September 3

Joff Sharpe – Reciclador Q&A

Reciclador

Today I am delighted to welcome Joff Sharpe to Grab This Book. Joff’s book Reciclador will stand out as one of the most memorable titles I have read this year and I am thrilled that Joff has taken time to answer a few of my questions.

 

The first question I had when I sat down to read your book was: who or what is Reciclador?

He is a scavenger; a person who rides around on top of a donkey cart collecting other people’s garbage which he can sell to recycling companies for a few pesos. He plays a small but very important role in the book because he symbolises the possibility of redemption.

The two central characters in Reciclador are Yessica and Marcus. Yessica is an open book and we learn so much of her background yet Marcus is a walking mystery. If pressed would you say this is Yessica’s story or would you put Marcus at the heart of the tale?  

Sorry to duck the question but actually I think it’s the story of their relationship and the question of whether it will survive the storm and how much collateral damage it will inflict on other key members of the family.

Why did you elect to write a book set in Columbia? Does the social dynamic of Columbians give greater flexibility than other countries?

Columbia is a country of extremes. It’s beautiful, bountiful, maybe even a little mystical but also struggling through a post-Pablo Escobar social and economic renaissance. In many ways the story of Reciclador is an analogy for the struggles that are going on in Colombia at the moment.

Are there any elements of Reciclador which were influenced by actual events?

Absolutely; the character of Marcus is inspired by a larger-than-life German ‘rogue financier’ called Florian Homm. I researched him when writing an article for Newsweek entitled ‘Are the real Wolves of Wall Street dead?’ Actually, many of the craziest ingredients in the book like ‘The Young Womens’ Talent Competition’ are also based on true events. Of course the general background music of narco-terrorism, police brutality and kidnap is also real.

One of the elements of the book I found most shocking was the seeming disregard for human life that several of the characters seemed to hold. I need to avoid spoilers, however, violent death almost seemed to be accepted as part of life in Columbia. Is this typical of how some areas of Columbia (and possibly elsewhere) live their lives?

Search YouTube stories for Medellin and it’s not long before you’re coming across young men talking openly to camera about how many people they’ve killed. The situation has improved dramatically since the late 1990s but it is estimated that some 5,000 inhabitants last year were displaced through threats, violence and forcible gang recruitment. The situation is fragile.

Elsewhere in Central America, including Mexico, drugs and the associated violence have made some metropolitan areas almost ungovernable. Kidnap, torture and beheadings are the hallmarks of many narco-gangs and citizen vigilante groups are now springing up in response. Police murder squads have existed in various South American countries for years. 

You have written about Financial Fugitives for Newsweek, Huffington Post and The South China Morning Post. I am fascinated by the concept that successful people can essentially ‘cut and run’ and evade authorities. How frequent/common is it for someone to abscond and leave behind millions of pounds in debts and failed investments?  Would it be typical for the companies involved to try to repair the damage without alerting their clients? 

Small-scale fraud is common-place and is often ruinous to the families of “clients”. The more shocking examples are where public figures have behaved outrageously and with impunity under the noses of financial authorities. Alan Stanford and Bernie Madoff would be classic examples. Damage-repair is a more complex issue and it depends on the magnitude of the fraud relative to the size of the company. For example, Nick Leeson is credited with single-handedly destroying ING Barings bank with his unauthorised trading activities.

Reciclador is your debut novel, however, you have published a non-fiction title: ‘Who Dares Wins in Business.’  How does writing fiction compare to writing a business title? Does one come more naturally to you?

Writing fiction is essentially good fun, tempered only by the fact that you want your book to be commercial enough to attract a decent readership. ‘Who Dares Wins in Business’ was an usually hard book to write because it combined business writing with military history and analysis. I benefited from the advice and support of a professional journalist Teena Lyons who made sure that the whole thing hung together coherently. The book has sold modestly but spawned lucrative motivation-style speaking engagements.

I have to ask about your CV – SAS Special Forces Officer to Executive in a multi-billion pound real estate investment company (via Borneo headhunters, Rupert Murdoch and Piers Morgan). Can you pick out some stand-out moments from such a diverse career? 

Standing on the decking of a submarine, as a twenty-eight year old SAS officer, and being asked; “Where to, Sir?” by the Captain has to be up there. Fast forward a few years and I rumbled into historic Prague, newly liberated from communism, in a transit van encased in a giant fibre-glass tabby cat, in an attempt to flog cat food to an incredulous Czechoslovak nation.  Surely careers are made of such moments?

With such a vast range of experiences behind you what do you do to relax and unwind?

Mainly watching my kids pursue their own multiple sports and hobbies. I have also recently acquired a gigantic dog that takes me for walks. On holiday I SCUBA-dive.

Which authors do you enjoy reading or who would you cite as an influence?

It won’t surprise you that I love Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Peruvian Mario Vagas Llosa  and our own (British) Colombian trilogist Louis de Bernieres. I probably read too much of this stuff and need to read more pulp to keep my writing grounded.

Are you planning to write more fiction in the future or have you set yourself a different challenge?

If people like my fiction writing they will get more. The opposite is also true.

 

Joff, I can honestly say that Reciclador stands out amongst the books I have read this year, it is quite different from the domestic thrillers I normally pick up and I loved every minute of it. Thank you for taking time to answer my questions, it is very much appreciated.

 

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September 3

Reciclador – Joff Sharpe

RecicladorMedical school drop-out Yessica Sanchez opens a restaurant in her home town of Medellin, the most dangerous city in the world. She falls in love with a Swiss backpacker and together they enjoy a simple, idyllic lifestyle. But the traveller, Marcus Hamm, carries a dark secret and when a man is killed outside the restaurant it triggers a series of events that threaten their lives and will test their relationship to its limits.

Soon other interested parties like the CIA, mercenaries and Colombian police are competing to secure the huge financial prize that they believe to be at stake. Only Yessica’s father, an unassuming but cunning professor of anthropology, can save his family from a terrible fate. He’ll stop at nothing to do so.

The backdrop to the story includes some of the more colorful aspects of Medellin, such as its spectacular festival of flowers and Young Women’s Talent Competition, and a host of interesting characters from every part of Colombian society.

 

My thanks to Emma at Busy Bee for my review copy.

 

One of the reasons I started to blog was that I wanted to make readers aware of books that I had read which I thought other people would also enjoy. I also set myself a personal challenge of reading new authors and also books which are suitably different from my normal go-to titles. This brings me nicely to Reciclador by Joff Sharpe – a debut novel set in Columbia’s roughest suburbs.  Did I enjoy it and do I want lots of people to read it?  Damn right!

The problem that I am going to have in explaining why you should read Reciclador is that if I enthuse about what I loved about the story then I need to include spoilers and spoilers are banned on these pages.

Reciclador tells the story of Marcus and Yessica. They run a restaurant in Medellin, Columbia (the most dangerous city in the world).  Life seems simple for the couple and the restaurant is doing well but readers soon learn that Marcus cuts a somewhat mysterious figure. Yessica, however, is much more open and is invited, as a successful local businesswoman, to help the younger women of Medellin to show their skills and talents through a Young Women’s Talent Competition.  In a city where drawing attention to your successes can be a dangerous idea Yessica soon finds her restaurant is receiving some unwanted attention.

Although Yessica and Marcus are the main characters in Reciclador we also get to spend time with a variety of characters from very different social backgrounds. Corrupt policemen, savvy politicians, street kids scrapping for status and their peers who are looking to lift themselves out of their impoverished existence. Reciclador was an eye-opening read and although it is a work of fiction the story is grounded in fact which makes some of the events so much more disconcerting. I urge you to read my chat with author Joff Sharpe where he discusses how much of the story was influenced by actual events. Full interview can be found here: http://grabthisbook.net/?p=983

If you are looking for a gripping thriller which offers something a little different from the norm then Reciclador should be right up at the top of your list. The dynamics of Columbian society essentially mean that anything goes, everyone has a price, nobody is above intimidation and violence is commonplace. Drop in two people trying to live a quiet life (who find themselves with a dead body on their property) and you know that things are going to go wrong fairly quickly.

When I consider the titles I have covered on my blog I cannot think of any book which is comparable to Reciclador. A fresh reading experience which I devoured – a book I wanted to read in one sitting yet a book I did not want to end. I hope that Joff Sharpe decides to return to Medellin as this is a city which offers so much potential for more thrilling tales. 5 star thrills – loved this!

 

Reciclador is the debut novel from author Joff Sharpe, who has written about financial fugitives for Newsweek, Huffington Post and Hong Kong’s largest circulation English-speaking newspaper, The South China Morning Post.

He has previously published a non-fiction book ‘Who Dares Wins in Business’ which combined wisdom from his early career as an SAS Special Forces officer and his role today as an executive in a £17 billion real estate investment company.

Other entries on Joff’s CV include: a year living amongst the Iban headhunters of Borneo, running an internet company for Rupert Murdoch and being Piers Morgan’s HR director.

 

Reciclador is available now through Amazon in paperback and digital format: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Reciclador-Recycler-Mr-Joff-Sharpe/dp/1512269387/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1441233935&sr=1-1&keywords=reciclador

 

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September 1

Setting – Melissa Bailey: Beyond The Sea

The #BookConnectors Round The World blog tour has commenced its long journey in my native land of Scotland. If you have never had the opportunity to experience the remote and haunting beauty of Scotland’s West coast and the Western Isles then Beyond The Sea by today’s guest, Melissa Bailey, should immediately be added to your shopping list.

Melissa has kindly taken some time to share some of her memories on the places and events which inspired Beyond The Sea. The pictures are also Melissa’s and beautifully compliment her writing (while also allowing us the chance to show off some of Scotland’s beauty on this Round The World blog tour).

 

I have been asked a lot about the setting of Beyond the Sea, and why I chose the Hebrides as the landscape in which the action of the novel plays out.

View from The Old Man of Storr (Skye)
View from The Old Man of Storr (Skye)

While the book emerged from a single image of a woman, her hair turned white in grief, standing alone by the sea, a lighthouse in the near distance behind her, I think I probably knew even then, way back in the beginning when I didn’t know much else, that the woman was standing on a beach in the Inner Hebrides. It is a part of the world that I love and have been visiting for many years: Mull, Iona, Skye and the small islands, the stunningly isolated Rum, Canna, Muck and Eigg. I’m drawn to its raw beauty, its wildness, the fact that the weather can change in an instant, sunshine becoming rain becoming sleet. It is brutal, elemental, timeless – craggy mountain ranges, desolate moorlands, restless ever shifting seas.

And yet, I feel there is also something redemptive, magical almost about this landscape. The sea takes away, and yet it also gives back. It is an endless, eternal pattern. The sea is often death, but it is also life. So the remote fringes of the British Isles, the untamed edges of civilisation, seemed a very natural and fitting backdrop for a woman touched by devastating loss, her emotions as turbulent and fast changing as the winds or the tides, but perhaps moving slowly towards redemption.

The Sound of Mull
The Sound of Mull

So a story began to evolve. The woman became Freya, whose husband and son vanish at sea the year before the novel begins. She returns to the lighthouse keeper’s cottage they once called home, seeking solace, trying to lay to rest the dreams that haunt her sleep. I began to research the Hebrides in more detail, stories of storms and shipwrecks, tales of mythical islands and mermaids. I read, amongst a great deal of other things, Martin Martin’s ‘A description of the Western Islands of Scotland circa 1695’, which documented not only the geography of the islands but the ancient rituals and practices of the islanders. For example, they would sometimes take a turn, east to west, to ward off evil spirits after disembarking from a boat; they would drink from ‘magical’ wells. They accorded reverence to those with ‘second sight’ who often predicted through visions or dreams things which later came to pass. As with many isolated communities, the supernatural was accepted as present in the everyday – and I wanted it to fit just as naturally into my novel.

Sometime later, I found myself on a ferry leaving Oban (in mainland Scotland) for Mull. The day was cold and overcast as I stood on deck, looking down at the churning sea. As the ferry advanced up the Sound of Mull and we passed Duart Castle in the south east corner of the island, I remembered from my research that the Swan, a Cromwellian warship, had sunk at this exact spot on 13 September 1653 – almost 360 years ago to the day. I began to think about sailors and letters in bottles and the historical thread of the novel began to emerge. This journey, made in 2013, is the same one taken by Freya in Chapter 1 of the novel.

Duart Castle, Mull
Duart Castle, Mull

I travelled all over Mull that autumn, circling the whole island on its single track roads. I drove along the A849, from Craignure to Fionnphort (the same route that Freya also takes), following the meandering of the Lussa river, past the towering grandeur of Ben More and the beautiful desolation of the Glen at its feet. I passed the three lochs, emerging into the lowlands around Loch Scridain, and watched the sunshine turn its seawater brilliant blue. When I reached the western shore, I looked over to Iona, just a stone’s throw away, the Abbey clearly visible until the mist rolled in later that day.

Dubh Artach
Dubh Artach

I drove to Knockvologan on the south of the island, waited until low tide, and then crossed the exposed white sand beaches of the tidal island of Erraid (the setting for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped). I trekked past the now abandoned lighthouse keepers’ cottages and tried to imagine what it would be like to live on a tiny island like this, isolation complete when the sea rolled back in. Out in the vastness of the ocean, I caught sight of the shadowy lighthouse, Dubh Artach, floating on the horizon, somewhere between land and sea, a mirage perhaps.

Dubh Artach was built 15 miles south west of Mull upon a black rock that sits just above sea level. Perched at the end of an Atlantic submarine valley, it encounters ferocious sea conditions including waves of up to 30m in height. Many have told of the harsh realities of tending the light. Billy Frazer, one of Dubh Artach’s old keepers, recounted the everyday challenges of life at the lighthouse and his face to face encounter with what he called ‘the big wave’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00dszc3) But his story was not unusual – there are countless other tales from keepers in the Hebrides of danger and disappearance, depression and madness.

Ben More
Ben More

So the lighthouse was also crucial in establishing the mood of the novel. While it is a symbol of sanctuary, of hope, of light in the darkness, it is simultaneously the quintessential symbol of isolation and loneliness – loneliness that can prey upon an already precarious sanity. It seemed to be a wholly appropriate place for Freya to live – a very visual image of her emotional state.

 

 

After I returned from Mull that autumn, the novel really started to take shape. Myth and fairy tale fed into history, fact fed into fiction. Beyond the Sea is Freya’s story, but it is also the story of the Hebrides, the lighthouse and the sea – all characters in their own right.

 

Beyond The Sea is published by Arrow and is available in paperback and digital format.
You can order the book through Amazon here:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0099584956?keywords=beyond%20the%20sea%20melissa%20bailey&qid=1440970840&ref_=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1&s=books&sr=1-1

Also available from Waterstones here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/beyond-the-sea/melissa-bailey/9780099584957

 

 

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September 1

Beyond The Sea – Melissa Bailey

Beyond The SeaOne summer’s day, Freya’s husband and son vanish at sea.

A year on, and struggling to cope, Freya returns to the lighthouse-keeper’s cottage on a remote Hebridean island, where she and her family spent so many happy times.

Haunted by visions of her old life, Freya’s dreams are dark and disturbed. And when a stranger, Daniel, is washed ashore during a storm, they turn even more menacing.

As dream and reality start to merge, Daniel seems to be following Freya’s every move. What does he want from her and is he everything he seems to be?

Is her mind playing tricks? Or is the danger that she senses very real?

 

Beyond The Sea is a tale of loss set in one of the remotest outreaches of the wilds of Scotland. It will transport the reader to a beautiful wilderness where lead character, Freya, is on a personal journey to rebuild her life after the loss of her husband and son 12 months earlier.

Freya’s family were lost at sea off the Hebridean coast, she has not returned to the family home since her husband’s boat failed to return from a trip out on the ocean. We are quickly made aware that Freya has not coped well with her grief and has relied heavily upon her sister in the intervening months. Now, one year on, she is facing the ghosts of her past and coming home.

‘Home’ is amongst the remote Hebridean Islands off the Scottish coast. Melissa Bailey portrays the beautiful isolation and the closeness of the island communities wonderfully. It is impossible not to feel for Freya as she ventures back into the life she once embraced and see how friends respond to her return.

But there is a depth to Beyond The Sea which brings through the sense of history and location. Stories within stories – there are tales of the sea, legends of the area, history of lighthouses and the letters of a sailor which have been recovered after over 400 years and are interspersed through the book. I loved the myths and legends that Melissa Bailey has interwoven into Freya’s story and, despite my desire to find out what was happening to Freya, I also wanted more of the folklore – an extra treat as I read.

I am always keen to ensure I avoid spoilers so I cannot share too much about how Beyond The Sea plays out. Suffice to say I found the story captivating, tragic and fascinating – an enriching read and one that I highly recommend.

 

Beyond The Sea is published by Arrow and is available in paperback and digital format.
You can order the book through Amazon here:  http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0099584956?keywords=beyond%20the%20sea%20melissa%20bailey&qid=1440970840&ref_=sr_1_1_twi_pap_1&s=books&sr=1-1

Also available from Waterstones here: https://www.waterstones.com/book/beyond-the-sea/melissa-bailey/9780099584957

 

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