Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher

Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher is an article by the Spanish writer in Iceland Jordi Pujolà included in the Project La Contra Islandia that tries to put in contact Icelandic and Spanish Culture

Interview Hólmfrídur Úa Forlagid publisher Iceland
Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher Iceland

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Hólmfríður Matthíasdóttir, but everyone calls her by her nickname, Úa, she is the director of the biggest publisher in Iceland, Forlagið

Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher

I interviewed Úa in her office facing the lovely Ránargata street in Reykjavik. Nói, the famous grey cat of the company slept on her desk and was moving his tale when I walked in. The room was bright, full of books and plants, I felt the good atmosphere

Biography

“I have always been fascinated by books, this is so much a part of my life

My family was very interested in literature. My mother (Ingibjorg Jónsdottir) was a writer, my sister (Magnea Matthíasdóttir) is a writer and translator as well

I learnt to read when i was 4 years old

I had decided long time ago after finishing my studies in Highschool to go abroad”

Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher and the cat Nói
Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher and Nói the cat

Barcelona

“At that time, It was popular among Icelanders to go to Paris, London or Berlin, but my Icelandic boyfriend and I wanted to be more original and went to Barcelona (I was in love with that city since I visited it for my first time when I was 14 years old)

The plan was to study Spanish, but after one year, I decided to stay on and to study Spanish Literature (it was the perfect combination because I was able to do two things I like plus living in Barcelona and learning Catalan as well. It was a wonderful situation!

Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher

A halfway of the studying I met my Spanish husband so I stayed on, but after our daughters were born, I needed to find a job. I went back to Iceland and worked for the Reykjavik Arts Festival. However, it didn’t work out, my husband didn’t want to live in Iceland so I had to go back to Barcelona and find a job there. I was lucky because I got a job in the publishing industry, I started in a small publisher called Oasis, more well known for the magazine they published, Integral, and later on RBA. So I was getting paid for reading books!, it can´t be anything better in the world!”

Homesick for Iceland

“Even though I met nice people and felt well in Barcelona, I was always homesick for Iceland. It was not enough for me to go 3 weeks in the summer

So when I had the offer to work in Forlagið, I reached an agreement with my husband: I would go to Iceland and he would come afterwards, but he didn’t come. It was 2006, and even we didn’t realise it, crisis was coming, sales were going down in Spain and things were being more difficult. So I was able to reach another agreement with my publishing house to work part of the year in Barcelona and part of the year in Reykjavik”

Irresistible offer

“Two years ago I was offer the chance to take on the position of the director of Forlagið (the former one retired) and you can´t say not to that kind of offer, so now I´m sharing my life between Barcelona and Reykjavik”

How do you manage to do it?

“In the past, when I was the rights director of Forlagið, it was much easier because my job was to be in contact to foreign publishers and they never saw me except for when we went to the book fairs. I am used to not being at the office all the time. I already had my routine, so I tried to work from Barcelona with an Spanish timetable, the same hours of people living here (adapting to the time difference), and I was always available for the company whenever they needed me, so it worked out

However, currently I only go one week every month to Barcelona and for my holidays as well. I have access on my computer to all the files of the company and I can connect to them wherever I am. It´s just a question of planning my meetings, use a bit more Skype, the phone… In Iceland we are used to that, but sometimes it´s very hard”

Would be that possible in a Spanish company?

“I think it´s a just a question of mentality. The mentality in Iceland is more flexible to work. But anyway, I don´t think it would have worked in Spain”

Other issues about mentality?

“The society in Spain (as in many countries) is bigger. For example, in Iceland when I was growing up, no one locked the door at night and you left your bag in any place and when you came back still was there. It´s a different kind of society, it´s not better or worse

Iceland is smaller and more familiar. When I came back to work in Iceland, all the employees still had a key of the work place in case they want to come at work on the weekend and the necessary Internet connections to work from home”

What is your job as a director in Forlagið

“I´m responsible for all the publications of the program. We publish around 180-200 books every year, both translations and Icelandic books; my job is to organise all of that. Of course I have a good team here that helps me a lot”

Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher and writer Jordi Pujolá
Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher with Jordi Pujolá

Relationship with writers

How do you deal with the authors?

“It´s not difficult to work with my writers, all of them are wonderful

The publishing industry is a very special industry, in the sense that it´s based on trust. You have to have a good relationship with your authors and the authors with the editors who work on their manuscripts”

What is your secret?

“I always keep my word and I don´t make promises I will not be able to full fill up later on”

One of your authors is Arnaldur Indriðason. How is he?

“He is the best seller in Iceland of all times, over the Nobel Prize Halldór Laxness

He is very famous and very charming”

What do you miss from Iceland when you are in Spain?

“The light, the mountains, the Icelandic air. Iceland charges my batteries”

What do you miss from Spain when you are in Iceland?

“My family, my home in Barcelona (she lives in El Born, the trendiest neighbourhood), the food, my life in Barcelona (going out, going to the market, have the vermouth…), I love Barcelona!”

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You are lucky you can live in 2 places

“Yes, but I have two lives”

What is your experience of being a woman in Spain and Iceland?

“In my opinion, being a woman and a foreigner is harder in Spain, also to reach a post of this level

I think equality is better in Iceland, but still are many things to be done”

For example

“Parents in Iceland share the 9 month maternity 3-3 and the other 3 either one of them. However, what seems to be happening is that the more people are earning, the less are taking the time off; so as father´s wages are higher, mothers are taking the days off instead of them so they family loses less money. That is a sad thing, fathers should have the same right to be with their child”

Do you think men have more self confidence than women?

“I think men and women have the same abilities, some times people doubted themselves, they don´t think they have the talent or the capacity they actually have, but it happens both in men and women

Nevertheless, some people trust the man rather than the woman; for instance, if a man and a woman come in, immediately they think the man is in charge when in fact it is the woman. That is a cultural issue built into the structure of the society that takes over when you are not thinking about it. It´s very hard to fight this”

What are your favourite authors?

“I started reading Eduardo Mendoza, Vázquez Montalban, García Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Isabel Allende…”

And Icelandic?

“I like all my Forlagið´authors”

Tell me about the tradition of giving books in Christmas

“We call it the Christmas book flood and it´s very special in Iceland

To give books as Christmas presents is part of the Icelandic tradition, so it has evolved in such  way that most of the local authors are published in the months before Christmas, from September to November

People here like preparing Christmas and the weeks going before they are involved in many Christmas´ projects such us baking cookies, knitting or decorating houses

It´s dark, cold the weather sometimes is nasty, but inside, the houses are warm and comfortable and you have candle lights…

Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher

A part of this tradition is this Christmas book flood: the authors have presentations, readings… and people have coffee and discuss the books they are going to buy as a Christmas presents, so every one gets a book and enjoys his holiday reading on this cosy atmosphere. I think it´s lovely”

Interview Hólmfrídur Matthíasdóttir Forlagid publisher is an article by Jordi Pujolá, Spanish writer in Iceland