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.


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

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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