Stubbington-based Quentin Bates on becoming a Nordic Noir author
PUBLISHED: 10:54 22 October 2019 | UPDATED: 10:54 22 October 2019
From his Stubbington home Quentin Bates tells us how a decade in Iceland led to a career as a Nordic Noir author
There is a growing influence of northern Europe over much of our entertainment. But when I visited Quentin Bates - author of crime fiction set in Iceland, and prolific translator of the ancient North German language into English - I didn't have to venture into the Arctic Circle, or the sparsely populated island he knows so well. Instead I was in the Hampshire village where he grew up and which is still his home, having moved back after starting a family.
"Stubbington was a quiet, sleepy village when I was very young," he recalls. "Almost countryside, but right next to the coast. You can hear fog horns blowing during the night."
Exploring the bridge between two such disparate places - geographically, geologically and more - is my first port of call. Quentin remembers failing his A Levels, which was neither unexpected nor a blow. "I'd spent most of my time during A Levels drinking beer," he laughs. "My results were terrible, I passed English but failed German and another subject, something weird, I can't remember, and was offered a few months' work in Iceland as a gap year."
Leaving the familiarity of Hampshire, the teenager headed to the mountainous north west of Iceland where the wildness of the landscape captivated him. He took on a "manual, quite skilled" role in a net workshop, picking up detail as he went along. And because he enjoyed his job as much as his new lifestyle, there was no reason to return to the UK. "After a while I went to sea working on trawlers. I stayed for about ten years."
My question about learning what seems to me to be a complex language is batted away by this amiable author. "It's not an easy language, nor the most difficult or complex either. It has grammatical rules with few irregular nouns and verbs. When I first went there, most people I worked with didn't speak English."
Within a few years, Quentin met the woman who would become his wife and then, when children came along, decided to return to Hampshire."Everything is safe and close. And it never snows! Hampshire and Iceland are very different, a complete change of scene, which is great."
With a rapidly growing reputation as a maritime journalist and translator, getting into fiction writing was neither planned nor approached with confidence. "Everybody kept telling me fiction was a mug's game but I did a creative writing course and had to give it a go. Initially I wasn't going to write about crime but it evolved. I wrote a book, sent it to an agent, then another. Finally one of them bit. Then a publisher came along." Quentin has now notched up eight published books. His first novel, Frozen Out, coincided with Iceland's 2008 bank crisis providing a real life backdrop to the central plot. "It was so dramatic to see how things changed." The memory is still a vivid one. "Everyone knew something was wrong that summer but the newspapers said everything was fine and dandy. It was bizarre. I was there the day the first of the banks put their hand in the air and said: 'There's no money left'."
The appeal of Nordic Noir, according to the author, is the juxtaposition of a safe, ordered, well-run society with murder "slapped on top." Yet he won't be drawn on either his writing routine ("when I can find the time") or style ("I've no idea, I just sit and write") or approach ("I have a rough idea of where my novel is going, where I'd like it to go, then try and find my way"). He exudes a degree of confidence, however, that his books are less dry than other Nordic crime because of his keenness to "slip in a few jokes."
Although Quentin returns to Iceland a couple of times each year ("I normally find a reason to visit; I never go anywhere just for a holiday") enjoyment of his home environment is something that has never faded. "I'm very fond of the shoreline around here and the beach along Hill Head, especially during the winter when there's no one about."
It's good to know that this internationally acclaimed author, despite his love for another country and culture, remains firmly rooted in Hampshire.
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