When Simon Van der Velde got in touch about his new collection Backstories I was so intrigued that I broke my self imposed rule NOT to take any further books for review and accepted a copy, not least because 30% of all profits from the sale of Backstories will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth. My thanks to Simon for providing a copy of Backstories in return for an honest review. I’m delighted to share that review today.
Backstories is published by Smoke & Mirrors Press on 25th March 2021 and is available for purchase here.
Dreamers, singers, talkers and killers; they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, but inside themselves they are as frail and desperate as the rest of us. But can you see them? Can you unravel the truth? These are people you know, but not as you know them. Peel back the mask and see.
Backstories is a unique collection of stories each told from the point of view of a famous (or notorious) person at a pivotal moment in their lives. The writing is literary but accessible and the voices vividly real. The settings are mostly 60 ‘s and 70 ‘s UK and USA, and the driving themes are inclusion, social justice and of course, nostalgia – but the real key to these stories is that the protagonists ‘ identities are withheld. This means that your job is to find them, leading to that Eureka moment when you realise whose mind you’ve been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.
My Review of Backstories
A collection of fourteen short stories.
Backstories is a little cracker of a book. It is a quirky and fascinating concept which, as the title obviously implies, provides the possible back stories of well known people. One of the joys of Simon Van der Velde’s writing for the reader is building the picture from the layered information and clues to try to work out exactly who he’s writing about before any reveal.
I can’t say too much about the characters as I don’t want to spoil the intrinsic enjoyment of Backstories by revealing who is between its covers, but there are, amongst others, musicians and murderers, political activists and artists, whose tales illustrate the depth of research Simon Van der Velde must have gone to in order to tell their back stories with his compelling blend of fact and fiction. Small, intimate details really bring them alive. I thought Backstories was a work of genius.
That said, every story here is a small jewel in its own right and can be enjoyed and appreciated individually because of the gorgeous quality of the writing in Backstories. With both first and third person perspectives there is variety of voice that is so compelling. It wouldn’t matter whether the reader had full knowledge of the person behind each story to bring to their reading, or whether they had no idea at all because every story is a work of art that can be appreciated as a stand alone narrative.
In Backstories, Simon Van der Velde doesn’t shy away from racism, violence, bullying and all manner of social elements that make the characters in these stories come alive on the page. But there’s a tenderness behind them that helps uncover human frailty, and makes the reader understand why a mass murderer might turn to such brutality for example. Through Simon Van der Velde’s surprising moral compass the reader considers the homeless, the abused, the downtrodden and those on the edge of society because of their background, sexuality, race or experiences. I found this element very moving and affecting.
Backstories is a slim volume that belies its interest and depth. It genuinely packs a punch – literally in some of the stories. Written in an elegant and frequently raw style, it thrums with life and meaning. Well crafted, accessible and entertaining, I thought Backstories really was fabulous.
About Simon Van der Velde
Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, labourer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as travelling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters and insights for his award-winning stories. Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) in 2010, Simon’s work has won and been shortlisted for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Shortstory Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.
Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, Nicola, their labradoodle, Barney and two tyrannical children.