Wednesday, June 30, 2010


Weather and volcanoes permitting, I am taking a trip tomorrow to the northernmost tip of west Iceland, situated just below the Arctic Circle. The intention is to visit an abandoned village named Hesteyri, located in a remote area in Jökulfirðir (the Glacial fjords). It is the location of the book I am presently writing, so the trip is a fact finding mission, an atmosphere intake of sorts. Although I have been there previously I desperately need to be there now when I am attempting to adapt the three dimensional location to the mere two dimensions provided by paper. This is probably the way most writers prefer to work, despite the photos, articles, books, the information highway and all of the other data available for sofa research, nothing beats the 1:1 scale.

Unfortunately I will not be able to stay at Hesteyri for an extended period and write, much less finish the book. The village has no phones, mobile connections, electricity or running water, aside from what passes by in the form of a small stream. It is the penultimate item that makes me squirm and what kicks the feet from under me as an author. I need a computer to write and with no electricity to power it I am pretty helpless. My laptop has such a crummy battery that it can run for just under an hour without a socket connection and there is no way I can finish my book in an hour, unfortunately. My engineering co-workers told me to take a generator along which seemed like a good idea but the more they described it the less I became inclined to rent one. The statement that totally put me off the idea was: “no it’s not THAT heavy, two to four strong, young men can PROBABLY carry it up to the house from the boat. “ I am not travelling with an undecided number of strong, young men and even if I were they would not be all too pleased to find out that once they had stumbled along with the cumbersome and heavy machine all the way, they would have to go back to the beach to get the gasoline needed to keep it running.

I have never attempted to write by hand, the last time I wrote anything of substance pen in hand was when taking notes while at school. Since my main source of writing has been checks but since they became obsolete all I write by hand is my name under credit card receipts, a Y followed by a short squiggly snake and a standalone capital S. The ability to write a novel using a pen or pencil has long since passed me by.

Being at Hesteyri or anywhere in the world where time has stood still makes me wonder about how much has evolved and how easy our life in the west has become. The same feeling is evoked when I read excerpts from history books, the further back the record dates the harder it is to imagine how life was livable. In this respect I am not talking about access to the internet. These thoughts almost always channel down the same chute: when people in the future read about us, what will make them gawk? Will our clothes seem cumbersome and uncomfortable? Will medicine have advanced enough to eradicate illness and our bodily pains and trials seem horrific? Will the food we eat seem unappetizing and disgusting? Will our forms of transport look ridiculous, uncomfortable and slow?

Much thinking about this has led me to a conclusion which is a bit sad. I think our times will be looked at with disdain not because of what we wear, eat or drive. We will be infamous because of our spendthrift ways, consuming way too much of the limited resources available to us without much afterthought or conscience. Instead of evoking thoughts of “oh those poor people, look at what they had to endure” we will get comments like: “what were they thinking?”

Maybe I should write with a pen while at Hesteyri after all. When in Rome…


  1. Yrsa,

    Take and post pictures - please.

  2. It seems we are a world, at least in the west, that ignores the fact that we will be history one day. Impatientience seems to be a common character flaw. We want everything now; we don't want to wait until someone figures out the "what if".

    BP clearly didn't employ anyone willing to ask the questions. What if something breaks so far below the surface? What if oil spills for weeks/months/years? What if an ecosystem is threatened with extinction?

    What if someone had asked the questions and demanded reasonable answers, plans before the drilling began? What if alternative energy was taken seriously?

    Iceland has gone so much further than the United States. Sometimes I think we are hampered by our size. It is too easy for a mistake in one place to be buried while a company moves on to try the same thing somewhere else.

    I keep thinking of T.S. Eliot: "this is the way the world ends....not with a bang but a whimper." We didn't hear the bang under the ocean but we are hearing the whimper of the dying birds along the Gulf coast.

  3. Yrsa,

    1] I believe people can look back at almost any era and think, "What were they thinking?" It's not as if rationality is humanity's long suit.

    2] I share your concern about the consumer-induced deterioration of the environment. And the computer-induced deterioration of penmanship.

    Am I the only one here who prints out his work at the end of each day, scribbles notes and corrections on it, then the next morning can't decipher what the hell those Martian markings say?


    PS. Hesteryi looks like a place one could happily stay for a while without writing anything.

  4. Hello Yrsa,

    I am forever your devoted fan. I am going to read every book, every paper you write. I was so excited to read that you are writing your new book and Hesteryi figures in. So stark, so chilling beautiful, so cold. It's going to be a great book. It's a Thora book, I hope, I hope!!!!

  5. Hello all,

    I am sorry for being so late in replying to the comments, I know I always am but this time I had an excuse as I had no connection.

    Leighton - thanks for the heads up. I did as you suggested!

    Beth - I completely agree regarding "instant gratification" I wonder how that will develop - regarding Iceland, I really think we are no any better in our treatment of the environment than the US or other western countries, we are just luckier when it comes to our energy resources and our numbers, i.e. we are too few to really make a dent. Worldwide everyone is getting better at this however, us too.

    Lenny - I sometimes scribble but less and less. One of the things that I will never replace the pen with a computer for and that is the scribbling I do before falling asleep or in the middle of the night into whatever happens to be on my nightstand. I get a lot of my ideas when the burdens of cumbersome reality slip away.

    Anne - thank you so much for your kind words. I hope you like the rest of the Thora books that have yet to come out, there are three still to be published in English, one is out next week (Ashes to Dust). The Hesteyri book is a stand alone, a ghost story and for it I am using disposable characters - I wanted to keep Thóra for next year's book and other years to come.

  6. Hello Yrsa, if i may call you that...or write that is. I came across this article about you going to Hestyri and the book you were writing. I was very curious and wanted to ask the name of the book as I would love to read it. I am from the USA, Georgia to be exact. Actually I have never traveled further out of Georgia than it's surrounding States. When I read a book no matter the genre that is my travels!!