The skull in the kitchen

The skull in the kitchen

Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s crime novels are sold all over the world. In her home in Iceland, where she creates the crime novels that over two million people have read, an 800 years old skull sits ominously in the kitchen.


The house stands near the sea and the waves kiss the shore.

A silvery Jaguar stands in front of the house.

The author opens the front door and two old pugs look curiously at the guest.

Their names? Palli and Pilla.

The cat of the house, Mjása, is probably chasing a mouse outside.

Yrsa pours tea in dainty teacups adorned with flowers. She bought the teacups on one of her trips to England. As an author she travels abroad often. In September, there were five trips abroad in total.

yw8a6516“I make an average of two trips a month, and I think the most frequent places I go to are Norway, the UK, Germany and the US. Usually these trips last three or four days. I speak to journalists and meet the public on the longer trips and the shorter trips are usually at crime festivals where you are on stage talking to the audience and signing books afterwards.”

Yrsa worked for years as an engineer. “I’m away so much and need more time for writing so now I only do little work as an engineer.”


Palli and Pilla are not so curious about me anymore and lay down on their bed. They fall asleep and snore.

Yrsa started writing for children  when she was 32 years old. “I ended up writing five books for children and sort of took a pause for two years after that. When I started writing again it was to write crime novels for grown ups. I’m writing my 12th book so all in all the books are now 17. When I decided to start writing for grown ups, I came to the conclusion that it would make most sense to write what I like to read myself and I like to read crime novels and horror.”

Yrsa wrote a six book series about the lawyer Þóra. After that, she wrote three more novels; two crime novels, and one pure ghost/horror novel, I remember you, which has been made into a film, premiering in Iceland next spring. Yrsa started on a new series, the newest book of which, Absolution, is the third of that series where the main characters is a policeman and a child psychologist.

“The theme of the newest book is bullying. I wanted to look at how bullying could lead to something so awful as murder.”Yrsa’s books have been translated into 35 languages and around two million copies sold all over the world.

Her most recent work, Absolution, will be translated into at least 20 languages.


Yrsa usually sits on a sofa in the TV-room when writing her books. There, a Mexican skull made of paper maché stares at her. The house, built in the 1970s, has a modern feel, as it was renovated few years ago.

_w8a6571“We purchased the house in 2004 and lived in it for number of years without doing much,” Yrsa says. “It was in a Spanish style – some of the doorways had curved top and there was stucco on the walls. I prefer straight lines. The house needed repairs badly. I remember the night when we saw we could not wait anymore. My husband woke up and asked me to phone an ambulance because he felt so sick and almost like he was floating; he seemed to be so sweaty. He told me he had such high fever that the water was pouring off him. It turned out the roof was leaking directly on top of him.”

Yrsa and her husband decided to refurbish the 240 square meter house according to their requirements, including not waking up to a dripping roof, among other things. “The kitchen was tiny and there was a dining room; I was supposed to be in the kitchen cooking and the family waiting in the dining room. Such a wait would have been forever; that is not how our family works. We decided to completely change the layout of the house. Now the kitchen is probably 25% of the house and that is the place we spend most time.” In fact, now the kitchen and the dining room are in the same space.

“Architects at Arkibúllan helped us with all this. We for example did not want any kitchen cabinets above the counter. We don’t cook very much at all,” the author admits which means that take-aways are popular.

The style of the house is modern. Yrsa tells me she likes colors, “When we were doing this, black and white was so in. When you saw pictures inside newly built houses some of them could basically have been taken with a black and white film.”yw8a6584

Teeth in a bag

An 800-plus year old skull adorns the kitchen. “I bought it in an antique shop in Canada. It is 800-1000 years old so it’s not as if it was stolen from a grave. If they had seen it in my hand luggage at the airport I probably would have had to spend some time in jail if they had thought it wasn’t as old as it is. It came with some teeth in a bag, as some of them had fallen out. A friend of mine got in touch with a dentist and he took the skull along with the teeth and was going to put them all in place. He phoned me a little later and said that one of the front teeth was missing and asked if he could keep the skull for a while as he might acquire one later on. I agreed.

He had the skull for two years and finally he phoned me and said someone had needed to have their front teeth removed. So he put in this front tooth from an Icelandic lady.“

The skull seems to grin.

yw8a6539A strange noise…

Is it a laughter?










By Svava Jónsdóttir
Photos by: Neil John Smith

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