Friday, September 28, 2018

Helgafell

I've spent the last few days at the farm of Helgafell, which is on Thorsnes peninsula in mid-west Iceland.

The farm has lots of sheep and produces excellent lamb, and there are two huts by the pond (or, small lake) that you can rent. The view from them is over the water and, to the right, towards Helgafell mountain (or, hill), which was first described in the medieval Icelandic Eyrbyggja saga as an entrance to Valhalla. The area was dedicated to Thor.

Later, the hill and the property around it acquired a Christian significance. Guðrún Ósvífursdóttir, whose life story is given in Laxdæla saga, ended her days here as Iceland's first nun. At the very beginning of the Christian period, the local chieftain Snorri goði built one of Iceland's first churches on the land once dedicated to Thor.

I've loved being here, and walking around the property and the extraordinary countryside around it. The farm is surrounded by lava fields and fissures, and volcanic stubs that seem to climb up from the bays nearby. Today, as I write, it's blowing a gale and hardly weather to go looking around. But on other days I've had wonderfully still conditions, and a good chance to watch the changing colours of the farm without having to rush back inside to get warm.





My map of the Helgafell farm

Some more thoughts here:


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Haukadalur

I've spent the last couple of weeks travelling in Iceland on the trail of two medieval sagas - The Saga of Gisli and Eyrbyggja Saga. The two works are closely connected by geography, as well as by a couple of the characters who exit the terrible events of one saga only to be cited in the occurrences of the next.

My journey's taken me first to Haukadalur, a valley in Dyrafjördur in the Westfjords which I've visited a few times before but never stayed at for more than a few hours. This time, I rented a cottage in the valley that used to serve as the local pre-school, now converted into a holiday home.



I spent some days walking: up into the valley itself, but also around other farms and places mentioned in The Saga of Gisli, such as: the site where the local assembly used to be held; Undir Hesti, where Vésteinn (Gísli's best friend) lived; and, Gemmlufallsheidi, where Vésteinn famously decided to ride on to the autumn feast being held by his friend despite a warning to stay away.

The streams running to Dyrafjodur in Gemmlufallsheidi
When I left Haukadalur, I drove on a slippery mountain road south to Tálknafjördur, where one of the saga characters came from: Asgerd. The fact that she's from this particular fjord isn't a big deal in the saga, but the more I read this work the more concerned I've become with its precise geography. So, I went and found rather lovely beaches braced by great blocks of mountain cliffs. Asgerd's farm was, as in many parts of the Westfjords, wedged along the rather thin strip of usable land.

Tálknafjördur
Throughout the trip so far, I've been struck by the interchange of inhospitable country - heaths, volcanic mountains, and cliffs close to the sea - and suddenly-appearing pastures.

Hvammur on the northern shore of Breidafjördur (not far from where the Brjánslækur ferry comes in) is one such place, a fertile part of the coastline in-between the rock mountains of the Westfjords and the pink, sandy volcanic dunes further along the fjord. It's where Gisli's brother Thorkel lived after Gisli was outlawed, and where Gisli came to ask him for help while he was living on the nearby Hergilsey Island.

The present-day farm at Hvammur

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Some more observations here:


Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Two songs

I've uploaded to YouTube two songs I wrote in the months before I made a return journey to Iceland in 1999, a big moment in my life that formed the highpoint of my first book, The Promise of Iceland (2011). The journey back came after a long period of thinking about how to best approach the complexities of my family life. There were secrets in Iceland that needed to be broken, and I knew doing so would affect how my family understood their lives, the past. It would change my life, too.

In the years before, music became an important part of how I settled things in my mind, how I thought it through. I played regularly in bars and cafes around Brisbane. Gigging, I found, was a bit like exercise - demanding, forcing you to look outside yourself, to be physical and part of the world. Music also helped me to express more solitary and private matters: what I wanted to do next, and in what spirit. My songs seemed to me to always contain elements of two worlds: what I had in Australia and what I thought I might find in Iceland.

Shelter

Driving home that night the moon was bright
just about as bright as I can recall
Wouldn't take a poet to realise the meaning
the meaning of it all




Holding the light

My mind is flying
I can breath, I can breathe, I breathe
The sun opens her eyes onto my back
I can fly

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Setting, Added

Earlier this year, I was interviewed at the Sydney Writer's Festival alongside my co-author Richard Fidler about our book, Saga Land. Our interviewer was Tony Birch, a leading Indigenous writer based in Melbourne - Tony's works include Ghost River, an evocation of the multiple and layered lives of Melbourne's Yarra River.

And, more recently, I took part in a panel on travel writing at the Byron Writer's Festival, there interviewed by Michael Williams, who is the Director of Melbourne's Wheeler Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas.

Both interviewers were interested in the ways an author becomes a participant in the culture and landscape they write about. Tony asked us about how Saga Land seeks out the settings of the saga stories. This is a central aspect of the book, but also one that I find difficult to explain very precisely. Why it matters to visit the places where stories are set. If and how it changes the telling.

I can say that we use location of saga stories to structure the book, by narrating stories and parts of stories when we arrive at certain settings. For example, when we are at Thingvellir - the site of the first Icelandic parliament - we tell the story of how Hallgerd and Gunnar (from Njál's Saga) met. Gunnar was walking through the grounds of the parliament when he saw Hallgerd, and asked if they could sit down together to talk.

But in fact the saga itself is fairly bare in its description of the setting, or that of other major events in the book. As is common in these works, the focus is on people and action. Farm names are always given, travel routes sometimes, and the origin of names is often included. But the saga authors spend very little time on landscape, atmosphere, or the physical aspects of the scenes that are being described.


A podcast of our session at the Sydney Writer's Festival 2018

In fact, one of the things we do in Saga Land, and that many travel writers to Iceland have done before us, is add setting, or explicitly pair saga narratives and modern forms of setting that owe more to travel writing and the novel than to the sagas themselves.

In the case of the chapter on Gunnar and Hallgerd, we frame the saga story with quite descriptive sections about arriving at Thingvellir and, after the saga story ends at Gunnar's farm of Hlidarendi, about the south of the country nearby. We tend not to add these extra elements of setting to the story parts themselves, but rather as brackets around them.

In this way, I suppose setting becomes as much about something that's shared between the original stories and the modern journey, as it is about the effect of the topography of the sagas. The result acknowledges that your visit to saga settings creates new impressions that are joined to the original impact of the story.

*

The Byron Writer's Festival session is available on Soundcloud.


With Brigid Delaney and Eddie Ayers at a session on travel writing at the 2018 Byron Writer's Festival
(Photo: Natalie Foord)


Friday, August 17, 2018

Teaching as learning

I've long found teaching to be one of the best ways of learning. I've taught creative writing and literature at QUT in Brisbane since 2008, and before then I held teaching positions at other universities and schools.

Teaching doesn't require you to be unequivocal or to have perfectly formed ideas. The reality is that sometimes you're only just ahead of the students in your preparations. But it does prompt you to articulate questions clearly, and to express your thoughts in ways that are approachable to others. I use the term approachable because your thoughts are really the beginning of a dialogue, not the conclusion of a point that you're trying to make.

Students should feel that they can come towards your ideas with their own. For me, that approach has allowed me to better understand what I want to achieve as a writer, but as importantly what some of my weaknesses as a writer have been. Being able to identify common issues in the work of others becomes a powerful way of identifying them in your own.

*

Not too long ago, I was asked to sketch out some of the key ideas and terms that we use to teach creative writing at QUT. It really is only that - an opening sketch - but one that offers a sense of how a dialogue about writing techniques might begin.



Film by Nicholas Martin and Tom Francis, November 2017
Produced by Courtney Pedersen/QUT Creative Industries

Friday, August 3, 2018

The memoir spectrum

Over the past few years, I've had the opportunity to review and teach a number of works of memoir and autobiographical fiction, and in some cases interview the authors. Some of this work has come about because of teaching: I have a unit called The Artful Life: From Memoir to Fiction. In other cases, encounters with these books and their authors have come as part of festival panels I've moderated and reviews I've written, mostly for Australian Book Review.

I've noticed that many of the questions people have about memoir are tied to authors' fidelity to lived experience. Has the author presented a very subjective account of events? Perhaps, even invented material? Is the the story a faithful one?

One response to these questions is to say that all narratives are inventions of a kind. As soon as a story is shaped into artistic experience, it becomes a textual representation rather than reality. But that doesn't quite do justice to the question, which is really about the nature of that representation rather a naive wish for absolute accuracy.

*

In the subject that I teach, I approach the topic from the point of view of the creative techniques that are being used, and discuss these questions in terms of a spectrum of literary devices rather than a division of absolutes, one that would have fictive work on one side, truthful writing on the other. I have to admit that, in my own nonfiction, I do aim for a high level of factual accuracy, as high as I can manage. But I find that this spectrum-based approach to creative techniques in nonfiction allows for a less black-and-white analysis of memoir and it impact, and one that ties creative techniques to the narrative personality of the writer.



*

Books I've taught in The Artful Life include Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, David Sedaris's When You Are Engulfed In Flames, Helen Garner's This House of Grief, Dave Eggers's A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Katherine Boo's Behind the Beautiful Forevers, and Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit.

Only one of these books (Winterson's) is presented as a novel, but they share a very noticeable use of literary devices that work to create richness, and to support theme and impact.

Didion's book performs, at a formal level, the very content that she's describing: the work circles and sometimes avoids a central death scene in something like the way Didion both faces and avoids the reality of her husband's death. Garner's book, which is a true crime novel, adopts a number of features of fictional crime writing, especially in her use of characterisation and what's sometimes referred to as "police procedural". Boo's work, also about a criminal case (although very much in terms of the setting and lead-up to it) features the novelistic use of point of view and internal, highly subjective characterisation. Eggers's study of his relationship with his brother after the death of their parents mixes many literary forms, I think partly as a way of resisting sentimentality and some of the other conventions of the genre known as bildungsroman, or, in this case, künstlerroman (a novel of the early life of an artist)Winterson, meanwhile, has spoken about the non-linear nature of her novel, one that adopts both a very realistic tone and also moments that might be better described as mythical and fantastic.

*


In interviews that I've conducted with authors of memoir, I've noticed that they, too, imprint their life stories with their personalities as writers - the books express their way of representation, as much as what they want to say. Lloyd Jones's A History of Silence is an intricately-structured account of secrets in his family: the structure is his way of representing (in the book's form) the intricacy of family history.

Jessie Cole's Staying is notable for its use of a lyrical voice that we might associate with fiction. Meanwhile, when I spoke to Annie Proulx about her memoir Bird Cloud, I was struck by the way in which she constructed the narrative as a series of stories that surround the property at the centre of the book. And, quite recently, I interviewed debut novelist Trent Dalton about his fictional but heavily autobiographical work Boys Swallows Universe. It mines his childhood experiences of growing up in suburban Brisbane while using an intensely subjective voice of fictional first person narration, which tends to be more immediate and open than first person as it's used in nonfiction.


What each of these books suggests to me is that, in the case of memoir and autobiographical fiction, we can read both the content and the form as different aspects of autobiography. Each expresses the author's personality: how they tell a story as well as the story they have to tell.


Sunday, July 15, 2018

Swimming Lessons

I recently published an essay about the relationship between swimming, writing and migration. Although I'm always writing about Iceland from here in Australia, and writing about my birthplace as a presence in my life, I sometimes manage to forget that I'm a migrant.

The essay, written for an anthology celebrating the 70th anniversary of the University of Queensland Press, is an attempt to remind myself of that - how I moved here as a teenager, and what it meant to live in a very different place.

And of an odd but, for me, very real connection between the countries that exists in the water. Shared rhythms of swimming and writing.

The anthology is available here and from other bookshops. A full list of my publications here.








Friday, July 6, 2018

In-between


The months since the publication of Saga Land last October have been intensely busy. My co-author Richard and I travelled widely in Australia to talk about the book - at festivals, industry nights, on TV and radio, and at local workshop and bookshop events.











At the same time, I've taught three subjects at my university, and, with a colleague, started a new seminar series called On the Terrace. It's about contemporary issues in creative writing. For the first seminars, our guest speakers have been authors Anita Heiss, Nick Earls, and Rohan Wilson; poet Sarah Holland-Batt, arts producer Jane O'Hara; and broadcaster Sarah Kanowski.






But despite all this busyness, the past months have also felt like months in-between; that is, between finishing one big thing and properly starting another. This is when writing, to me, feels like sketching, and almost like watching one's thoughts rather than following them.



And then, quite suddenly, it changes. The writing is real and takes you with it. To Iceland, in fact. In September, I travel back to the mid- and north-west of the country, as in Saga Land in pursuit of people who lived there a thousand years ago, but now with rather different writing goals: to produce a novel.

The book takes place at two farms. I hope to spend most of my time walking around them, and the countryside nearby. Following this book begins by following in the footsteps of those who lived here a long time ago, and getting around as they might have.




Saturday, March 24, 2018

Wildlife of Berlin

On Thursday 22 March, I had the pleasure of launching Philip Neilsen's new book of poetry, Wildlife of Berlin at Avid Reader Bookshop in Brisbane's suburb of West End.

Here's an edited version of my introduction to the book.

*

I have a few things I’d like to say, a short speech. But I’m not sure about its structure. Or, rather, I feel there may be some steps backwards and forwards. But perhaps that suits this book, and the ways in which it steps backwards and forwards across times, places, and images. And, in more careful ways than I’ve managed here, brings them together.

I think Philip and I first met when I was a PhD student, around fifteen years ago. I had long hair and wore check pants. I knew Philip’s name the way, as a student, you know the names of established writers: as a voice, really – a poet. Even though I was a literature student, that still seemed a distant thing, an idea as much as a person.

But the person I met was also a teacher, and I was becoming one of those. Teaching was something I understood as being more than an idea. It was about people, and the pulse of a room, pacing your thoughts, perhaps even the metre, rhythm, and the music of the spoken word. Teaching was about taking note, observing, and speaking really only if you had to. It was also about paradox and incongruence, for I saw that a good class often brought together ideas that were usually kept apart. In that way, a classroom could be a hospitable place, like a poem.



Philip’s poems, I thought, had those qualities, as well. Or so it seemed to me when I first began to read them. My early sense of Philip was shaped by having met him in his role as a teacher. An early sense, as I say, but it’s hard to shake first impressions of this kind, and over time they’ve grounded my reading of him as a person, but more especially tonight, my understanding of his poetry. Over the years, I’ve come to know Philip through a sense of how teaching connects curiosity about life to our conversations with other people, and especially our students.

That’s something of our shared past, mine and Philip's, although I’m very sorry to say that these important exchanges haven’t appeared anywhere in this collection. It’s just as well that I’m here to tell you about them. It’s not as though Philip doesn’t know the hazards of leaving people out. Towards the close of this book, we read about a review, written twenty-four years ago, a “black catty” review that hacks at another of Philip’s books. Why? The reviewer was, no doubt justifiably, upset that he had not been included in the book in question.

That person, we read, now wants to be friends with Philip on Facebook. Twenty-four years have passed, after all. If he can’t be in a book of written lines, cannot he not, now, at least be in Philip’ Facebook timeline.

For a moment, the poet allows us to feel the pressure of the many years that have passed. The enduring pressure of harsh words exchanged long ago. And the pressure of the things the poet has said and regretted. That we may have said in our lives, as well. But then, happily, we also hear the tap on the keyboard that confirms the friend request.

It’s a satirical moment in an often wry and witty book, although in this collection it’s rare in its subject matter of writers’ rivalries. Many of the poems share this Facebook-moment’s insistence on the everyday, the now, and how the now seems always to be in the business of expanding the past.

But this book places itself very happily within poetic traditions and the work of others. The first long conversations I had with Philip were about poetry, especially about W H Auden, a poet we both love, and I think Auden’s extraordinary line, “the crack in the tea-cup”, which appears in this book.

I remember we talked about other poets, too, who also show up in the collection as an ancestry shared by all readers and students but also, I think, as a hoped-for audience for the book. Whatever years have passed, twenty-four or one hundred; however mortal poets may be in reality, Elizabeth Bishop, Philip Larkin, and Judith Wright, Auden, are here and being asked to listen, if they can, because many of the poems seek out their ways of remembering and seeing.

Like those writers, Philip has produced a work that demonstrates how observation becomes part of a quiet form of instruction: sometimes directed outwards, as in a classroom, but very often internally towards the poet.

In Wildlife of Berlin, this is expressed in contradictions, in wit, self-effacement, but above all in searching and allowing it to be the goal rather than a road to a final answer. There isn’t merely an acceptance of doubt and paradox. These things are insisted upon, and chiefly by way of incongruity, the strange confluence of ideas that marks conversation.

This verse, about a failing love affair, is from “Red-capped Robin – Long Pocket, Indooroopilly”: 

          The last time you were an hour late.
          I sat with the bird and the flotsam,
          living in the moment, which smelled
          of vinyl seats and soap.

In “Marienplatz – Munich”, the poet is told that “possessions, like regrets, are ridiculous”. And he sees them: “swarm like starlings, / exclamation marks without a sentence”. In another poem, we meet Lady Chatterley. Once, after she has made love to Mellors, she hears “the cold stone of blood / tut tutting at the top of the hill.”

Such observations have the effect of slowing time, what in one poem Philip also calls “time slips”; and, in another, the “urge to collect and catalogue / this pageant, to slow it down.” The poems meet this urge, and the past is given a seat and, in a sense, is confirmed as part of the class, the everyday, the present. It nestles into the everyday: the vinyl seats and soap.

Poems become like rooms; and, as Philip writes:

          Rooms still imagine themselves as thinking spaces,
          classes still have epiphanies which come
          and pass, well-lit, like a night train.
          A tutorial becomes a bird of paradise.


A couple of days ago, I took Wildlife of Berlin to a class, and read out this verse from it.

          To start this tutorial I have a question:
          how many of you have had a broken heart:
          the shy ventricle and pink aorta parted
          and pulped like a smashed melon?

I have to say my class looked quite confused and perhaps even a little frightened. Did I really expect them to reveal their broken hearts? No, I didn’t. They laughed, relieved. And, then, that became our discussion: what we are expected to reveal, and how that becomes part of the stories we create.

Even though we no longer work together very often as teachers, this week Philip's poetry began a discussion in one of my classes. It was about observation, acuity, and, for me, it was about the way your poetry is a companion of curiosity, just as teaching can be.

Earlier, I mentioned a line by Auden, part of a verse which Philip quotes. The verse is from the poem “As I Walked Out One Evening”:

          The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
          The desert sighs in the bed,
          And the crack in the tea-cup opens
          A lane to the land of the dead.

In Philip's book, the quote is given at the beginning of a poem called “Polar Bear Noir”, which also features this line about the aurora borealis: “a lime green wave of northern lights / hugs me like a heartbeat monitor.”

These lines stay with me because their strangeness, how they are at the once reaching for the sky and for hospital equipment. And for their memory of Auden, who also walked through streets looking for the past, and distant places, in the everyday present.

But somehow these are also lines that I detect from the kinds of conversations we’ve had over the years, and that I expect Philip has had with many of the people here tonight, and of course with many of his students. Like me, I’m sure they wish the very best for this book. It is a remarkable collection: pleasurable, intelligent, and generous. 

A book of poetry that welcomes the reader and converses with them.




Friday, March 9, 2018

Nominations

Over the last few weeks, it's been lovely to see Saga Land nominated for a couple of national book awards.

The book is currently on the shortlist of the Australian Indie Book Awards, and just now has been longlisted in the Australian Book Industry Awards.




Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Cairns in summer


I'm about to make my first mid-summer trip to Cairns, a place I've loved visiting in the past, although admittedly those trips were in winter and early spring. And yet I'm excited by the prospect of heat and humidity that apparently makes even Brisbane seem mild by comparison.

On Friday 16 February, I'll be speaking about the sagas, Iceland, and Saga Land at a lunch held at the Shangri-La Hotel. And then over the weekend I'll be heading up to Atherton to run a series of workshops on the theme of writing fiction that is drawn from lived experiences and the people we know. 

The workshop series is called The Artful Life: From Memoir to Fiction, a title I've borrowed from a university course that I lecture.

Here's a short description of the kinds of things we'll be covering:

It's often said that you should 'write what you know.' But what does this really mean? How do you turn lived experience into a basis for fiction and nonfiction works? This series of workshops will instruct you in elements of creative writing practice that relate to both forms, while helping you think about the often very productive relationship between your experiences and your creative outputs. How, for instance, might you base a character in a novel on a real person in your life? What are the limits on the writer of nonfiction in telling what they feel is their story? Are writing techniques (like plot, dialogue, character) the same in fiction and nonfiction? And how do you know whether your experiences are actually interesting to others, and worth sharing with a wider audience?

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Interviewed by Fiona Sewell, ABC Cairns

Kuranda Train Station, 2004
Kuranda Canoe Hire, 2004


Sunday, February 11, 2018

Drawing to write: Haukadalur, Westfjords


Remembering the Westfjords in winter.

How on some days the darkness isn't so much in the sky but in the blue earth of the mountains, standing above what seems a second shoreline of late autumn green. The fjord frozen at its beach sides, and black along the shallows. The grass blown flat into thick mating that folds across the first ledges in the blue rocks.




Monday, February 5, 2018

Festival season

Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking part in writers' festival sessions being held around the country. Many of the events will be about Saga Land, but I'm sure conversations will widen out from there.


Friday 16 February: Cairns Tropical Writers Festival lunch

Saturday 17 - Sunday 18 February: Atherton writers' retreat

Saturday 24 February: Saga Land at Perth Writers' Festival

Sunday 25 February: Storytelling event at Perth Writers' Festival

Saturday 3 March: Saga Land at Adealaide Writers' Week

Sunday 4 March: Mud Club lunch, Penny's Hill Winery, McLaren Vale

Thursday 16 - Friday 17 March: Somerset Celebration of Literature workshops

Friday 16 March: Somerset Celebration of Literature dinner

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Hope to see you there!

East Stage, Adelaide Writers' Week



Thursday, November 16, 2017

First Days Saga Land

Saga Land, a book I've co-authored with Richard Fidler, has been out for around three weeks now, and over that time Richard and I have been travelling the country for interviews, talks, and performances of the saga stories that we feature in the book.

About a year ago, we were in Iceland writing the winter parts of the book. Since then, Saga Land has moved rather quickly through the various tasks of writing to editing, and now to publishing and promoting a book beautifully produced by HarperCollins/ABC Books.

Our first trip to Iceland was in summer, when there isn't really any night to speak of. Then, the darkness of an Icelandic December, and now it's out in the blue light of Australian spring. On our book tour, much of the time that we've spent talking about the book has been inside radio studios or quiet, darkened performance spaces. It's as though Saga Land always steps between shadows and light, winter and summer.

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Church of All Nations, Carlton
We began in Melbourne, on ABC breakfast TV, in an interview with Jon Faine on his Conversations radio program, and then a book talk at the Church of All Nations in Carlton. Then to Adelaide for shows at Elder Hall and Burnside Library, and to Sydney for a series of bookshop events. Rather as in the book, during our talks Richard and I take turns in narrating parts of our Iceland travels, while in Queensland we gave return performances of the Icelandic Sagas show that we performed last year -- again at The Powerhouse Theatre, and also this time at the Empire in Toowoomba.

Saga Land set (pic Matt Howard)
Rehearsals at the Empire Theatre, Toowoomba (pic Richard Fidler)


From behind the projection screen, Powerhouse Theatre (pic Jane O'Hara)


Sofdu unga astin min
Elder Hall, Adelaide

With Richard and Hannah Kent, Adelaide (pic Matt Howard)
*
I adored this book. Kári Gíslason and Richard Fidler have gathered together a wondrous compendium of Iceland's best sagas, both old and recent, and woven these together with their own experiences of that storytelling nation. Each folktale, each account of warring 12th century families, is presented as part of a wider tapestry of story, including those of the authors' lives. Saga Land is testament to the power of all sagas, as a means of connection and self-realisation. A tremendous achievement.


- Hannah Kent

Dymocks Tuggeranong, ACT

Fuller's Bookshop, Mornington Peninsula
Best new nonfiction, November, Indie bookshops

Top 10 Australian independent bookshops
During our book tour, we've given quite a few interviews, links to which I've started to gather here. They include Richard Glover's interview on his Sydney Drive program, and Rebecca Levingston's touching response to the book when we spoke to her for Weekends Brisbane. I like talking to people about the books I've written, although I admit it also has the uncanny feeling of flying out of a quiet winter and then landing thousands of miles away in another season altogether.

At the same time, the first reviews and reader responses have begun to appear, opening the pages and letting in their own light on what we've described in Saga Land.

*


Fidler and Gíslason embarked on a journey to Iceland with two purposes: to make a radio documentary retelling some of the sagas from the places where they happened, and to discover whether Gíslason really is descended from Sturluson. Saga Land records their two trips to Iceland, one in summer, and one in winter. The radio program went to air in 2016 and is now a podcast.



The book is divided into four parts, with Fidler and Gíslason taking turns to tell the story. Both have a gift for bringing the country to life on the page, with the vivid descriptions of the extraordinary landscape, from glaciers to fiords, setting the scene. The sagas themselves – graphic descriptions of fierce blood feuds – are told in crisp, unemotive prose, giving them a powerful sense of immediacy. They are woven skilfully into the narrative of the road trip, as are references to historic events that have taken place in Iceland, including the famous meeting between US President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1986.



A fascinating insight into Iceland's little-known history and literature, and a compelling story of one man's quest to reclaim his identity.



- Nicole Abadee, "Three Best Books of the Month," Australian Financial Review


Saga Land Christmas tree, Dymocks Sydney

Burnside Library, South Australia

Route 372, Brisbane