Last year, British novelist, broadcaster, and historian Kate Williams gave readings and hosted two workshops at the Iceland Writers Retreat. As the 2017 retreat rapidly approaches, she recalls the highlights of her stay in Iceland and gives future attendees a glimpse of what to expect from the Land of Fire and Ice.
Interview by Elliott Brandsma.
Kate, describe some of your favorite parts about the Iceland Writers Retreat. What did you enjoy most about the event last year?
I loved meeting the wonderful participants and hearing their brilliant ideas for books – and our reading evenings – the British Ambassador came to one!
What were your impressions of Iceland? What struck you most about the country and its people?
I chose to come to the Writers’ Retreat as I was already a huge fan of Iceland – the scenery, the country, the people and your entire political outlook. And of course the great literature you have produced. I was struck by the incredibly beautiful scenery and how you could imagine yourself back in the Age of Vikings simply by just being there. I felt as if I could hear the old Icelandic gods talking to me……
Iceland is a place that leaves a lasting impression on people for many reasons. How, if at all, has your writing changed since visiting the country?
Iceland makes you more aware of the myths in the landscape. There were definitely secrets in the stones….
What do you like most about working as a broadcast journalist, television personality, professor, historian, and novelist? How do you juggle such distinctly different roles and still find time to write?
Hmm! I am very lucky to have so many demands on my time and am so fortunate to be able to do what I love every day. But I do admit that things fall down by the wayside. I dread being asked by TV companies to film me at home as there are piles of books everywhere….
You’re an avid author of historical fiction and have appeared in several television documentaries about historic events and time periods. If you could travel back in time, which time period would you choose to visit, and why?
I’d have to come to Iceland in the true times of the Vikings! And I have a lot of questions to ask of the subjects of my books, Emma Hamilton, Queen Victoria, Empress Josephine.
As a regular television commentator on the royal family, can you share with us some little-known facts about the Queen of England and her kin?
If you are talking to the Queen and she moves her handbag to the other arm – that’s your signal to make a graceful exit. By doing so, she is usually signaling to a lady in waiting or similar person to come and whisk her away so your conversation is about to come to an end!
What projects are you currently working on? What can we expect to hear/see from Kate Williams in the next year or two?
My final book in my trilogy about an Anglo- German family – I am currently correcting it and it is due out at the end of the year. Life in the 30s in the run-up to war…..
Say something about yourself that people might be surprised to know.
I am afraid of sponge. I have got better on it and I don’t mind bath sponges these days but I hate mattress kind of sponge!
Who are some of the authors on your reading list right now? Now that you’ve experienced Iceland firsthand, what book would you recommend future IWR attendees read before coming to Iceland to write and gather inspiration?
Independent People [a novel by Icelandic Nobel laureate Halldór Laxness] is a wonderful book. I love more recent engagements with Iceland, Hannah Kent …and Sarah Moss’s memoir of a year living in Iceland post the economic crash fills me with envy – the thought of living for a year in your beautiful country! The Iceland Writers’ Retreat is the most inspiring experience – don’t miss it!
“Icelanders have a saying that everyone ‘has a book in their belly.’ ” explains Iceland Writers Retreat co-found Eliza Reid, who is described, rather adorably, as a “literary midwife” in this wonderful article featured in the University of Toronto Magazine. Read more about it here.
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.
“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
Kevin Larimer reminisces about his visit to Iceland in his editorial for Poets & Writers, with some wonderful words of praise for the Iceland Writers Retreat: “It’s by far the most geographically diverse—so beautiful yet stunningly bizarre—place I’ve had the pleasure of visiting. And Eliza Reid and Erica Green’s program is an ideal occasion to make the trip, as it combines a compelling lineup of lectures, workshops, and readings with opportunities to explore the country’s incredible geothermal pools, geysers, glaciers, and lava fields.” Read more about his trip in Editor’s Note: The Lunatic Dialogues.
The economy dive hit me hard. I’m a writer by trade, but not the fun kind, which left me little time to work on my own creative projects, let alone remember what they were. Going to a writing retreat was out of the question — who had the time or money? So when Eliza called to tell me I’d been granted an award to travel to Iceland and study with renowned authors, I nearly dropped to the floor.
Kathryn Rishoff attended the Iceland Writers Retreat in 2015. This is her story.
I open my inbox to see an announcement from The Iceland Writers Retreat for the 2017 retreat and I smiled, thinking back to my 2015 experience. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and that is quite the adulation — I have had many wonderful experiences.
IWR Alumni Award recipient Megan Ross shares with us her wonderful experience of this year’s Iceland Writers Retreat. Photos by Megan Ross and Roman Gerasymenko
You know a writing retreat is going to be good when it’s in a postcard-pretty setting, snow-capped mountains included. Well, this was my thought process anyway, as I stepped off the airport shuttle bus outside our hotel, and gawked in true tourist-style at the beautiful, thick pelt of snow surrounding the city of Reykjavik. Spurred on by this natural beauty – and still clutching my passport – I almost rushed into the centre of the welcome cocktail party, with my awful tank-like suitcase in tow. Instead, I let myself be gently persuaded to first stop in at my room, where I debriefed a moment before hurrying my veritable mess of a jetlagged self back to join the crowds, drink red wine and mingle with my new writing companions. Continue reading
Posted by IWR Social Media and Marketing Intern Audrey Wright.
It is now Sunday, my fifth and final day in Reykjavik, and even with the constant busyness, I feel refreshed. Being in this great city, wandering its beautiful streets that have so much character, and spending time with this kind and inspiring international group of people have all reinvigorated me from a year of studies and the banalities of everyday life. I swear, I’ve had no more than 6 hours of sleep each night, and I am still feeling good (although I have been dipping into the Icelandic coffee supply).
Posted by IWR Social Media and Marketing Intern Audrey Wright.
So, yesterday, I arrived in Iceland. This is my first visit to the country, one that I have been mentally, emotionally and, well, artistically preparing myself for since September of last year. Interning for Iceland Writers Retreat all year has been amazing, and now I get to be here. I’m the luckiest MA student ever. Ever.
Iceland is a country which has only recently become one of the trendiest tourist destinations, and with reason. After one of the smoothest flights I have ever taken (which is saying a lot, because I am the worst flyer you will ever meet), I arrived at Keflavik airport at about 6:30 AM. At that brisk hour, the airport was busy but calm. The building itself was beautiful, bright, and modern, yet still understated. One of the nicest things was its smell. The place strangely smelled exactly like what I had imagined Iceland to smell like, a sensory detail that I didn’t realize my mind had predicted. It smelled clean, different, and had a twist of bitter but sweet orange peel.