What you take from Iceland: soil the color of rust. Grey sky-hue of Hallgrimskirkja. Mountains shawling fog around their shoulders. Mustard yellows of cottages in Reykjavík. Spurt of geysers hissing up into an April afternoon. Arctic winds jostling you off your feet.
To experience such a landscape, to amble in it, to breathe its glacial air, to have it whistle its mysteries into your ear, is something that a writer can only dream of. It enlarges the imagination. Time warps in the strange spring light. ‘The end is in the beginning and lies far ahead,’ the narrator of Invisible Man says, and here you are reminded of those words. You feel as though you are at the end of time and at its beginning all at once.
As spectacular as it is, that scenery is simply a backdrop for the books. There’s the pleasure of listening to a rowdy 80 year old tell the story of her life in Hallgrímur Helgason’s Woman at a 1,000 Degrees. Debates about wickedness in ‘The Wife of Bath’ and Lolita in a workshop with Lauren Groff. Dissections of the twists and turns of narration in The Polyglot Lovers with Lina Wolff.
You leave brimming with inspiration from these conversations. Thinking about how to apply lessons to the novel you’re finishing, set in a landscape very different from the one you wander through in Iceland. A landscape on the equator, of desert dunes and swamplands and spotted cattle and temperatures that feel like a 1,000 degrees indeed.
You meet strangers who become friends. A Nigerian author who paints a gorgeous scene of a boy sitting atop an old fridge on a beach in Lagos. An Indian writer who presses little gifts from Mumbai into your hands. An American author who opens her door to you and conjures up for you the bustling alleyways of Barcelona.
And you laugh. At one reading the former mayor of Reykjavík evokes his childhood disorientation at the many strangers he meets in the Icelandic countryside who turn out to be…relatives. You laugh so hard you are in tears at this mirror-image of your own confusion as a child stumbling amongst aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins in Sudan.
Beyond the laughter, you are reminded that each word on a page is a step that bridges the gap between yourself and other selves. Your world and other worlds. It’s why you’ve always been drawn to books. And why you are ever so grateful that they’ve set you down in Iceland, crossed you from Khartoum to Reykjavík.
Fatin Abbas was a recipient of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award in 2018. We are currently fundraising to be able to offer this scholarship again for 2019. To contribute, click here.
What if I told you how brave, accomplished, and assertive I felt when I registered way back during the summer of 2017? It was taking place in one of my favorite places on this planet. And I was to learn so much.
Romantically I saw myself as looking out the window between finely crafted words, at the black and white diapo landscape. The blue ice cube glaciers at Jokulsarlon lagoon yonder on the horizon, glinting in the sun. Geysirs bubbling happily across the stark scenario and my writing flowing like its gorgeous and diverse waterfalls. I would be inspired by its plenty literary muses, immersed in a bubble with its silent icy mists and steaming thermal waters surrounding me. Totally concentrated with razor sharp focus. And my iPad.
And so, busy as a bee. I submerged my fantasies, illusions and expectations into the dark, healing waters of the Secret Lagoon of my subconscious. It was done. Back into my frazzled life as a CranioSacral therapist, wife, mother, grandmother, orchid collector by day, and reader and writer by night. Stealing blinks of time from my colored agenda: Grandchildren circled in fluorescent MeTime pink, caring for my Orchids, Laundry and Groceries in HomeTime yellow, CST appointments in PatientsTime blue, and home managing in FinanceTime green.
So far, writing for me was a hobby. Pleasing, satisfying, therapeutic and cathartic. I had no WritingTime color circling any space on my book. Nada, nothing in any page. I’ve always described myself as a reader. In spite of being half way into my project of a thirteen short story collection, & taken several fiction and nonfiction workshops. Writing still was a hobby for me.
Seriously? Writer? Me?
What if I told you how intimidated I was feeling as time approached and gnawing self doubt reared its ugly head?
While riding the short distance from Odinsgata to the Natura Hotel, I felt like a tweenie all dressed up, going to her first prom. Butterflies in my stomach? You gotta be kidding me.
Moths more like it.
What on earth possessed me to think I belonged in this exalted level of talent, creativity and expertise? Words like Fellowships, Awards, X many books published, daunted & haunted me. What was I doing entering the sacrosanctum lobby and registering in this Retreat for Writers? Why wasn’t I soaking in Sundhollin pool, or trekking Landmannalaugar? When I reached my room, after receiving my black ‘goody bag’ from the welcoming, smiling staff, I wondered if I shouldn’t be running across the tarmac I could see through my window, to the first plane out to Akureyri, Greenland, or the Faroes, instead.
Far, far away from making a fool of myself.
Ok, I confess I love Iceland, Icelanders, Icelandic lopapeysa sweaters, Icelandic smart and distant sense of humor, not to mention the Canelle Snudurs from Sandholt, Messinn’s Atlantic Char, Gæsabringa slices with Raspberry Vinagrette from The Deli, Skyr, Lamb Grilled Koftas from Alibaba, Kjötsúpa from any petrol station, and my new obsession: Loki’s Rye Bread Ice Cream with Whipped Cream, drizzled with Rhubarb Caramelized Syrup — I bought a tiny bottle of it so I can smell & taste Iceland every time I open it back home in Florida. A whiff of its earthy, creamy, tart and sweet aromas magically making Íslands come back to life. Thankfully NO whiffs of fermented shark, thank you very much.
So, I was here, entering the Dinner and Readings. Sit with us close by the mic — as suggested by my new friends, repeat alums Rosie and Ian. ‘Live in the moment. Smile. Breathe deeply in and exhale slowly out’— As directed by myself. Worse case scenario, I would take notes, and try my best to keep silent with an intensely creative expression on my face throughout the workshops.
Loved hearing the stories read. Started melting into my surroundings. Restless night with weird dreams.
When I stepped into my first workshop, the one by the fantastic Lina Wolff about “Plotting and Writing Non – Linear Fiction”, and later her “Creating Antiheroes” and then both of Rory Maclean’s Travel Writing workshops, and finally Lauren Groff’s brilliant one on “Gaps, Spaces and Silences” I had stopped feeling like an isolated molecule, an outsider, a dwarf comet passing by into the void.
I’ve never felt more at home. I belonged. I became part of the live, pulsing, creative body of this wondrous galaxy of writers. By the time I exited the Q&A Panel Final session, I had finally assumed my craft. It was my language, I was a writer. I was hearing a reflection of my own intuition. It resonated with what I felt should be, from the gut. I had gained confidence. I volunteered to read out loud my class exercises. I recognized myself as being part of this pack. I trusted my ability. I metabolized everything I learned. So…
What if I told you I came out of 2018 IWR enveloped in my newly minted creative self with the word WRITER engraved in my mind, heart and soul? Learning so many techniques was invaluable. Now, I not only know and own these tools. But most importantly, I own the acquired confidence and self acceptance that I AM a writer. With the multitude of colors of the landscapes of my travels, weaved by the myths and legends of my Venezuela and adopted Ireland and Iceland, I intend to circle lots of WritingTime in my book.
#AmWriter……………………………………. Janine Vici Campbell
Throughout the years I had been hoping for an opportunity to get away from my hectic lifestyle and just focus on myself and what I enjoy doing the most—writing. The unique picturesque scenery, the rich literary culture, the people—every nook and cranny of Iceland promised me just that, making the Iceland Writers Retreat an experience I can never forget. I embarked on this journey with an open mind and a blank notebook, seeking to fuel up my passion and harvest my skills. The Iceland Writers Retreat was, for me, chance to feel part of a family with like-minded goals and aspirations, exchange ideas and tips in small intimate groups and build precious friendships in the process. The workshops offered were tailored to focus on the different aspects of writing, ranging from plot construction to experimenting with different literary genres. It was a pleasure for me to discuss, learn, and grow as a writer, thanks to the feedback provided by my designated tutors after a number of hands-on exercises. I was moreover thrilled with the activities programme, every single one intended as testimony to the nation’s love for the written word. Now I understand where it all comes from and would like to heartily thank Eliza, Erica, and all the organizers of the Iceland Writers Retreat for making this possible. I feel inspired, recharged and ready to take on new writing ventures, keeping Iceland both in my mind and heart.
Michael Agugom was a recipient of an Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award in 2018
Here is something: I am learning to be brave. This is not the same thing as learning to be fearless. One needs to be afraid in order to be brave, otherwise there is no cause for bravery.