Part of a podcast series

The Wheeler Centre

View all episodes in this series


Listen to Sjón

Icelandic author Sjón is a rock ‘n’ roll renaissance man. He writes poetry, pens lyrics for Björk, wrote a whale-watching ‘splatter film’, and won the Nordic equivalent of the Man Booker for his novel The Blue Fox. His latest novel, From the Mouth of the Whale, has just been shortlisted for the 2012 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. His passion is melding ancient Icelandic traditions with the avant garde, mixing ‘myths and crackpot theories together with my need to tell a story’.

Here, in conversation with Alan Brough, Sjón discusses his many creations, from his first, self-published works of poetry to his Johnny Triumph (of the Sugarcubes' ‘Luftgitar’ fame).

One thing is clear: Iceland features prominently on Sjón’s mind. He discusses the nation’s “culture of literature” and “history made of poetry”, its tradition of self-publishing, its creative productivity (offering that “culture is one of the cheapest things a society can produce … it doesn’t need anything except the creative mind”) and details his rebellion against Iceland’s canonical tradition in favour of folk culture (see also: furry trout), which he found entirely compatible with his emerging punk surrealism. And, of course, he reveals a little of his collaborations with Björk and Lars Von Trier - both of whom he describes as “very nice and civilised”.

He also muses on the process of his work: from assessing translators to historical settings (“I like to go in there and take part”), writing quickly, poetic inspirations and the rule that guides his own poetry. And he credits David Bowie for introducing him to the “hidden desires” of surrealism.

The Wheeler Centre

Subscribe to the Wheeler Centre's podcast to hear full recordings of our talks – featuring the best in books, writing and ideas.