Iceland Writers Retreat Co-Founder Eliza Reid´s book, Secrets of the Sprakkar: Iceland´s Extraordinary Women and How They Are Changing the World is published in February. A mix of memoir and current affairs, the book discusses why Iceland is leading the charge in the fight for gender equality by telling the stories of dozens of “sprakkar” (an Icelandic word for “extraordinary women”) throughout Iceland.
Iceland Writers Retreat (IWR): How did you first get the idea for this book? What is the origin story? Why did you decide to write it?
Eliza Reid (ER): I had the idea for the book at the beginning of the pandemic. Former president Vigdís Finnbogadóttir, who was the world’s first democratically elected female head of state, turned 90 in April 2020. She is widely admired here in Iceland, but it occurred to me that not many people know about her achievements outside of the country. Iceland has topped the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index for the past dozen years, and not many people know that either. I thought it would be interesting to paint a portrait of what life is like for women in “the world’s best country” for women, and in doing so, hopefully inspire people to work towards further gender equality.
IWR: How did you research this topic?
ER: I chose to interview a number of “sprakkar” (Icelandic for “extraordinary women”) who could use their stories to illustrate various aspects of Icelandic society in the context of gender equality. I tried to be diverse but also tell the stories of everyday – yet outstanding – women, not just the spokesperson for a cause or the very first to achieve something. It’s not a history of the country, but more a modern portrait.
IWR: We know you are busy—running IWR & IRR, being a mom, and also you have another big “job” that you talk about in the book. When and how did you have time to write? Where did you write?
ER: I think a lot of people today know what it’s like to be juggling a lot of balls in the air. I wrote almost all of it during the most “lockdown” part of the pandemic so things were quieter with many of my other commitments. Parenting is just as demanding as ever, but we are two parents raising four children together and can share that load well. Then I had to be very organized; there was no time for procrastination! And I drink a lot of coffee.
IWR: How did IWR/IRR influence your writing or the business of your writing? Did you learn any tips/tricks/lessons that you used in working on this book?
ER: At the end of the book, I thank all the people who have attended the IWR over the years because they have inspired me. I have never written a book before and having met so many over the years who are so devoted to all sorts of writing projects has been very helpful.
As the co-founder of IWR, I have attended far fewer of the actual writing workshops than I would in other circumstances, but there are still tips and tricks that I remember from a few classes with e.g. Ruth Reich (how to write about things that are hard to describe – e.g. parsley!), Pamela Paul (writing book reviews, and therefore how to critically analyze a work of writing), Terry Fallis (organizing and structuring a book), Marcello Di Cintio (interviewing and writing profiles), that I keep in mind when writing. [poss link to those author profiles in the blog, or maybe to a year in review video?]
IWR: Do you think attending IWR/IRR will help others interested in publishing their first novel?
ER: I’m biased, but yes! Of course, we offer all sorts of practical information on writing in the workshops, and I think we all find inspiration from the question and answer panel on the last morning. But for me the most special part of the IWR is a sort of x-factor of all these people – who all love to write, no matter where they are on their writing journeys or what their ultimate goals are – coming together in a country that has a tremendous respect for the written word. It’s the chats on breaks, the shared adventures on the day tours, the moments of listening to great music in the pub night. These lasting memories help to create a community that lives long beyond the event itself and I think that is really special.
IWR: Will there be a next book?
ER: Who knows! I have really enjoyed the entire process of writing a book, so I hope another idea appears at some point!
IWR: Will you be promoting the book online or on tour? And/or if we attend IWR or IRR can we expect to hear from you in addition to having access to the other authors?
ER: Yes, there are several online events in Feb and March in US, Canada and UK and we will promote them on IWR as well or people can follow my personal social channels. As usual, I will be around a lot during the IWR / IRR in April.
Secrets of the Sprakkar is published in Canada on 1 Feb, the U.S. on 8 Feb. and the UK on 8 March.
To find out more about Eliza, see:
FB and IG: @elizajeanreid