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The Customs of the Country: Gordon J Brown & Quentin Bates


Opinion

Authors discuss how setting can offer contrasts in landscape and societal texture

Image of The Customs of the Country: Gordon J Brown & Quentin Bates

This session at Granite Noir, chaired by Sarah Ward, is billed as an investigation into the differing sensibilities of American versus Scandi crime fiction. Gordon J Brown, co-founder and director of Bloody Scotland, who has set his Craig McIntyre novels in the US, joins Sarah together with Quentin Bates, co-founder of the Iceland Noir festival, who lived in Iceland for over a decade, where his Gunnhildur Gísladóttir series is set.

After readings from both authors Sarah asks Gordon whether the American landscape inspires the road trip as setting? Appealing to the wanderer in us all, Gordon describes the country opening itself up on a massive scale and how, though some things stay the same, ‘everything is possible’. Quentin replies that he is attracted by the bleakness of Iceland’s ‘weatherscape’ and the vivid juxtaposition among its people of a comfortable European lifestyle versus a frontier mentality.

The authors are going on to discuss the advantages of being an outsider looking in, how including contemporary political events can date-stamp a novel and the importance of humour to alleviate dark relentlessness. Sarah highlights the difference in homicide rates between the two countries (3.9 per 1000 in the US versus 0.03 per 1000 in Iceland). Gordon explains that in American books guns are ‘just there’. What comes as a surprise to the audience, perhaps, is Quentin’s point that it is not unusual for firearms to be in Icelandic homes, ‘they’re just not used for killing people’. A murder in Iceland is a far bigger shock to the national psyche than it can ever be in the US.

The session draws to a close with both authors saying a little about their respective festivals. Quentin mentions how few Icelandic authors are being translated and how little attention his own work has received from Icelandic critics. Gordon outlines the problems his team are now facing defining what constitutes crime fiction, given the ever-expanding range of sub-genres (cats solving crimes – surely not!?).

Another gripping session to wrap up the Saturday afternoon at Granite Noir. Lee Randall has delivered a first-rate festival experience for writers and readers alike. Here’s to many investigations into Granite Noir in the years to come.


Tom is a lifelong fan of theatre and film. Having helped out on a couple of short films he is aware of how much work is involved to produce even 10 minutes of action. His aim? To honestly encourage an audience for things done well. Denied a career in ballet by weak ankles, Jan now writes a little poetry and one day may write a play.

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