The author who is a story himself

With his eclectic résumé, the well-traveled A.J. Roberts of Cedarburg might be colorful enough to be a character in his own novels

A.J. Roberts of Cedarburg enjoys spending time in downtown Port Washington, finding inspiration for his writing. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

Life experience has given Andrew Roberts of Cedarburg enough material to write a book.

Three, actually, and a planned spinoff.

While the about the author section is enough to pique interest, a deeper dive makes for a compelling story itself, including high finance and spending time in wearing bulletproof vests crossing boarders in Middle East war zones.

Roberts is from Wales and attended a boarding school in Aska, just outside of London.

He grew up torn between seeking a career in politics or banking.

His stepfather was the press secretary for Margaret Thatcher and his uncle was the first lawyer in London to learn Arabic back in the 1970s and ended up being a negotiator in the 1988 bombing of a plane near Lockerbie, Scotland.

Roberts got into politics and had worked on campaigns before graduating high school. He once did an internship with incoming Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

He ended up getting a degree in international politics and intelligence from Aberystwyth University in Wales, which is known for its political program.

Roberts has since worked as a chef, helping dysfunctional children, speech writing and did research and analysis for England’s Joint Intelligence Committee. He has had to sign the United Kingdom’s Official Secrets Acts several times.

He became a stock broker in western England before marrying and moving to London. He cut his teeth during the worst economic disaster in recent memory.

Roberts was in charge of international trades, and during the crash about a decade ago his company had open trades with Lehman Brothers, which was soon to go bankrupt.

He was the one who took the call that said trades could be undone. He instantly called the boss, who had to give approval for all trades. The boss called back five minutes after the market closed. The company had to eat the costs.

“I got promoted and a raise. He went to a different bank,” Roberts said.

Working in the derivatives market, he said, “was such a rush” and “definitely a young man’s game.”

His wife wanted to be closer to family, and they eventually moved to Chicago. Roberts worked for Merrill Lynch in Chicago and noticed the differences between how the hemispheres do business.

On his first day at lunch, he proceeded to order a wine while his colleagues had soda.

In 2012, the family moved to Cedarburg, wanting their son Jack to grow up with a backyard and not a balcony.

Roberts worked for ATI for three years, rising from the assembly line to managing the quality department.

That job led him to his next one, a role he never knew existed.

In 2015 at a dinner party in Abu Dhabi, Roberts got to talking to someone who offered a unique role. He essentially was to be a middle man, handling paperwork, research and getting signatures and opening dialogue, mostly on behalf of companies in the United Arab Emirates.

That took him to countries such as Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Turkey, Libya and Saudi Arabia - where other employees didn’t want to go.

Roberts, who already finished one draft of his first book before he set foot in the Middle East, knew the job would offer good material and be an adventure.

He had connections through his uncle and made many more along the way, which made travel across boarders much easier.

Flying into Syria wasn’t allowed due to sanctions, so he had to fly into a neighboring country and drive in.

Roberts wore jeans, good walking shoes, a baseball cap and a bulletproof vest. He traveled in a humble car, a Mazda 3, and the same driver each time since he liked him. He used a large security detail that couldn’t be easily bought off.

A trip from Beirut to Damascas, the capitol of Syria, could take anywhere from four to nine hours, depending on the mood of the boarder guards. Sometimes, he and his vehicle was searched extensively. Other times, nobody was at the crossing.

He learned to only give one Syrian pound and one pack of coveted American cigarettes at a time so they don’t begin to expect a second pack and thus raise the bar for everyone else.

Once when driving in from Turkey, the Turks began shelling the border.

At another time while riding through Syria, a Russian jet buzzed by, throwing his car into the next lane. His driver threw his hands on his head.

Although going through a civil war, Syria is actually laid back, he said. Despite trade with other countries cut off, business was still done inside Syria and Roberts had breakfasts of fresh Syrian tomatoes and other food.

He said he knows a little Arabic but, like other languages, has different dialects that can be challenging to pick up.

 Most people who do business speak French or English, both languages he knows.

He found Hezbollah members to be friendly and said he saw Christians, Jews and Muslims all getting along.

Thanks to his uncle’s connections, he had a number to call in case he needed to get out of a country. He also had insurance, but that fell through over a disagreement on the definition of an active war zone.

He was once paid with a 1963 Rolex. He was given the watch, and its box and paperwork were shipped later. He sold it in New York City.

“It’s an amazing way to see the world no one goes to,” he said of his role.

Now, Roberts works for the Cedarburg Fire Department and for Bell Ambulance. He wants to fight wildland fires and is on standby for a call to help in Canada.

His eclectic careers have helped him create a realistic series of fiction. “Pactum,” the first book in the trilogy is already out and available online. The sequel is in the editing process.

The story follows an equity trader who switches from the financial market to intelligence and comes across a moral dilemma of “how far will people go for a profit,” Roberts said.

While the book is fiction, characters are based on Roberts real-life contacts.

“Every location of the book is totally accurate, down to the color of the curtains in the hotel,” he said, adding it could be compared to — but is more accurate than — the British TV series “Night Manager.”

His writing process includes printing out all his work and taping them to a wall. Color-coded Post-It notes, string to track storylines, maps and graphs are all involved.

“It was a 3-D representation of what’s in your head,” he said.

Roberts has also written for the Huffington Post and has a book about World War II, “Cariad,” — a Welsh word meaning “sweetheart” in the motherly sense, set to come out and writes poetry.



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