Design highlights from the Icelandic book season

Gísli from Uppsalir

Like so many professional illustrators, I just happen to work in retail. My particular expertise is actually art supplies but the store I work in also sells office supplies and books. And since now is the most exciting time in Icelandic publishing, I’d like to talk about a few books coming out in this year’s Christmas Book Flood. During this time a lot of our effort goes into piling up books on massive tables, constantly changing the prices in attempt to have the best offers and flipping through “Bókatíðindi” (Bókatíðindi is a catalogue that lists all the books published this year) trying our utmost to memorise every single book.

There are some surprisingly good book covers this year and overall lovely designs. I just want to mention some that caught my eye. Now, I’m aware that most of you can’t actually read any of these books but at least you can look at the pretty pictures.

The first one I’d like to show you is called “Gísli í Uppsölum”. It’s a book about man most people over a certain age in Iceland know about. Gísli was basically a hermit thatlived on a farm in Iceland in almost complete isolation with only his animals as company and no technology. It was only in 1984 that he was introduced to the nation through a TV show called “Stiklur”. Now we have a book about his life, his family and the bullying he endured. Definitely a must-read in my opinion.

Not only is this book interesting but it also visually stunning. There are some gorgeous photographs featured in it and instead of piling them up in the middle like so many biographies do, they blend in beautifully with the text. They’re not printed on special glossy paper but instead simply printed on the same paper as the rest of the book.

First Chapter Spread

13th chapter: the unexpected guest

Gísli dragging hey

Last example from Gísli á Uppsölum

Now another book that caught my eye for it’s clever design is called “ð ævisaga” which pretty much translates to ð a biography. It’s the story of the letter ð, from its origins in the writings of Anglo-Saxon monks and how it became an inseparable part of the Icelandic alphabet. As far as letters go, I think ð is one of the more interesting ones but this book is definitely not for everyone (although I kinda want it because I’m easily swayed by pretty covers and ð is kinda interesting and why did we start using it in the first place? I actually do sort of want to know).

The biography of the ð

I’m always attracted to simplicity and the cover of ð ævisaga is just that. And I love their use of colour. From the bright green title page to the red chapter breaks and little bits of red text. It’s very visually accessible which makes sense since there are three graphic designers involved in the writing of the book (and one historian).

Ð examples

Ð in signage

Now these are the first two books I’d like to mention but I’d also like to quickly express my  delight in the republishing of some of my favourite Scandinavian children’s literature. Ronia (by Astrid Lindgren) was one of my favourite books as a child and one of the few children’s books I could read without crying in frustration (I’m looking at you Enid Blyton). And The Brothers Lionheart (also by Astrid Lindgren) is such a lovely, heartbreaking and traumatising story. A must read for all children.

They also republished one of Ole Lund Kirkegaard’s books. I’m not sure English speakers are familiar with him but he wrote some of the weirdest, wackiest books of my childhood. In one of his books a couple of kids draw a rhino on a wall and it comes alive. Another is about a boy who’s physically weak and gets bullied at school. He then meets a witch that makes him strong for a day so he gets a chance to show up his bullies only to become weak again the next day and life goes back to the way things were. I think it’s very important for kids to read books with a good message so I really do hope they continue republishing his work.

News, updates, and the Icelandic book market

I’ve been mouthing off all over the place over the last few days, as usual.

I’ve been trying to convince my sister to blog here but she’s suffering a bit of blog anxiety.

One of the subjects she wants to blog about is one she cannot believe anybody would be interested in. The conversation went roughly as follows (translating and paraphrasing from Icelandic, of course):

Jenný: I’d like to blog about the Icelandic book market. There are a few books coming out that have unusually good covers. I’d also like to write about some of the weird and quirky books that are published here on a regular basis. And there are a few really interesting reissues of historically important Icelandic books that I think I could blog about. Do you think anybody would be interested?

Me: Awesome!

She: Does that mean you think people would be interested?

Me: Would they? Of course. Book geeks love hearing about that sort of thing. Hell, I’d love to read those posts.

Jenný remained sceptical.

My sister works in the Icelandic book industry and has a front row seat for observing the Icelandic Christmas book season. I can’t think of anybody more qualified to comment on it than her.

And I’m pretty sure that updates, weirdness, and stuff about the unique Icelandic book market would make for great blog posts. So, am I right or am I wrong? What do you guys think?

High tide and a room of your own

Under the glacier

The germ of the idea behind ‘Loot, kill, obey’ comes from two sources, one literary, one from real life.

The literary germ is going to be obvious to you once I mention it: Daphne du Maurier’s Jamaica Inn. Specifically the scene with the wreckers towards the end.

Of course that led to a bunch of research that revealed how the whole scenario doesn’t really work, you’re more likely to wreck a ship by turning off a real lighthouse than by erecting a fake one. Which is then what I had the wreckers do in my story.

The second inspiration is a little bit more personal: my great-grandmother’s farm in Staðasveit.

My great-grandmother, María Ásmundsdóttir, was a remarkable woman. She was one of Iceland’s earliest photographers. When she was born, Iceland was a pre-industrial agricultural economy. When she died, it was an advanced western economy with high living standards, free healthcare and free education.

When María was born, a child had only a 50/50 chance of reaching the age of five (which is why life expectancy numbers are so misleading, but that’s a topic for another day). She survived tuberculosis, two wars, saw Iceland declare independence, and got to experience radio, photography, movies, cars, TV, computers, airplanes when they were new and shiny inventions nobody had quite figured out yet.

She also made a decision early in her life which meant that her descendants are cut out of the farm on Snæfellsnes.

Well, maybe cut out is too harsh a word. Her siblings’ descendants own the farm. Her own descendants don’t.

For good reason, as well.

My great-grandmother’s farm

The farm is a beautiful thing to behold. It isn’t a grand thing like you’d expect an old well-to-do farm in Europe to look like. Iceland doesn’t have cottages or estates. A nice two story building covered with corrugated iron is pretty much as grand old style as Iceland gets.

The current farmhouse was built when my great-grandmother an adult. The farmhouse she had grown up in was a traditional Icelandic turf house.

Yeah, like I said. Iceland was a pre-industrial farming economy until the 1940s.

I’ve never seen the original burstabær, it was in ruins by the time I managed to visit the place, but María lived there with her two daughters for the first few years of their life. My grandmother, Áslaug, on a good day, could recall stories and details about the old farmhouse, about a way of life that hadn’t changed much Iceland for almost two hundred years.

My great-grandmother was a single mother in the early twentieth century.

Now, anybody who is familiar with Icelandic culture knows that most Icelanders are proud to live in a country where a single mother can raise her kids without sinking into poverty, anything else is a failure of society. There’s no judgement or condemnation. You cope. Relatives help. Whatever flaws Iceland has (and there are plenty) intolerance towards single mothers isn’t one of them.

This wasn’t the case when my great-grandmother was raising her two daughters.

Iceland used to be a strict Lutheran society. Thinking bad thoughts was a sin. Everybody was a sinner. Strictness and intolerance was the norm. More things were banned than not. Iceland was one of the earliest alcohol prohibition nations and one of the latest to lift it. In one word: puritanical.

Of course, María didn’t help matters by having two children with two different men and never showing any interest in marrying them or regret about them not marrying her.


The farm is in an unusual location. The only way to reach it is to walk, during low tide, along the beach, with the roaring ocean on the left and sheer cliffs on the right. It’s a bit of a trek to reach the actual farmhouse from the nearest road and you have to time it so that you get to the farm before the tide comes in. Otherwise you’d be washed out into the sea.

Of course, nowadays you can also use an SUV or a proper off-road vehicle to reach the farm, but back in my great-grand-mother’s day they didn’t have that luxury.

Most Icelandic beaches are black; the sand is made out of volcanic rock ground down by the elements.

Unusually for Iceland, the beach leading to the farm is white, like one of those white sand beaches you see in the Mediterranean.

It wouldn’t look odd to a foreigner, but to me, an Icelandic college student, this was one of the few times in my life that I had actually seen a white beach and seeing one in Iceland was an alien, somewhat weird, feeling.

Seeing the famous Snæfellsjökull just ahead, hovering almost mystically over the countryside, only made the experience weirder.

Snæfellsjökull is Iceland’s most famous mountain, volcano, and glacier. Or it used to be before Eyjafjallajökull erupted. It was the opening to the underworld in Jules Verne’s A Journey to the Centre of the Earth. In Icelandic folklore it is Iceland’s point of greatest magical power, affecting all those who live around it in weird ways. Those born “undir jökli” (by the glacier) are said to be different from the rest of us.

Others say that it’s like a magnet for Iceland’s hidden people.

One group of cranks has congregated there on a regular basis because they believe it will be the landing site for a visiting species of benevolent aliens.

Dividing an estate caused friction. It always does. There’s something about inheritances that drives siblings to argue about things that ultimately don’t matter.

When her parents died, my great-grandmother was the cause of a schism in her family. She argued with her siblings about what should be done about the farm.

They wanted to continue to run and keep the farm. She didn’t.

Her logic was impeccable. If they kept the farm, she’d be doomed to live and work there, raising her daughters there, for the rest of her life. If they sold the farm, she could buy a flat in the capital—have a room of her own, so to speak.

In the end, she forced a sale, took the money, and moved to Reykjavík with her daughters, buying a tiny flat by Hringbraut in Reykjavík’s Vesturbær. Many years later, the descendants of her siblings bought the farm back, sans most of the land, which now belonged to a neighbouring farmer, and have been using it as a summer house since. They let the rest of us visit the place occasionally, if we ask really nicely.

María Ásmundsdóttir lived in that flat for most of the rest of her life, only moving into a home during the absolute last years of her life.

That small flat at one point housed six people when my grandmother moved back in with her mother with her four children after she left her husband. The flat was a life saver.

My great-grandmother spent the rest of her life sewing, painting, and photographing. She held her first gallery show of her paintings when she was eighty. Her daughters only found that she had suffered from glaucoma when she told them about the operation that fixed it, after the fact. She, a half-blind octogenarian, had managed to conceal her half-blindness, organise the operation and doctor’s appointments, and make her way to the operation all without any help from anybody.

Then she went back to painting, sewing, and taking photographs.

She was an awesome woman whose frequent criticisms of people were both brutal and especially stinging because she invariably had a solid point. There were times when she was absolutely terrifying. I miss having her around as she was one of the few people who had a tendency to be even blunter than I am.

From the last leg of the trek to the farm

The small town of Galti in “Knights and Necromancers 2: Loot, kill, obey” is inspired by my great-grandmother’s farm. The beach-side walk that is only passable during low tide, the horizon lined with mountains, the small dock and simple buildings are all drawn from my memories of that place.

And, although none of them are based on, María, my great-grandmother, the memory of her and the other awe-inspiring women in my family are the motivation for the creation of the female characters in all of my stories.

In Loot, Kill, Obey, four of the five main characters are women, as are two main ‘bad guys’. The sorcerer Cadence, a character in Knights and Necromancers 1 (and in stories five and six), was created because I wanted a character who was, frankly, as intimidating as some of these women were in real life.

You don’t see truly intimidating women that often in fiction even though they are all over the place in real life.

I hope I can change that a little bit.

You can buy “Knights and Necromancers 2: Loot, kill, obey” on,, on the iBookstore, and from Kobo.

Or, possibly for a limited time, you can read it for free online.

Knights and Necromancers 2 has been released

My second ebook, Knights and Necromancers 2: Loot, kill, obey, is available now from Amazon, iBooks, and Kobo.

From the Knights and Necromancers 2 page on the Heartpunk website:

The wreckers have their shipwreck and their loot. Their next step is to get rid of the witnesses.

Grace and Cera’s only hope is to make it to safety in Galti; a small fishing village ignored and forgotten by the outside world. With them are the remaining survivors of the shipwreck: two sisters who have just seen their entire lives sink down into the ocean and the destroyed ship’s first mate.

Unfortunately for Grace, Cera, Hale, Kally, and Derek, the wreckers aren’t the only thing following them to Galti.

Knights and Necromancers 2

Knights and Necromancers 2: Loot, kill, obey

The adventures of Grace and Cera continue and feature, in no particular order:

  • A giant two-headed eagle.
  • A Necromancer.
  • Warrior Sorcerers.
  • Wreckers and mercenaries.
  • Zombies.
  • Dainty aristocratic ladies with crossbows.
  • Sociopathic talking ravens.
  • A buff martial artist who fights with flaming fists.
  • And an occasional moment of deserved and well-earned angst.

While Loot, kill obey is the second story starring Grace and Cera it is my hope that it should work as a standalone read. While there are plenty of details from the first story that add to this one, very few of them are necessary for enjoying the yarn.

It is available from,, iBooks, and Kobo.

I’ve also decided to offer the entire thing up for free on the web, at least for now. It’s an experiment. I haven’t made my mind up about it or whether to leave it up as an ongoing thing, so any and all feedback is appreciated.

If you haven’t read Knights and Necromancers 1: Days of wild obedience then that’s still available for free (or for $0.99 on Help yourself to a copy on,, iBooks, Kobo, or direct from the Heartpunk website.

Or, you can try the free online web reader.

The first story has only had one review so far (and a pretty good one at that).

Guy Gonzalez said this here kind thing about Knights and Necromancers 1:

Days of Wild Obedience works not only as a compelling gateway into an intriguing new world, it holds its own as a standalone novella, too. That said, I’m ready to jump into the next tale in the series, and I’m already imagining the RPG and movie! Definitely recommended.

Which reminds me:

I would really, really, grateful it if those who have read Knights and Necromancers 1 wrote about what they thought of the story. It doesn’t have to be a review (although that’d be nice) and it doesn’t have to be positive (although that’d be nice as well). It’d make a huge difference if you could because working in a vacuum is worse than even getting negative feedback.

And don’t worry about hurting my feelings. There’s no way that you could come up with a more detailed critique than my mother did. (There’s a reason why me and my sister have a high tolerance for having our work criticised.)

Anyway. Download. Read. Enjoy. And then tell me what you think (if it’s not too much trouble :-))