First published in The Malta Independent on 15 January 2019.

Maltese novel bags top Cover Design Award

2019 kicked off brightly for Maltese novelist James Vella-Bardon, when his stirring debut ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ won the respected eBook Cover Design Award on Wednesday 9 January. This monthly award is the brainchild of leading US cover designer Joel Friedlander, a distinguished winner of the Printing Industries of America Gold Award for his book design and production.

‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ placed first out of 62 contestants in the fiction category. Friedlander described its cover as an “outstanding example of using hand lettering to create a unique and historical look for this cover. It also implies an adventurous and gripping tale”.

The cover was designed by award-winning UK designer Mark Ecob, who has also worked on bestselling books by Roald Dahl, Barack Obama, Wilbur Smith and Arturo Perez-Reverte. James collaborated with Ecob on his debut’s cover after being signed up by Unbound, a UK press that is revolutionising publishing:

“The idea behind this cover design was to convey historical fiction in a fresh, dynamic, unprecedented way. The novel is in essence a thriller except that it’s set 500 years ago. It’s also cross-genre so we didn’t want to go with the usual Bernard Cornwell or Conn Iggulden cover which generally only appeals to men above a certain age.”

Since its international release on 15 March 2018, ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ has also gone on to achieve a number of other firsts for Maltese fiction in English. It is the first novel by a Maltese author to be accepted by the curators of digital book club The Pigeonhole and online literary platforms Netgalley and Bookbub. It also made history when its YouTube novel trailer was nominated in the category of ‘best trailer for a novel’ at the 19th Golden Trailer Awards held in Los Angeles in May 2018.

In September 2018 Agenda Bookshop confirmed that ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ became the first novel by a Maltese author to break its bestseller list in English fiction, rising to third spot just behind titles by Dan Brown and Ken Follett. It is available for sale internationally and has sold thousands of copies to date. These achievements recently came to the attention of the President of Malta Her Excellency Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, who in September 2018 invited James and his young family to pay her a courtesy visit at San Anton Palace during their latest visit to the island.

“Meeting the President was truly a great honour,” said James of the occasion, “especially since she loves books and is the first Head of State to have set up a library in the palace. I’ve lived overseas for over a decade but I mean it when I say that Her Excellency’s invitation marked a wholly Maltese triumph.

“Sales of ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ to date have been strongly driven by Maltese readers and I’m really grateful for the way members of the Maltese media, artistic and literary scene as well as Malta’s booksellers have thrown their support behind it.”

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