course fictional but I write about real places and settings, which readers can visit, such as the small town of Siglufjordur, often places with an interesting history, which I do want to get rights.
How do you go about researching?
Research for Snowblind was relatively easy, as I’ve spent so much time in that town, and when it came to the history of the place I could consult my father, who grew up there, or my grandfather’s books, but he wrote a series of books about the history of Siglufjordur. For other books, I’ve had to visit places again and again, and read up on history and facts.
How do you store everything; ideas, research, images that catch your eye?
Everything is kept in my notebooks.
Tell us how that first draft takes shape?
I usually discuss the idea with my Icelandic editior and send him chapters while it is being written, perhaps 1/4 of the book at a time, and then he can make comments while the book is being written.
Are there any rituals you have to do or items you must have with you while writing that draft?
No, not really. Well, I must have a computer, but that’s for purely practical reasons!
Does the outside world exist or are you lost to us for a period of time as the magic works?
The outside world exists, and indeed if the weather is nice in the summer (or if we have northern lights out in my backyard in winter), I would usually be too distracted to write.
What does your workspace look like?
It’s basically wherever my computer is, but my office is filled with books; my own novels and translations, English language golden age books, such as Christie, Queen and Van Dine, and my collection of Icelandic Agatha Christie translations. I have some paintings and drawings on the walls, including two portraits by Icelandic artist Ragnar Páll, one of me as a boy and one of my grandfather and namesake. the artwork on the table, is a miniature bookshelf with miniature copies of my novels and translations. This was given to me by my wife for Christmas and the artist is Gudlaugur Arason, and it so happens that Gudlaugur is also a writer and we share an English language translator, Quentin Bates.
Edit as you go or just keep getting words out?
It depends, but edits usually happen later on.
I see many writers counting words in a day. Word counter or other method of keeping track of progression?
I think the word count is a nice feature to have to keep track.
So, that first draft is down. Roughly how long did it take? And what shape is it in?
I have published one book each year for the past six years, so the whole process takes about a year, from the first chapter until the final edited version.
In what format do you like to read it through, e-reader, paper or the computer screen?
What happens now that first draft is done?
My editor reads it through and sends me back to work!
Siglufjörður: an idyllically quiet fishing village in Northern Iceland, where no one locks their doors – accessible only via a small mountain tunnel. Ari Thór Arason: a rookie policeman on his first posting, far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik – with a past that he’s unable to leave behind. When a young woman is found lying half-naked in the snow, bleeding and unconscious, and a highly esteemed, elderly writer falls to his death in the local theatre, Ari is dragged straight into the heart of a community where he can trust no one, and secrets and lies are a way of life. An avalanche and unremitting snowstorms close the mountain pass, and the 24-hour darkness threatens to push Ari over the edge, as curtains begin to twitch, and his investigation becomes increasingly complex, chilling and personal. Past plays tag with the present and the claustrophobic tension mounts, while Ari is thrust ever deeper into his own darkness – blinded by snow, and with a killer on the loose. Taut and terrifying, Snowblind is a startling debut from an extraordinary new talent, taking Nordic Noir to soaring new heights. ‘Is King Arnaldur looking to his laurels? There is a young pretender beavering away, his eye on the crown: Ragnar Jónasson’ Barry Forshaw