Thursday 26 October 2017

Food for thought by Lilja Sigurðardóttir

I am a foodie. Food is important to me. I love cooking but I also love eating in restaurants so I get the chance to taste something new or feast on an old favourite dish. I think about food, I talk about food and of course I write about food. My first two crime novels should have come with a recipe chapter. My character was a good cook who, as I do, used cooking as a relaxation. I detailed all the ingredients and the methods, and readers told me that they actually cooked dishes from the books!

Snare, my book that has just been translated and published for the English-speaking world, does not have such detailed descriptions of food and I actually tried to avoid too much food talk when writing it, as I was going for a different feel in this new series. But when I got the editing suggestions from my publisher, Karen Sullivan, there were the questions: What are they eating? What is this food? Is this food you mention here a local delicacy?

I was delighted and realised that even if you don´t want to include detailed cooking instructions and recipes, food is important in a book. Especially when a book is travelling to other cultures. So I added a few lines explaining the food I have in the book: a sheep´s head that the customs officer Bragi buys ready-made in the neighbouring mini-market and fish – grilled, boiled and fried – occurs quite a lot in the series.
Those two things perfectly sum up Icelandic food traditions. Fish is our main food still and we believe in its health benefits, as well as generally considering it delicious in any shape or form. No one was happier with the sushi trend that started a few years back than Icelanders, as it was yet another way for us to eat our favourite food!

The seared sheep´s head is a traditional dish that middle-aged Icelanders (and older) still eat, as well as people that have been raised in the countryside. It is a rich and filling meal, that can be served either hot or cold and usually with a side of mashed potatoes. Of course it doesn´t look very appetising for those who have not been raised on it, but I really like it, although I realise it will never hit any world list of delicacies.

But I put this dish in my book for a reason. For Icelandic readers, it shows Bragi´s age and the sort of person he is. A traditional, quiet man who doesn´t engage in trends or fashion, but is happy with what he has. For the foreign readers, the sheep´s head tells a story. Until the Second World War, Icelanders were the poorest nation in Europe and through the centuries the nation suffered regular natural disasters, most often in the form of volcanic eruptions, and those were followed by hunger. The sheep was our livelihood and one of two main sources of protein and we used every single part of the animal. Throwing food away was not an option and is still frowned upon in Iceland. So just as the Slátur (a relative of Scottish Haggis), a sheep paté that is mostly fat, and the pickled ram-testicles, the sheep´s head tells a story of a nation, now rich and modernised, but still so close to its history as an exploited, hungry colony.

Snare by Lilja Sigurðardóttir Published by Orenda Books

After a messy divorce, attractive young mother Sonja is struggling to provide for herself and win sole custody of her son. With her back to the wall, she resorts to smuggling cocaine into Iceland, and finds herself caught up in a ruthless criminal world. As she desperately looks for a way out of trouble, she must pit her wits against her nemesis, Bragi, a customs officer, whose years of experience frustrate her new and evermore daring strategies. Things become even more complicated by the fact that Sonja is in a relationship with a woman, Agla. Once a high-level bank executive, Agla is currently being prosecuted in the aftermath the Icelandic financial crash.

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