Today I am so pleased to share with you a behind-the-scenes glimpse into publishing the Dark Iceland series, written by the publisher herself. Karen Sullivan, publisher of Orenda Books, has kindly written a piece about the unique path that led her to meet Ragnar and acquire his Dark Iceland series. I personally have so much admiration for Karen's independence and vision in recognizing Ragnar's talent, and turning his books into the phenomenon that they have become. Thank you to Karen for sharing your story with us!
Acquiring the Dark Iceland Series
Karen Sullivan, Publisher of Orenda Books
I’d seen Ragnar around at various festivals, and noted that there was often a queue of people waiting to buy signed books after his panels. Books that didn’t exist. At that time, I thought to myself: Someone is missing a trick. And filed it away for future reference. But it wasn’t until we were at Bloody Scotland festival in 2015 that I got a chance to meet Ragnar after we played football together for the English vs Scottish Crime Writers’ match. I’m Canadian and Ragnar is Icelandic, but we played for England, and after a resounding defeat, we got chatting about his books. He handed over a synopsis of the series that had been published to date, and a fairly dodgy sample translation, and I promised to look them over.
At the time, I was working for another independent publishing company, who were in the middle of a restructure that would mean cancelling or postponing a good proportion of the list. Distraught at the thought of authors losing their contracts, and the prospect of little to do, I made an almost overnight decision to start my own publishing company, and the very next day I made a phone call to David Headley, Ragnar’s agent. Although the books weren’t looking very promising on paper, I couldn’t get them out of my mind. Not only was the setting magnificent – set in Siglufjord, in the northern-most part of Iceland, bound on one side by the sea and the other by mountains, and accessible by a single mountain tunnel that was closed when it snowed – providing the ultimate ‘locked-room mystery’, but I reckoned that anyone who had translated 14 Agatha Christie novels into Icelandic would have some story sense and probably the tools to write something brilliant. I also knew that Ragnar would be a dream to promote, as has proved to be the case! Crime writer Quentin Bates, who was a big supporter of Ragnar, gave the books an additional plug and offered his services as a translator, and then we were off.
So I headed off to convince an agent that an unknown publisher with a brand-new company should buy not one but TWO books by this bestselling Icelandic author. Fortunately, after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing, he agreed. That was just 16 months ago, and we have now published Snowblind and Nightblind to huge critical acclaim, and seen Snowblind hit number one on the bestseller lists in the UK and Australia. We’re publishing Blackout in July, all beautifully translated by Quentin, and quite literally taking the book world by (ice) storm!
It’s hard to believe that a football match has led to such an amazing partnership, and, now, the icing on the cake, a TV series of the Dark Iceland series about to be made!