*Today’s post is by author James Vella Bardon. Thank you James for writing such a wonderful guest post for my blog. Readers, it would be fabulous if you could check the author out, watch his book trailer and ultimately – READ THE BOOK. If you have read this book, let me know in the comments below, I would love to hear from you and I am sure James would also love to see your comments. *
The Making Of The Sheriff’s Catch / Introducing James Vella-Bardon
I don’t think you can beat well-researched novels which are also fast-paced. It doesn’t matter if they’re in eBook format on your smart phone, leaving you to miss your train stop on your way home from work. Or if they’re paperbacks that you hide under your pillow with a small torch, so that you can read late past midnight long after the missus and kids are asleep.
There’s heaps of other people I know who love these breaknjeck page-turners which leave you too breathless to realise just how quickly you’ve read the story. Yet for some reason these sorts of books are so hard to find. I remember reading The Fellowship Of The Ring when I was ten and sick in bed. It was a magical week that I’ll never forget, in which my eyes were absolutely glued to the page while I read the chapter about the fellowship fleeing orcs and a flaming balrog in the Mines of Moria. Reading that chapter left me wondering: what if I could one day create the same levels of anticipation and exhilaration for other readers, all through written words on a page?
There have been other similar works which have also stirred great emotions inside me while also teaching me a lot about different periods in real human history. Henri Charriere’s Papillon was quite simply ‘crack on a page’ from cover to cover, not to mention the opening chapter of ‘Q’ by the band of Bologna-based writers who call themselves Luther Blissett (and subsequently Wu Ming). The first-person account of Gert from the well fleeing Catholic forces with the unconscious Anabaptist Thomas Muntzer was like something out of Mel Gibson’s Apocalytpo. Precious few novels have evoked the same exhilaration and burning curiousity, and in my case these have included Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Sharpe’s Tiger’, Perez-Reverte’s Captain Alatriste series and more recently Tim Willocks’ ‘The Twelve Children Of Paris’.
What if I could write a whole novel with the same first-hand intensity? Something which you couldn’t put down, like ‘The Da Vinci Code’? But without the dryness of an airport read and without all the sagging, flouncy, hellishly boring bits usually contained in a Booker Prize-winning novel? And even better still: what if I could produce a series of books like that, with a story arc akin to those created by fantasy writers like Tolkien, David Eddings and Stephen Donaldson?
At the age of 25 I finished university and with my tertiary studies off my back, I instantly knew what I had to do. I was working in Brussels when I decided to try my hand at writing a fantasy epic, but I knew that the Dark Lord vs the forces of good theme had been done to death and was wearing a bit thin. Rehashing former fantasy series just wasn’t a stimulating enough venture for me. It was during that period of deliberation that I received a book called ‘Romegas’ by Carmel Testa as a birthday gift from my uncle Klaus in Malta. I was instantly drawn towards the stark differences in customs and traditions between the people of the 16th Century, and immediately decided that this world would be the canvas for my novel. But what sort of story should I write?
The key spark of inspiration occurred a couple of years later, shortly after I had emigrated to Sydney, Australia. I walked into a second hand bookstore and picked up a small historical nonfiction book by the Irish journalist T. P. Kilfeather, called ‘Ireland: Graveyard Of The Spanish Armada’. Spanish Armada in Ireland? What was this about? Yet I hardly started to read the first page, that I did not put the book down until I’d read it all. I bought it for three bucks and staggered out of the shop, feeling like I’d just been on the wildest rollercoaster ride I’d ever been on. Moria? Orcs? Papillon? The stories of the Spanish Armada castaways in Ireland ate all that up for breakfast!
I locked myself away in my studio flat, typing out my first twelve-chapter draft in less than a week, subsequently realising that the first draft required further rewriting and editing. I stuck to this project like a hound on the scent, editing and rewriting it again and again for years on end until I developed my voice. Extensive research was also carried out on this period of history, which was nearly as addictive as the writing itself!
And how couldn’t it be? The Spanish Armada shipwrecks in Ireland were a juncture at which three starkly different cultures met: counter-reformist Spaniards, reformist English and the late medieval Irish. There were just too many dramatic episodes to cover, from the preparation and voyage of the Spanish Armada itself, to the dramatic slaughter of Spanish castaways along the Irish beaches, with desperate ‘man on the run’ stories of those Spaniards who managed to elude the great bloodbath along the beaches.
As if this story was not amazing enough, nothing prepared me for the wonder and complexity of 16th Century Gaelic culture. We all too often forget that Ireland was the last European country to be influenced by Rome, so that a sophisticated Gaelic culture of law and bardic tradition had blossomed there, with women having the exact same rights of men and there being no concept of a bonus paterfamilias. I was also taken aback by the sheer beauty of the countryside when I visited Sligo Town and surrounds in Western Ireland to undertake further research on the novel back in October 2012. This was just too much mind-blowing material to be left untouched by fiction, and before I knew it I had penned a staggeringly long novel in five parts. I subsequently divided this into a five-part series called The Sassana Stone Pentalogy.
The first instalment is called ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ and was published by leading British crowdfunding publisher Unbound on 15 March 2018. The required crowdfunding figure of 4000 pounds was raised in less than six days, even though the campaign was expected to last three months! A number of other highs were to follow. My publisher Unbound got me to work on the manuscript with structural editor and talented novelist CM Taylor, as well as experienced copy-editor Andrew Chapman. There followed work with award-winning cover designer Mark Ecob, before the novel was serialised on international online book club The Pigeonhole. To my disbelief, this book club was previously used by Ken Follett to promote his sequel to ‘The Pillars Of The Earth’, called ‘A Column Of Fire.’
I was walking on air as the comments from 250 readers about my debut novel came through on The Pigeonhole, with a few of them kindly also posting reviews on Goodreads and Amazon. My nine years of backbreaking rewriting and research had already paid off, with a large number of readers greatly warming to my anti-hero protagonist and deadly marksman Abel de Santiago, also known as ‘The Lynx of Haarlem’, not to mention the gutsy tragic heroines Elsien Van Der Molen and Muireann Mac An Bhaird. And as if that wasn’t enough, I received a call from Tim Willocks’ (and Ken Follett’s former) literary agent Mr Albert Zuckerman last month which was the absolute cherry on the cake! Mr Zuckerman kindly invited me to his hotel to discuss my novel for close to an hour, which was quite simply unbelievable. Yet more unbelievable news was to follow earlier this month, when a novel trailer I created was nominated in the ‘best trailer for a novel or book’ category at the Golden Trailer Awards to be held in Los Angeles on 31 May 2018!
Watch the trailer below:
The product of a long lonely nine-year slog has so far met with a really good reception, and I cannot wait for what’s next around the corner. And for those readers who have loved ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ (and you only need to check my Goodreads and Amazon pages to discover what the feedback has been to date), the good news for my growing following of readers is that the draft manuscripts for four other sequels have already been penned, which altogether will make up ‘The Sassana Stone Pentalogy’. I can’t wait to get stuck into the editing of the next instalment: ‘A REBEL NORTH’.
So what are you waiting for?
Jump on Goodreads and have a look at the reader reviews, then hop on Amazon and read the ‘Look Inside’ free excerpt of The Sheriff’s Catch, and find out for yourself just how hard it is to put down! And if you love it, well, then strap on your seatbelt and buy the whole thing, as you embark upon one of the literary thrills of your life!
James was born and raised in Malta, an island nation steeped in the millennia of history. As a boy he often caught a rickety old bus to the capital of Valletta, where he would hover around the English bookshops to check out the latest titles in fiction.
Growing up he was an avid reader and a relentless day-dreamer, with his standout subject at school being English composition. He also won a couple of national essay competitions. Although he spent seven years studying and obtaining a doctor of laws degree, this did not cure him of his urge to write stories. So after emigrating to Sydney in 2007 he resolved to have a proper stab at writing his first novel.
The result of this decision is an epic, sprawling five-part historical fiction series called The Sassana Stone Pentalogy. It is the product of nine years of intense rewriting and research, and tells the story of a Spanish Armada survivor who is shipwrecked in Ireland.
The first instalment in the series is a rip-roaring, myth-busting page-turner called The Sheriff’s Catch. Its anti-hero protagonist Abel de Santiago is an Armada survivor who finds himself on the run across Connacht, whilst being pursued by English troopers who want him tortured and killed.