About Iceland Writers Retreat

Visiting the “Island of Storytellers” with Claudia Casper

Visiting the “Island of Storytellers” with Claudia Casper

An interview with Claudia Casper, IWR 2017 faculty

Claudia Casper is a Canadian author and IWR alumna, and her book The Mercy Journals has recently been shortlisted for the Philip K. Dick Award. She spent some time with me to talk about her experience with Iceland and the Iceland Writers Retreat as a participant, as well as what she is looking forward to about being a faculty member for IWR 2017.

Claudia attended the first Retreat, which was held in April 2014. She and Anne Giardini, fellow Canadian writer and friend, attended the Retreat together as a fun adventure for literary friends. They did some exploring of Iceland before the Retreat began, including a guided snowmobile tour of some glaciers. Claudia described the experience as “beautiful and exhilarating,” yet also terrifying because she and Anne had to keep up with the guide so as to not fall into a crevice. Despite the element of danger, being immersed in the landscape made the beauty of it even more exceptional.

During her experience as a participant at the Retreat, she appreciated the intimacy of the workshops and social gatherings. She recalled spending time with the Canadian Ambassador, and that she was “shoulder to shoulder with writers at the top of their field, local politicians, historians, and artists.” She also noted the incredible history tour given by Eliza’s husband, who is now President of Iceland. Throughout her time in Iceland, she was amazed how the description of Iceland as an “island of storytellers” is completely true.

Claudia will be leading two workshops at the Retreat in April. They are entitled “Research—The most fun part of writing” and “Process—Keeping the engine stoked in the day to day of writing.” When I asked how she decided what topics she wanted to cover for her workshops, she explained that it was important for her to focus on her personal interests while complementing the other workshops and thinking about what the participants would be interested in. Although she is giving workshops on different aspects of the writing process, she is particularly interested in how each person can go through similar writing stages but somehow create a unique piece of writing in the end.

In a final comment, Claudia said that she is looking forward to both “refilling the reservoir of inspiration, talking about building story, and expanding one’s sense of possibilities,” as well as “raising a glass with everyone in April.”

Q & A with Peter Ngila, Alumni Award Recipient

Q & A with Peter Ngila, Alumni Award Recipient

Peter Ngila is one of the four recipients of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. It will provide financial support for him to attend the Retreat in April 2017. The Award recipients are determined by merit and financial need, and the Award is funded by IWR Alumni.

Peter’s Bio:

Peter Ngila is a Kenyan writer. He graduated from Mount Kenya University in August, 2015, where he was studying journalism. His short fiction has appeared on magazines and journals in Kenya and beyond including Jalada Africa, Prachya Review, Brittle Paper, Lawino among others, and got anthologised in Ebedi Review. Peter has attended Writivism Creative Writing workshops in Kenya and Tanzania, and has taken part in The Writivism Mentoring Process. He also attended the 2016 Short Story Day Africa Migrations Flow Workshop in Nairobi. Peter has a number of manuscripts, including a short story collection, and a novella. He will go to Ebedi Writers Residency in Nigeria in January 2017 to complete work on a novel.

 

What are you most looking forward to about the Retreat?

PN: I am most looking forward to the writing workshops, because I am always out to improve my writing career, and also share with and learn from fellow attendees. And yes, to visit Iceland, and meet Nadifa Mohammed!

 

What do you find inspiring?

PN: My writing is usually inspired by what happens every day. I love meeting new people and seeing new places. I am one of those people who are shameless enough to eavesdrop at your phone call, and later turn the conversation around in my mind.

 

How do you overcome writer’s block?

PN: I don’t believe in writer’s block that much. I think one cannot produce all the time, because you will have to read other writers to improve your writing. And rewriting and editing is also part of writing, and so these to me may not happen the same time with writing, as long as they are integral parts of the writing process.  And yes, when you are not in the mood to write, rewrite or edit, you should sit back and enjoy life. But again, that shouldn’t encourage laziness, so most of the time I usually push myself by sitting down all day, and having the previously desired word count by evening no matter what, then take a shower and go out walking; that’s how to keep fit.

 

How has writing influenced your life?

PN: Well, writing has impacted my writing in many ways. It has enabled me to open up my life (because all those secrets I thought were too dark or even interesting to share with the world are part of research and they tend to come out fictionalized in my writing). Writing has also taken me places, from writing workshops to festivals in and outside my country, Kenya. (And yes, I am going to Iceland, the first time actually to fly out of Africa)! My writing has also enabled me to communicate better because I am not the best verbal communicator.

 

Peter is very excited and thankful for the opportunity to attend the Retreat. In a final comment, he cites eagerness to learn, persistence, and patience as the tools anybody can use to achieve their dreams.

Q & A with Akvile Buitvydaite, Alumni Award Recipient

Q & A with Akvile Buitvydaite, Alumni Award Recipient

Akvile Buitvydaite is one of the four recipients of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. It will provide partial financial support for her to attend the Retreat in April 2017. The Award recipients are determined by merit and financial need, and the Award is funded by IWR Alumni.

Akvile’s Bio:

After exploring many countries on her solitary travels, she finally settled down in Copenhagen. She grew up in a small town in Lithuania and the variety of places that she has visited have given her an opportunity to treasure the diversity of this world. Akvile has been teaching for several years and at the moment is taking a degree in English and Cultural Studies. Writing has always played a role as a very intimate and personal expression of her solitude; lately she has become more explicit about it and received many encouraging responses. Akvile wants her writing to tackle the questions of social justice and to evoke emotional understanding of a human life. She is really looking forward to meeting all the people at the Iceland Writers Retreat, share and learn together and just let the beauty of Icelandic nature capture our minds.

 

What are you most looking forward to about the Retreat?

AB: Honestly, I am really overwhelmed by the choice of workshops and possibilities to learn from great authors and other participants. I imagine the retreat as an opportunity not only to create a space with like-minded people, but as well to learn more about the ways to create a literary work, establish narrative structures or to depict novel characters. This is all very new to me, therefore I’ve got plenty of questions and considerations and I am looking forward to sharing them with the others.

 

What do you find inspiring?

AB: I’m mostly interested in the lives of ordinary people. Often when I am sitting on a bus or train, I try to imagine the stories of the fellow passengers. I love being in the city that is crowded and solitary space at the same time and I believe that every human life is really fragile. This thought works as a driving force for me. Still, I have discovered that imagination and inspiration play a small role in the process of writing, because the rest requires discipline, effort and work. There are periods when I am really struggling to produce anything, because my writing expectations and reality do not correspond with each other. Then I feel the need to get out from my routine and spend some time in nature where I can sort of go back to my senses and find that inner flow. Essentially, literature and music are the cornerstones for my own writing—when I am into a novel or listening to an album it triggers a certain emotional response in me and then I embody this into a poem or a fictional work. There have been several novels that left a huge impact on me and I am still touched by the power that words might entail and their ability to awaken one’s senses.

 

How has writing influenced your life?

AB: Until very recently, I’ve pictured writing as my personal expression only and I have been rather quiet about it, so many people around me didn’t even know that I have this sort of ‘hobby’.  One of those days, while sitting on the train and staring at strangers, I got this incredible wish to write a novel and slowly it led into a plot, a main character and the whole story line that is inhabited in my head every day since. It is still very fresh to me so I am finding it difficult to grasp its effects on mine or anyone else’s life. However, I consider language as a way of restricting or emancipating people since many of our experiences are bounded within the linguistic frame.  Therefore, I see writing as a way to give a voice to people and I hope that I will succeed in transforming my ideas, values and world views into a fictional narrative.

 

In a final comment, Akvile expresses her excitement to attend the Retreat and optimism for the changes it might bring.

Q & A with Nathan Ramsden, Alumni Award Recipient

Q & A with Nathan Ramsden, Alumni Award Recipient

Nathan Ramsden is one of the four recipients of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. It will provide financial support for him to attend the Retreat in April 2017. The Award recipients are determined by merit and financial need, and the Award is funded by IWR Alumni.

Nathan’s Bio:

He lives in West Yorkshire, UK. He writes mostly short fiction based on mythology and folktale, though he has also published one novel called Nothing’s Oblong, and is currently working on a translation of the long medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Other influences include J L Borges and Angela Carter.

Nathan taught English for several years before choosing to focus on writing and to set up a small press. In his spare time he loves baking, bookbinding, and making music with synthesizers and an old jazz bass.

Although he enjoys reading and translating Icelandic, this will be Nathan’s first trip to Iceland; he hopes to improve his spoken language as well as see some of the country and stock up on a few more books.

 

What are you most looking forward to about the Retreat?

NR: Pretty much everything, really. I’ve never been to Iceland before, but since having studied some of its medieval literature, and having learned some of the language, I’ve wanted to spend time there and explore the spaces and their histories, and the ways in which the land and the stories generate each other. From a writing point of view, I’m looking forward to having somewhere new feed into my ideas for various projects, and I’m excited to see where Iceland will take my work. It’s also going to be good to meet other writers, to swap stories, to discuss books and writing, and to perhaps make friends. I’m guessing I’ll need more than one trip to do it all but I can’t think of a better way to start than the Retreat.

 What do you find inspiring?

NR: Inspiration is a tough one. It can come from anything, anywhere, anyone, and at any time. I keep a notebook with me whenever I leave the house, and it sits by my bed at night. Sometimes I’ll come across a word that will be enough to kick-start an idea; sometimes a whole historical episode will suggest a story, a re-telling, a re-imagination. Often, the seeds of a piece are small, but the things that grow from them seem to feed into each other, and they have to catch together in the right ways for a piece to truly develop. A lot of the time, that comes with a great deal of hard work. Trial and error is the only way to see what will happen. When it doesn’t go well, try again.

How has writing influenced your life?

NR: Life and writing are not separate things – writing is a part of life, and helps make life what it is, while life shapes writing in return. For a long time, making stories was simply a way to entertain myself, or to process and play with things that were happening in my world. Eventually stories became an end in themselves, and I became interested in how they work on a more technical level. Being a writer has given me a different kind of understanding of the ways in which writing works – I come to books and the study of books with a writer’s mind, a writer’s skill set, a writer’s sensibility for the processes that generate those objects we think of as stories. I think that’s quite a different position to be in to a strictly academic one, or to the general reader. My academic studies are feeding into my life in other ways that are no longer university-based, but being a writer first has created the platform upon which I place everything else for consideration. It’s a kind of blend of the critical, the creative, and a joy at making leaps into strangeness and getting things wrong; it’s a balance of tight control and complete freedom.

As a final comment, Nathan expresses his gratitude toward those who made this opportunity possible.

Q & A with Victor Yang, Alumni Award Recipient

Q & A with Victor Yang, Alumni Award Recipient

Victor Yang is one of the four recipients of the Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award. It will provide financial support for him to attend the Retreat in April 2017. The Award recipients are determined by merit and financial need, and the Award is funded by IWR Alumni.

Victor’s Bio:

Victor spends lots of time teaching, biking, and thinking about food when he is not parked in front of Microsoft Word at a coffee shop. He spends his days as a labor organizer at the janitors’ union in Boston, USA. His job, as a writer and an organizer, is to listen to other people’s stories and ask that they be shared. His essays are forthcoming in The Rumpus and Tahoma Literary Review. He grew up in Canada, rural China, and the USA.
 

What are you most looking forward to about the Retreat?

VY: While writing my application, I did the math for the Retreat: four days, five workshops, up to fifteen writers each. I’m excited for how that time multiplies — to talk about craft, to learn from folks from around the world, and to write.

 

What do you find inspiring?

VY: A good cup of coffee can do many wonders, I learned back in my student days. Plus no Wi-Fi and a promise to myself or a good friend that I’m not leaving the coffee shop, library, or wherever else until I write at least a paragraph or two, no matter how shitty. Getting into the practice of barfing words onto a page, or what other people call freewriting, has really helped.

 

 How do you overcome writer’s block?

VY: Small goals are good. In the first week of working on a manuscript, I built up enough momentum to write a grand total of seven words one day, fifty the next, and on it goes.

 

How has writing influenced your life?

VY: I’ve been the wallflower who enters a room full of strangers and clam up, or the kid who sits at the back of the class without saying a peep for weeks. Microsoft Word has treated me with more kindness than many social situations. I started journaling as a kid to make sense of the world and perhaps some of the most confusing things in that world, namely my own self and my wackiness. Word processing software, other than the red squiggles that yell for not spelling right, is as non-judgmental as they get.

As I’ve read stories by folks like Jenny Zhang and Daisy Hernandez about their mothers and their activism and their take on racism in the world, I think “Hell, how do they describe and reflect on experiences in my life in words so much more poignant and accurate than my own?” I guess this is answering the inspiring part of what you were asking in the last question, but when done well, “well” in terms of not necessarily good craft but good therapy and processing, my writing encourages me to treat myself and others with more humanity and to find what’s common among all of us. It helps me make sense of things that I find specific and weird, and to discover, in the process of writing and thinking, that those things tell of universal truths that can in turn speak to so many people.

 

Victor would also like to express his gratitude for the opportunity to join the IWR community and for everyone who made the Alumni Award possible.

10 Fascinating Facts about Iceland

10 Fascinating Facts about Iceland

Photo taken by Art Bicnick, rest of the series can be found here.

Iceland is quickly climbing in notoriety as a travelling and cultural hotspot, but how much do you actually know about the small northern island?

  • Iceland is the world’s most peaceful country. (source)
  • Reykjavik comprises more than half of Iceland’s population. (source)
  • One of the world’s first parliaments was in Iceland. (source)
  • Per capita, Icelanders drink the most Coca-Cola. (source)
  • Its political representation is progressive compared to the rest of the world. The world’s first democratically elected female head of state, Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, was elected in 1980. The world’s first openly gay Prime Minister, Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir, was elected in 2009. (source)
  • Iceland sits on two tectonic plates: America and Eurasia. This means that if you are on the western side of Iceland, you are geographically in North America, but politically and culturally in Europe. (source)
  • Iceland has a national day to recognize its language. It is on November 16 because this day was the birthday of Jónas Hallgrímsson, an Icelandic poet and national treasure. (source)
  • The word English word “geyser” is taken from Iceland’s Great Geysir, which can be seen during the Golden Circle Tour. (source)
  • Game of Thrones films in Iceland for its scenes beyond the Wall. (source)
  • The Icelandic alphabet has 32 letters! (source)

 

A Fan’s Fantastical Paradise

A Fan’s Fantastical Paradise

It is well-known that Iceland is the perfect home and travel destination for writers, readers, and all book-lovers alike. Here is a list of places that provide a real backdrop for some of your favourite books and movie/television adaptations.

  • Lake Myvatn

Game of Thrones fans might recognize Iceland as “Beyond the Wall” from Game of Thrones, and the land of ice and fire. One specific spot that has appeared in the show is Lake Myvatn. This site (seen above, credit to ESTIVILLML – FOTOLIA) was seen in season 3, episode 5: “Kissed by Fire”. The cave that sits on this lake, which is called Grjotagja, is also known as the as the cave where Jon and Ygritte’s love scene took place.

  • Snæfellsjökull

This volcano is named in Journey to the Centre of the Earth by Jules Verne. In the novel and the adapted motion picture, the volcano is the passageway to the centre of the Earth. Snæfellsjökull is both a volcano and a glacier. According to Visit Iceland, “Snæfellsjökull glacier is said to be one of the seven great energy centres of the earth, and has been attributed various mysterious powers.”

  • Stokksnes

This town in south-eastern Iceland, close to Brunnhorn Mountain, was one site where the film Stardust was filmed. Stardust is based on the book of the same name by Neil Gaiman. The cold air whipping off the water and view of the mountains provided the perfect panoramic background for part of the perilous journey. Neil Gaiman also developed American Gods while he travelled through Iceland.

  • Fate of the Gods exhibition at Vikingaheimar

This exhibit centres on Norse mythology, myths, and magic. The exhibition showcases different types of art that are modern and contemporary interpretations of Nordic culture. Many prominent writers, including J.R.R. Tolkien, W.H. Auden, and William Blake were inspired by the Icelandic Eddas. Here is a way to go to the very beginning of the magic of the Icelandic literary tradition.

Visitors can also visit the Islendigur Viking Ship, which is in the same location.

Icelandic Titles and Translations

Icelandic Titles and Translations

The Icelandic Literature Center promotes Icelandic literature, both within Iceland and abroad. Every year they come up with a list of books to promote, showcasing the vast creativity, talent, breadth of style, and genre that Iceland has to offer. Here are few of this year’s featured writers and their books.

Gerður Kristný has multiple awards under her belt, including the Icelandic Booksellers’ Literary Prize and the Nordic Council Literature Prize 2012. She writes poetry, novels, and short stories. Her book on this list is Dúkka, or Doll, a children’s book brimming with mystery.

Auður Jónsdóttir is a highly successful Icelandic writer and winner of the Icelandic Booksellers’ Literary Prize 2015, and has received several nominations for other awards. She was also a featured author at the 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat. Her book Stóri skjálfti, or Grand Mal, is a novel about a woman who suffers from epilepsy and her fragmented memory.

Arnaldur Indriðason is a crime writer, and has won the CWA Gold Dagger Award as well as the Nordic Crime Novel Prize two years in a row. Þýska húsið, or The Travelling Salesman, is his 19th book. It is about two police officers who tackle a murder case in the midst of WWII.

Hallgrímur Helgason has an oeuvre that spans written and visual art. His featured book Sjóveikur í München, or Seasick in Munich, is an autobiographical account of studying abroad.

Click here to see the full list, and click here to go to the Icelandic Literature Center’s website.

dukka-resized grand-mal travelling-salesman sjoveikur-i-munchen

Iceland Writers Retreat 2016: An Insider Tells All

Iceland Writers Retreat 2016: An Insider Tells All

Anita Arneitz is a writer from Austria who participated in 2016 Iceland Writers Retreat. An avid blogger, Anita recently wrote a blog post reflecting on her time at the Retreat. The blog also has several pictures and a video of readings that were given. In addition to detailing the extraordinary aspects of the Iceland Writers Retreat’s writing workshops, including the advice given by successful writers and insights into the workshops, Anita describes the vibrant literary traditions of Iceland. The traditions, like the landscape, are captivating and inspirational. She articulates that “Like a geyser, [ideas] bubble on the inside and are just about to burst out”. Anita’s blog most poignantly illustrates the camaraderie among the participants and faculty, novices and literary veterans alike. So much diversity inevitably leads to interesting story-sharing, but these interactions take place on common ground. Everyone is there to learn and create, escape and explore.

To read the blog, click here.

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“The diversity of opinions, genres high-profile names at the Iceland Writers Retreat is overwhelming; just like the powerful landscape of the island.” – Anita Arneitz

Three Chances to Win a Free Spot at the Iceland Writers Retreat!

Three Chances to Win a Free Spot at the Iceland Writers Retreat!

One award and two writing competitions will help some very talented and lucky writers attend the 2017 Iceland Writers Retreat. They all have deadlines that are quickly approaching!

 

Alumni Award:

The Iceland Writers Retreat Alumni Award is given to one or more writers who demonstrate both merit and financial need. Full funding covers all expenses to participate in the retreat, including transportation and accommodations. Partial funding covers just the participant fee, which does not include accommodations nor transportation. The deadline is Monday, 31 October, 2016 by 23:59 (PST).

For more information on eligibility, please visit click here.

 

Writing Competition:

The Iceland Writers Retreat writing competition is awarded to one person based on the quality of their written submission (essay, story, or poem) that engages with the theme “Iceland – Regard the Moon”. The winner will receive a free retreat package, which includes the participant fee and accommodations. Please note that the winner will still have to pay for transportation. The deadline is Sunday, 13 November, 2016 by 23:59 (GMT).

For more information on guidelines and submissions, please click here.

 

Bonus:

Writing Magazine is hosting a separate writing competition with the theme “Elements”. The winner will receive a free retreat package, which includes the participant fee, accommodations, and a round trip ticket from the UK. Anyone can apply for this, but the transportation is only from the UK. The deadline is 00:00 Friday, 2 December, 2016. Please note that the entry cost for this competition is £5.00.

For more information on guidelines and submissions, please click here.