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.


Portrait of Blanche Clark

Blanche Clark

Blanche Clark has been a journalist for 23 years.

Portrait of Alan Brough

Alan Brough

Alan Brough was born in New Zealand and is quite a bit older than he'd like to be. Alan has always loved books and, from an early age, wanted to be a writer. Then he and his Dad went to see Star Wars and Alan decided that, actually, he really, really, really, really, really wanted to be an actor.

After having been an actor for a while Alan realised there wasn't that much work for a 6'4" guy with a slightly lopsided face and thick curly hair so he tried his hand at directing, broadcasting, composing, dancing (true!), singing and, in an unexpected turn of events, being a professional music nerd.

Recently, he got around to being a writer.

One day he hopes to have a bio that includes phrases like 'bestselling', 'award-winning' and 'so successful that he recently bought a solid gold toilet' but, until then, he's just happy to look at his copy of Charlie and the War Against the Grannies and think: 'Cool! I wrote a book!'

Portrait of Sjón


Sjón was born in Reykjavik in 1962. He won the Nordic Council’s Literature Prize, the equivalent of the Man Booker Prize, for The Blue Fox, which was also longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 2009.

Portrait of Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle is the author of nine novels, a collection of stories, and Rory & Ita, a memoir of his parents.

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