The Sheriff's Catch

By James Vella-Bardon

A man forced to join the Spanish Armada must flee fatal capture in 16th Century Ireland

Crime | Fiction
122% funded
239 supporters

Publication date: March 2018

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Making Of The Sheriff's Catch

A personal dedication from the author in the front of the paperback and ebook editions and 5 copies of the paperback. Also includes six 1-hour interactive face to face (online via camera if distance requires it) sessions with the novelist discussing the book. The author will provide a recommended reading list, images and maps before these sessions take place. (Only 2 available)

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Army deserter Abel de Santiago has all but avenged his murdered wife, when he is captured and sold as a galley slave. As the Spanish Armada sails for Calais Roads in May 1588, there cannot be a soul aboard more reluctant than him.

After a crushing defeat to the English fleet, the Spanish ships are battered by extraordinary storms. Santiago soon finds himself washed ashore in Ireland, a country terrorised by men that the natives call Sassenachs.

Santiago’s faint hopes of survival appear dashed when he is captured by the brutal Sheriff of Sligo, who has orders from Dublin to torture and kill all Spanish castaways. 

An unlikely twist of fate leaves Santiago fleeing Sligo with a jewelled ring worth a King’s ransom. His escape leads to a desperate chase across a strange and stunning land, where danger lurks at every turn.



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  • James Vella-Bardon avatar

    James Vella-Bardon

    James lives in Sydney’s Northern Beaches with his young family and a spirited cavoodle. In 2018 his debut ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ climbed to #3 on the English fiction bestseller list in his native Malta. Recipient of a few international literary awards and nominations, he enjoys writing thriller novels set in periods of history which have been swept under the carpet.

  • ‘Take his keys!’ I yelled out in Sabir, feeling like I spoke the thoughts of most present. ‘Take his bloody keys!’

    Dimas’s eyes widened as I stood off the bench and pointed at him, still shouting at the other slaves to act. As the overseer made to speak, a brawny arm suddenly curled about his throat, which belonged to a hefty Berber strokesman. The enormous slave nodded at me once, before he spoke to the rowers alongside him.

    ‘Get the keys.’

    He then bent over sideways and shoved the stunned Dimas underwater. The crazed overseer kicked with his feet and twisted and turned, yet it was all in vain as the bulging muscles rippled in the arm of his victim turned aggressor. Meanwhile another slave had already reached Dimas’s side and undone his huge belt, with the heavy clanking keys passing through many hands even before the overseer had stopped kicking. The large Berber then pulled Dimas’s head from the bilge water and wrung his neck for good measure.

    ‘Be silent,’ he boomed across the benches, ‘and let none escape without my command!’

    Having declared himself the leader of the slave revolt, the giant then turned his tattooed face towards our side of the deck, waiting for us all to be freed. When the last shackle was undone he strode towards the steps before us, crying out to the surviving rowers who already milled behind him.

    ‘Whosoever craves freedom, join with us now!’

    A roar was returned as most hurried after him, with only a handful still clinging to their benches in fear. I flung Esteban away as Maerten and I hurried out, scarcely believing our luck as we ran after the fleeing rows of slaves. A swish of bilge water was heard at our feet before we ran towards the steps. As we hurried through the infirmary I could see that it was choked with countless wounded men, who groaned aloud at our passing while the physicians and surgeons stared at us in disbelief.

    Upon reaching the main deck we were greeted by a flash of lightning, which streaked the nightly heavens. The sight left us startled before our ears were deafened by a roar of thunder. Our galley continued to lurch leeward as the end of great waves spattered our decks. The scent of the open ocean left me feeling half-revived, as I took in the chaos which Costa had mentioned. Ahead of us, guards beat back mutineers before they too were set upon by the Berber and his freed cohorts. We all swayed to the growing throes of the ocean, and at the prow a despairing nobleman flung gold doubloons overboard and cried out in despair.

    ‘Forgive us, oh Lord, for we have sinned!’

    Furious pleas echoed within the officers’ cabin behind us, to what sounded like the loud beating of fists upon a table. A second bolt of lightning cut the sky in half, when another thunderclap drowned out all the shouting. Black waves rose as high as the poop deck, pounding both prow and stern with a fast-growing fury. When I turned my head, I could see that the winds tore rigging off the mainmast as if it were lace.

    A hand then wrapped itself around my throat, and I turned and saw Georg. As I grappled with him he cried out to the other wardens, with his face turning as dark as the clouds gathered above us. Two of his men seized Maerten, who pushed and shoved at their grasp like a fiend. Amidst our struggle the galley was shoved towards land like a squealing child led by the ear, causing us to wobble across the slippery boards underfoot. Our mad dance was soon ended when a burst of seawater scooped the five of us over the ship’s rail.

    ‘Christ wept!’

    The oath left my throat as I seized the edge of the gunwale. Hailstones the size of small pebbles pelted my head, and my shoulder was half-wrenched from its socket as one of the wardens grabbed hold of my ankle. When I looked down I recognised the gaunt face of Georg who returned a fierce glare, while trying to reach for my cloak with his other hand. I kicked at his face until he finally let go of me, dropping with a howl into the dark swirl below.


    I raised my head towards Maerten, flooded with fear as I saw him dangling by the ledge alongside me.

    ‘Hold on!’ I cried at him, trying to reach for his tunic with one hand.

    Having lost its mooring, the Santa Maria sheered shoreward, as another westerly screamed across the ocean. We teetered violently along the ship’s side, until Maerten’s grip was loosened and he fell into the furious waves.


    With a howl, I released my hold and fell in after him. Breath burst from my lungs as I plunged deep into the black icy ocean, with its salt burning my wounds and grazes. I then struggled back to the surface for a gasp of air, seeing the youth struggling for breath alongside me.

    ‘Marti,’ I cried again, as we snatched each other’s forearms.

    The ocean hauled us apart as my eyes briefly met the Fleming’s.

    ‘Abel…’ he groaned, as we were flung in different directions by the raging sea. When I lost sight of him I cried his name again and again, then returned my attention to keeping afloat. In the corner of my eye I spotted a wayward plank of wood, and no sooner did I grab it than I was borne to the heavens upon a white crest, coughing up the water that flew into my face.

    When the wave toppled I still clung to the wood like a barnacle, finding myself pulled far below the surf by a vicious current. My left shoulder was slashed by a reef edge before I was hurled back above water, with my cries muffled by the roaring thunder.

  • 4th May 2019 A Maltese Expat

    First published on pg 60-61 of the March 2019 issue #75 of AirMalta's in-flight magazine, 'Il-Bizzilla'


    Every month we catch up with a Maltese national who lives and works abroad. This month, we chatted to debut novelist James Vella-Bardon.

    2018 was a breakthrough year for Maltese novelist James Vella-Bardon when his debut novel ‘The Sheriff…

    10th April 2019 Solid Gold


    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…

    24th November 2018 Three Speeches


    The following is a transcript of the speeches delivered during an unforgettable book signing event. It was held at Agenda Bookshop on the Valletta Waterfront on 29 September 2018 to promote my debut novel The Sheriff’s Catch.

    Thanks again to everyone who attended a true watershed occasion in the history of Maltese fiction in English, in a year when Valletta was named European Capital of Culture…

    28th October 2018 Author Becomes An Open Book

    Feature by Stephanie Fsadni published in The Times Of Malta on Wednesday 17 October 2018.


    Presenting a copy of The Sheriff’s Catch to the President of Malta H.E. Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca KUOM at San Anton Palace on 30 September 2018.




    As a child James Vella-Bardon had always wanted to write a stand-alone novel. He tells Stephanie Fsadni he never dreamt he…

    6th September 2018 Rock Of Ages



    Hi all

    Firstly, I’m thrilled to announce two exciting book signing dates which are coming up in Malta! Malta: the place I still call home and which my Maltese English-speaking friends refer to as ‘the rock’. A rock steeped in the aeons of history and I just can’t wait to get there as I need a holiday and it’s been too long since I last visited.

    I should also add that Malta has…

    18th June 2018 Sydney Book Signing Event

    A fair few peeps have been asking me about the Golden Trailer Awards in L.A. and I’ll definitely update you about all that in this post. But I’ll first kick off with some info about the upcoming Book Signing Event to be held in Sydney at the end of June (details about the European launch that should be held in Malta this year will also follow in coming weeks):


    Sydney Launch


    22nd April 2018 The Beast From The East And Other Stories

    Dear all,


    1.     The Beast From The East (Apologies to all Patrons)

    This post’s title of course refers to recent unseasonal blizzards across the UK and Ireland which caused (and might still be causing) delays to the delivery of the novel to patrons.

    A thousand pardons for this, I am very sorry that your patience was tested. I owe Paul Farrugia and Scott Cross, among others, a fair…

    4th March 2018 Release Date


    Hi all, I've got a bit of breaking news to share with you:



    Hard as it is to believe, THE SHERIFF’S CATCH now has a hard release date: 15 March 2018

    Two days short of St Patrick’s day, as it happens!

    As most of you know, THE SHERIFF’S CATCH is a literary thriller partly produced by discerning readers who are keen on something new. It is also a novel that took…

    11th February 2018 Eyeing Ithaca


    The ship bounded forward on her way as a four in hand chariot flies over the course when the horses feel the whip. Her prow curvetted as it were the neck of a stallion, and a great wave of dark blue water seethed in her wake.

    When the bright star that heralds the approach of dawn began to show, the ship drew near to land. Now there is in Ithaca a haven of the old merman Phorcys…

    5th January 2018 Catch The Pigeon

    Hi guys, HAPPY NEW YEAR!

    As you can imagine, I'm pretty PUMPED about 2018!

    Just a short message, in case you hadn't yet heard: The Sheriff's Catch was listed on UK literary platform The Pigeonhole on Xmas Eve, and is set to be serialised pre-publication - in digital format - from Monday 8 January: 



    Circa 74 of the…

    23rd December 2017 Merry Xmas & Happy NY!


    Dear all,

    Crazy to think that it’s already Christmas Day tomorrow, and less than a week until NY day. Then again, I probably shouldn't be surprised at how quickly the year has flown. The last time I wrote a group-wide message was August, when I was still stressing over how I was going to meet the demands of the structural rewrite.

    Incredible to think that it’s all water under the bridge…

    5th December 2017 Double Missive

    Dear Patrons

    While once again thanking you all for your support I just thought I'd share a couple of messages in this space that I recently posted to my Facebook novelist page at the following address:


    Message #1, posted Saturday 25 November at 00.27 AEST

    Delighted to tell you that I had a Skype call with Unbound’s Art Director tonight at…

    22nd November 2017 Typset Delight


    Dear tercio del patrón

    I’ve been absolutely over the moon all day today, and here’s why:

    On 1 November copy-edit got back to me with the following message:


    I really think you’ve nailed this. Thanks so much for your hard work on it – I really think it has paid off.


    They also asked me to have a quick look at their changes, which I did overnight, getting back to them with…

    25th October 2017 Saludos

    Hi all

    Just thought I’d drop you a line on the latest:

    As you know I received the copy-editor’s edited manuscript on Sat 14 October. On my part it was nine days of full-on, late night line-by-line review and further editing before I could send it back on Monday afternoon (i.e. the day before yesterday) at what was roughly 2pm UK time.

    Today I received the following message back:

    14th October 2017 The Sharp End


    Hi all

    Just dropping you a quick line to let you know that I received an email from the copy-editor this morning.

    It starts off like this:


    The first thing to say is the most important: I really enjoyed this. I love a good historic adventure, and this delivers it. Your research is hugely impressive, but you have managed to wear it lightly and, as a by-product of the action…

    3rd October 2017 Patron Profiles - Scott Cross

    With the novel in its last stages of editorial development, I thought I’d introduce another patron who gave me a hand with this project through his extensive knowledge of 16th C Irish history.

    I first came in contact with Scott Cross after joining the 16th Century Military History (1499-1604) Facebook group in December of 2013. It’s one of countless special interest groups that are sweeping…

    18th September 2017 PHASE 3



    Hi all

    Caught up with my old mate today, that most shadowy and peripheral of figures who calls himself 'Slum Lord'. We were lunching away at our favourite wayside inn, when he asked me a question that I've also heard from a few others of late:

    'So where's the novel at mate?'

    Slum Lord is, after all, also a generous patron. He was happy to hear the latest, and I then wondered…



    Pardiez! Look what I found! 

    Been in a daze for a week and a half, and just reopened the laptop to send my brother-in-law a nightly birthday message. Only to find a reply from Unbound's Structural Editor!

    In summary:

    Dear James

    Well done. This is just great. Bravo.

    I'm so impressed with what you've done here. You've really put your back into it.

    I can see you've taken on…

    29th August 2017 UN ANUNCIO

    Dear tercio del patrón,

    I've not forgotten your steadfast support and valour in the face of slim and terrifying odds, and I have long since been working late nights to ensure that this tercio's faith is repaid in full!

    In case any of you missed it, I just thought I'd let you know that I sent the revised manuscript back to Unbound's structural editor for review last Sunday, at circa 11pm AEST…

    11th August 2017 BROKEN SILENCE


    Hi guys, thought I’d write you all a little update

    I've been a bit under the pump during the last month, practically living under a rock like a hermit all over again. I can’t believe that as of 2am tomorrow AEST, there’s just one week left to the close of the three month crowdfunding / presales window!

    As you may recall, the crowdfund target of £4000 was achieved in just 5.5 days, thanks…

    29th June 2017 Birthday Editorial Update

    Structural report finally received from Unbound Editorial Desk on my birthday (in AEST time)!

    Starts off as follows:

    The setting is brilliant. I am a real fan of historical action adventure as a genre, and I have written some myself for the screen. I think that the Armada and the shipwreck and Sevilla before are all brilliant - perfect for this kind of story. So, I absolutely applaud your…

    19th June 2017 Wolf Country



    A certain Sunday in May found me plonked on the couch in my living room. I decided to check out my novel trailer again on my smartphone, smiling at the bit towards the end where the howling of wolves can be heard. I was still grinning foolishly at the YouTube screen when a familiar voice piped up.

    ‘Are there definitely wolves in Ireland?’

    I turned to stare at my Dublin-born wife in…

    11th June 2017 PHASE 2

    Breaking: the revised manuscript (MS) has just been sent to Unbound’s editorial team!

    With the crowdfund achieved so swiftly, we now enter Phase 2, or what I have half-jokingly, half-fearfully referred to in recent days as: Literary Boot-Camp!

    I had a chat about my aims and hopes with the assigned UK-based structural editor last week, in which he requested that I also forward him a brief synopsis…

    30th May 2017 BLINK & 109%

    Presales still coming through, slowly gathering for the next push of pike! Heartfelt thanks to all generous patrons now including the wonderful Steph Demarco, Daniel Bianchi, Nicky Bianchi, Jan Muscat, Kathrina Farrugia-Kriel, Chris Mifsud, Ricardo Vasquez, Peter Saliba, Lorraine Farrugia, Robert Day, Paul Croci and John Zappia!

    Thanks so much guys, can't wait for you all to get your special edition…

    25th May 2017 Patron Profiles - Sabin Gnawali


    With the crowdfunding target achieved so quickly, I thought I'd introduce a few of the patrons backing ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’, who are personally known to me and who gave me a special hand with this project.

    First cab off the rank is the Nepalese film director and producer Sabin Gnawali. An ambitious fellow currently living in Sydney, Sabin is the son of a Nepalese cop who grew up watching…


    Another whirlwind day in a campaign that nearly gave me a heart attack! 

    100% in 5.5 days. I can't believe it. Actually make that 103%! My head is still spinning, and that's not only from the champers I smashed after work with a few wonderful friends and patrons who also work in the Sydney CBD:

    Truly the best thing about writing is the people you meet, as well as the interactions and adventures…

    23rd May 2017 DAY 5: HOME STRAIGHT!

    NINETY-FOUR% !!!

    A single hour from the end of day 5 and the odds against us have been slashed! A crucial day in the campaign in which the jaw-droppingly generous patronage simply rocketed ahead - we're on the home straight now folks!

    Can't really do more to communicate the incredible events of the day than to share the screenshots reflecting today's progress:




    22nd May 2017 ! LAST CALL FOR PATRONS !

    Hi all really don't mean to be pushy but erm...well...we are already at 80% of presales secured so don't say I didn't warn you! :o

    Thanks so much Barbara Azzopardi & dear Aunty Doris - it just had to be you to issue the bugle blast through cousin Peter! :) xxx

    Many thanks again to all patrons!!!


    21st May 2017 END OF DAY 4

    Hi folks

    We're almost at an hour from the end of Day 4, and are at 74%! Just can't believe it!

    If someone told me last week that we'd have raised three quarters of the $ by the end of the fourth day of the crowdfunding campaign, I'd have laughed in their face! After all, it was only on Wednesday that I was joking with my dear friend Maty at work: 'I hope that at least my mom buys a copy'

    20th May 2017 Unbound & Flying!


    Well, what a last couple of days it's been!

    In ten years of writing I’ve been nowhere near these highs. ‘The Sheriff’s Catch’ is still trending at number 1 on leading UK crowdfunding publisher Unbound’s platform, across all categories which include 375 (published and unpublished) projects.

    White hot stuff.

    The patronage to date has been quite simply unbelievable. We went live on Unbound…

    19th May 2017 The Sheriff's Catch - End of Day 2


    Hi all

    Just thought I'd take a break from all the non-stop social media jazz to drop you all a line.

    We are now 20 mins away from the end of day 2 since launch and the last couple of days have been...well...a bit silly! I keep telling myself to keep my feet on the ground but trending hard at no. 1 on the leading UK crowdfund platform is quite nuts! Not to mention that we are now well beyond…

    19th May 2017 #1 & THE ONE HUNDRED


    Hi all

    We're 6 hours from the first 48 hours since launch and I've just got to share that not only are we well on our way past the halfway mark, but that we are now up to ONE HUNDRED PATRONS!

    But wait, that's not all!

    We are still trending at NUMBER ONE across ALL categories on UNBOUND! 





    18th May 2017 GOODNIGHT & GRATITUDE

    Two minutes to midnight and I'm absolutely shattered after late nights spent preparing everything for the launch of the presales campaign of The Sheriff's Catch. We're just two hours short of the first full 24 hours of this campaign and I cannot believe that we are already up to 46% of the crowdfund target! 

    I mean I knew that all of my Maltese, Australian, Kiwi, British etc mates were a quietly…

    18th May 2017 JOIN THE THUNDER!

    Hello everybody, URGENTLY NEED A HAND!

    Would appreciate you taking a second to promote my novel by simply clicking on the below link and then hitting your preferred social media button!

    Only need 54 more clicks to be able to unleash a veritable LIGHTNING BOLT across our vast social media skylines!


    PS and if you can share the…

    18th May 2017 TWELVE HOURS IN

    Posted on my social media 6 hours ago today:

    Hello all it's a bit past 2pm here in Sydney, 12 hours / literally a half day since launch and already THE SHERIFF'S CATCH has flown out of the blocks sprinting to a THIRD (gulp!) of the required funding to make this dream a reality!

    Here I am lunching with generous supporter David Spiteri, now also a patron whose name will be forever inscribed…

  • These people are helping to fund The Sheriff's Catch.

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