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Hi all

Oh my God what an AWESOME year was 2018 – I’m still recovering from it, if I’m honest! In fact it’s been a fair while since I dropped everybody a line. And with all that’s gone on to date I’m not quite sure where to begin! So off the top of my head, here goes:

1. There & Back Again

We had a little book tour in Malta in September / October 2018. Magical time really. Always great to catch up with all my rellies and besties on ‘the rock’ (Malta). The book launch at Agenda Bookshop in Valletta drew a good crowd and just loved catching up with so many friends old and new. I hardly had time to get breakfast less a hair of the dog the next morning because it was off to Merlin Library on Bisazza Street in Sliema where we caught up with a few more friends and met other Malta-based authors like the talented Liah S. Thorley, check out her body of work here. Just can’t thank everyone at Agenda Bookshop, WHSmith, Merlin Library & BDL Books enough for all the backing they’ve given Sheriff to date.

During our stay on the rock I also enjoyed a fantastic interview with Sheriff fan Trudy Kerr on XFM’s The Big Drive Home – one of my best to date – before being invited to meet the (well, now former) President of Malta H.E. Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. Her Excellency was tipped off about Sheriff’s achievements by the awesome Maltese Sheriff fan (can I call you a fan, Claire? LOL) Claire Busuttil who was part of the unforgettable group of 250 readers worldwide who read a pre-launch serialised version of the Sheriff on The Pigeonhole (great online book club which you should all check out – did anyone hear about my recent exchange with Jeffrey Archer on it?) back in January 2018. Claire was so delighted that a Maltese author made it onto The Pigeonhole that she even named her pet budgie ‘Santiago’ in honour of this landmark literary achievement!

It was a great honour to be granted an audience by Her Excellency who received us so well and was really kind to the kids. Her excellent footman Louie even took us on a tour of the palace as well as the grounds at San Anton Palace. Claire and her family also joined us and it was lovely to finally meet her and her family, and look forward to catching up with them again sometime soon. Oh and I even made it onto the local telly for an interview before making it back to my mum’s for lunch, which was quite cool, before being interviewed by The Times and MaltaToday and also receiving promotion from the ever supportive Malta Independent.

The feedback and support from the rock has been just awesome to date & I can’t thank people back home enough: people with hearts of gold who have done me a real solid in terms of book promo. Agenda Bookshop also let me know that we’re the first Maltese author to break the English fiction bestseller list on the rock (gulp!) and over Christmas it seems that Santiago’s first caper even outsold ‘The Reckoning by John Grisham who is hugely popular in Malta. These are dizzying milestones for a boy from the rock so as a debut novelist I’ll happily take them! Last month AirMalta also featured Sheriff in the March edition of their in-flight magazine ‘Il-Bizzilla’ which also met with some good feedback, you can read the whole thing on pages 62-63 here. A big thanks also go to famous TV host Peppi Azzopardi for giving Sheriff a nod on his prime time talk show ‘Xarabank’ and to legendary actor Edward Mercieca for also giving the novel a shout at Panto!

After visiting the rock I also realised that there are a few aspiring Maltese authors in English who sometimes lack a bit of guidance. So in an attempt to give something back I’ve joined forces with a few other talented Maltese authors in English fiction to set up a writers’ group called The Sandbox on Facebook. So if you’re a writer and not sure how to progress with your ideas just send us a meeting request and join in the debate and useful discussions in a friendly & supportive environment.

Following the Malta promo visit we were delighted to catch up with friends and family in Scotland where Sheriff is still selling at Waterstones in both Edinburgh and Glasgow, before stopping by the lovely Howth in Ireland for a couple of days, where Sheriff has been selling at leading book chain Easons. During our brief visit to the Emerald Isle we caught up over lunch with Bookline host Teresa Quinn who joined us for lunch and a good old chin wag in a Dublin pub. Teresa is another fan of Sheriff who’s been asking about the sequel and she kindly hosted me on Irish radio station Liffey Sound earlier last year: here’s the link to our lengthy on air discussion. Given that Sheriff and its sequels are mainly set in Ireland, it was great to be interviewed on an Irish radio show on all things books during 2018, and to also be featured on Ireland’s leading fiction website: Writing.ie.

2. 2019 Awards & Giveaway & Reviews

2018 was truly a magical year, a year in which a longheld boyhood dream finally came true. And we were fortunate to bid it farewell in style when we were invited to a friend’s place at Kurraba Point in Neutral Bay to watch the brilliant fireworks over Sydney harbour. And the first month of 2019 kicked off brightly for Sheriff since we secured the first literary silverware in the JVB trophy cabinet when the novel took home the ebook Cover Design Award – you can read more about all that here. I’d forgotten that Sheriff cover designer Mark Ecob has also designed covers for books by the likes of Barack Obama, Roald Dahl and Wilbur Smith – not to mention my idol Arturo Perez-Reverte – and I’m glad to be another feather in his cap.

Even better news was to follow in February when I learned that Sheriff also made it onto the list of Finalists in the Adult Fiction category at the Wishing Shelf Book Awards (WSA). Although they’re a relatively new kid on the block in the literary awards world, WSA are reputable awards run by authors with reading groups in Stockholm and London judging the entries. Work by the likes of global bestseller Brandon Sanderson and a number of full-time authors were also included in the list of finalists so I felt like I was in very good company indeed! WSA also provides extensive feedback to all contestants so I’m looking forward to receiving mine soon and sharing it with everyone.

Which is not to mention the shiny finalist’s gold medal sent to me by WSA which was particularly special because after the milestones gained at the Golden Trailer Awards in LA and the ebook Cover Design Awards it’s the first time that Sheriff received a special accolade for the actual writing. And as those who follow me on social media already know: ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ has also been submitted for The Royal Dragonfly Book Awards, the Independent Author Network (IAN) Book Awards and the Eric Hoffer Book Awards. Watch this space for more updates & fingers crossed.

What else? What else? Oh yes: an INTERNATIONAL GIVEAWAY! Last month I received an awesome 5-star review from popular Pakistani Bookstagrammer Rumsha who is also running an international giveaway contest on Instagram, with the prize being a special edition copy of The Sheriff’s Catch! As they say: the best things in life are free, so everyone reading this should be a ‘dive in devil’ and throw their hat in the ring – the comp closes on 15th April 2019

I’d also like to thank everyone who – like Rumsha – have provided Sheriff with reviews on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com.au, Goodreads and other book platforms. After long years of toil, these reviews are a real shot in the vein and make all the difference.

Special thanks too to all the lovely people in Sydney like Sooze Cooper, Maria Micallef and Vanessa Dorahy who recommended Sheriff to their book clubs and also invited me along to talk about the novel – there’s no better feeling than meeting readers to chat about all things Santiago! This also really helps to get the word out there so that Australian bookstores and libraries keep on stocking Sheriff.

3. Going Indie

A few readers are also wondering what’s happened to Santiago and Muireann (not to mention a host of other characters from Sheriff): what fate befalls our heroes in the much anticipated ‘A Rebel North’?! (2nd instalment in The Sassana Stone Pentalogy). Thing is: I am not as far into the edit of ‘Rebel’ as I would have liked, for two reasons:

Firstly because I have recently been buried under a truckload of ‘things’ (to use the polite word) which life has dumped upon me, what with the younger one starting school and a new job, house move and all. What’s worse is that there is no end in sight to these recent personal challenges and I think that I’m only going to seriously kick some goals on the writing front come July at the earliest, or maybe even September.

Secondly: following an unforgettable traditional publication run with Unbound (which I wanted to experience for many years now) I have found myself keen to dip my toe into indie writing. It’s still all going off for indie authors on Amazon and there’s also a stack of other writing platforms like Kobo and iBook which I’d like to learn. In fact come to think of it, it’s incredible that Sheriff has achieved so much to date given the limited marketing on these buzzing platforms.

The canary in the coal mine / indie writing world is going to be a little side-project which I’m currently working on (using the email app on my smartphone because otherwise I don’t have any time to write at all) based on my favourite protagonist in history. Anyone who follows my book reviews on Goodreads might already have guessed the identity of this person, but I should have a few updates about this exciting side venture later on in the year. Once this experiment is carried out, the next Sassana Stone instalments should follow in quick succession. So it’s just a bit of repositioning in life at the moment, which happens from time to time. But I expect (no promises) that there’ll be a lot more JVB projects heading your way towards the latter half of 2019/ start of 2020.

And if you want to receive the latest updates on all my future work, be sure to tap in your email address on my landing page. Remember that not all of my future work will necessarily all be published by Unbound!

4. Good Reads & Coming Soon

I also thought I’d add the occasional reading list to these updates. As I was telling my lovely Sassenach friend Alison Riseley today on my Facebook page: it makes me laugh that Sheriff made it onto a bestseller list at all since bestseller lists are the last place I usually go to find non-formulaic weird and wonderful stuff to read. So what have I been getting stuck into or looking forward to of late? Here’s the list:

 

  • ‘The Blade Itself’ and ‘Before They Are Hanged’ by Joe Abercrombie

Abercrombie takes high fantasy to a whole new level, mainly due to the incredible cast of characters he’s created and his side-splitting black humour. Here’s my Goodreads reviews of The Blade Itself and Before They Are Hanged and I can’t wait to get stuck into the third instalment of ‘The First Law Trilogy’. His style of writing has set me on fire, I’m left buzzing with new writing ideas.

 

  • ‘The Terror’ by Dan Simmons

An absolute beast of a novel, both in terms of plot, characters, writing etc. Simmons cleverly melds fact and fantasy to create a gripping horror story. Here’s my Goodreads review and anyone who can’t get enough of this should watch the phenomenal ten-part tv series created by AMC starring Ciaran Hinds and the excellent Jared Harris, amongst others.

 

  • ‘The Alchemist Of Rome’ by M.C. Dulac

MC Dulac is a terrifically talented individual, Australia’s best kept literary secret in the literary space. Her two ‘Alchemist’ instalments are highly imaginative and excellently written, so that they’re still earning killer reviews on Amazon and Goodreads. And here’s my Goodreads reviews of both Paris and Rome. My Maltese followers might also be quite interested to learn that Rome is partly set in Malta, since MC was hugely inspired by her visits to the rock which she greatly enjoyed.

 

  • ‘Eat The Rich’ by Renee Miller

Oh my God, how I laughed. And also learned so much. Delicious black humour combined with great insights about our society, great characters and tremendous imagination. Here’s my Goodreads review.

 

  • ‘The Scottish Boy’ by Alex de Campi

Just can’t wait to receive my copy of this book, published by Unbound. De Campi is a force of nature, famous for her illustrations of Judge Dredd, amongst many other graphic novels and artistic ventures. I’m thrilled that she’s also seeking to freshen up historical fiction and ensure that it is more representative of different people out there. The crowdfund is still open if anyone wants to get their hands on what promises to be a mesmerisingly good piece of fiction.

 

  • ‘The Life Of Death’ by Lucy Booth

So glad to have finally received my copy of Lucy’s novel set in 16th Century Europe: part gothic horror story, part murder mystery and part modern romance. I can’t wait to get stuck into this one.

There’s a few other fantastic projects which I recently supported and which I urge everyone to take a look at, in case they also pique your interest:

 

  • ‘Rory Hobble And The Voyage Of Haligogen’ by Maximilian Hawker

Max’s excellent debut ‘Breaking The Foals’ was serialised on The Pigeonhole, shortly after Sheriff. I was fortunate to be part of the international group of readers who read it online, and I can’t wait to read his second book, which is presently being crowdfunded by Unbound: get behind this project here.

 

  • ‘From Crimea With Love’ by Jason Salkey

Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series (amongst others) were a great influence on me in my teens. ‘Sharpe’s Tiger’ in particular set me on fire. But the tv series – starring the late and excellent Pete Postlethwaite OBE and Sean Bean of Game of Thrones fame – were excellent and I wouldn’t mind watching them all again sometime. One of the actors from that series, Jason Salkey, has written a book about the cast’s experiences and challenges filming the show, and it would be a crime if it did not make it out into the world. Here’s where you can get behind this project and I can’t wait to read this book.

 

  • ‘The Dark Evolution Chronicles’ by Cassandra de Rossi

This sounds like a real cross-genre treat from a talented author based in Malta for anyone interested in ancient history and vampires. Anyone else that’s interested in this work can help make it a reality here.

 

You can check out all my other book reviews and what I’m currently reading on my Goodreads page. And please do drop me a line at info@jamesvellabardon.com if there’s anything similar to the above list that you’d like to recommend to me – I’m always on the prowl for great stuff to read which is so hard to find!

 

5. A Rebel Excerpt

And for those who have made it this far and are keen to read the sequel to Sheriff: ‘A Rebel North’, here’s a little excerpt to whet your appetites, told from Santi’s (who else?) point of view!

Muireann wore a band of linen under her chin that was pinned to the top of her head: a fluttering wimple which declared her widowhood to all. The ollave also wore a short saffron tunic and a thick woollen mantle wrapped about her shoulders, whilst Dervila was trussed in a more elaborate costume, with a juppe – that stylish French descendant of the jupon – reaching down to mid-calf, which was in turn swathed in an open riding gown lined with marten fur. A velvet hood covered the lady Burke’s scarlet locks, and on her gloved wrist she bore a wicked looking sparrowhawk. 

  The bird’s glare was matched by the verdant blaze of its mistress’s stare, as Dervila studied me with a hawklike gaze that did not betray a single sentiment. As she approached me the chieftain’s wife sat up haughty and proud in her saddle, surrounded by the high born riders in her retinue. They were also flanked by a score of footmen, each of whom bore great staffs with which to beat the woods. The dog handlers amongst them also strained at long leashes to hold back sleek white hounds, each of which was even bigger of limb than a colt.

  As the baying, clinking band approached us Nial assumed a stoical gaze, as he always did in moments of great peril. The approaching train was barely a few feet away from us when Dervila raised her free arm, bringing the progress of the main body of huntsmen to a throbbing end. Thereafter she advanced upon us with the ollave and a few of her bodyguards. 

 These consisted of the usual detachment of dour faced galloglasses, with the ever-present scowl etched upon their faces and their ugly battle axes held out before them. Two of these Scottish mercenaries closely flanked the chieftain’s wife, and the sight of them brought a lump to my throat. They were veritable giants whose heads reached Dervila’s shoulders, a sight rendered more ominous by the fact that she was mounted whilst they went on foot. 

  As Manglana’s queen drew closer I marvelled at her long yet attractive face which was adorned by a pair of large, unblinking eyes, astride a slender nose. Her lips were pursed contemptuously between two dimples, which only lent to her handsomeness. Upon beholding her more closely I realized that her features were similar to those I had encountered during my days in the Army of Flanders, so that she might have easily passed for a woman from the Low Countries.

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