My first days at the Iceland Writers Retreat

My first days at the Iceland Writers Retreat

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.

Within just the first five minutes of my arrival, I saw someone who I had met before. And this was not just anyone, but someone famous. Trudging through the halls of Keflavik airport at that early hour, I saw the drummer and bassist of Reykjavik’s Of Monsters and Men, Arnar Rósenkranz Hilmarsson. I met him and the band briefly last summer at a private recording of a new single, and apparently did not forget Arnar’s face. Before I recognized who he was, I thought I know that guy! After recognizing him, it was too late to say hi. He was gone, I was frozen in my spot, stunned by the serendipity of the moment. It was incredible. Iceland, already, wow.

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The ride to Hotel Natura was picturesque and haunting. The morning’s mist hung over the flat lands that surround the international airport, hiding the ends of roads that veer off the quaint highway. The mist hid everything but the light frost that had grown on the tall grass surrounding the road. It was beautiful.

After a short ride, I arrived at Hotel Natura and, amazingly, my room was immediately available. (Go Hotel Natura!) Exhausted from the redeye and from the bus ride drowned in sunrise light, I went immediately to sleep. I slept for most of the morning, then woke refreshed and ready for my first day.

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After a shower and a coffee, I started to (finally) fulfill my interning duties by helping co-founders Eliza Reid and Erica Jacobs Green with handing out orientation papers in the lobby. It was a lovely afternoon, meeting all of the IWR participants. Soon after the hustle bustle died down, dranks began and not long after that, dinner. We had a delicious lamb dish⎯an Icelandic classic⎯and listened to a hilarious welcoming speech by Eliza and Erica. It was a perfect first dinner, busy (108 participants, 9 Featured Authors, and then some!) and filled with stimulating conversations with a huge, international group. Even though many were feeling the effects of their redeye flights, it was exactly what all of us sleepy travellers needed to stay awake that first night.

To finish the night, the Featured Authors each gave a selection of readings from their various works. I delighted in the readings, never having been to such a star-studded reading before. Andrew Westoll shared from his The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary, a fluid reading that captured everyone in the room. Vincent Lam gave a vivid and poetic reading of a doctor resuscitating a coding patient. Kate Williams, before reading excerpts from one of her two fictional novels, gave a hilarious explication of English culture. Miriam Toews shared a touching tidbit on two sisters from All My Puny Sorrows (which brought me close to tears). Gerđur Kristný read a piece of her beautiful and chilling poetry, literally giving me the chills, as it takes place in a cold setting. Neel Mukherjee, a hero for reading for us after a long day of hiking on the North West coast and hitchhiking back to Hotel Natura, shared an excerpt from his upcoming novel. Elina Hirvoven read a translated piece of her work, through which the lyricism of her writing still shone. Adelle Waldman shared the hysterical background story of her protagonist in The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., a book which I’ve now added to my must-read list. Finally, Mark Kurlansky read an adorable and clever piece about the growth, self-recognition and metamorphosis of a young girl. It was a night that I will not soon forget.

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The second day was filled with workshops, snacks and chats, exploring Reykjavik’s city centre and a fun reception at the City of Reykjavik’s City Hall.

My workshops were taught by Kate Williams, on “Beginning Your Novel,” and Andrew Westoll, on “Story and Style.” Kate was very approachable. Her workshop felt like I was hanging out at a close-knit bookclub with my close friends, which is to-die-for, since it is Kate Williams! Andrew Westoll’s workshop was thorough, rich with educational material, and incredibly funny. I walked away from his workshop with pages and pages of notes.

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Following those morning workshops, and a brief break to explore the city centre, myself and the IWR participants made our way to City Hall. A councilman gave a speech for the participants, one that made everyone laugh, appreciate their craft, and feel immensely welcome to the city.

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The later portion of my day was filled with beer, laughter, great Icelandic food and ice (land) cream. More to come on the rest of the Retreat! For now, the pictures of the city centre, I think, speak for themselves.

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