About the book:
Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty or their talent or their unmitigated evil, yet 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 who’s mind you’ve been inhabiting for the last twenty minutes.
I don’t normally gravitate towards short stories but I found this concept so intriguing that I could not resist reading the book when I was given the opportunity to do so. The concept is a series of unconnected backstories relating to famous and infamous people. Each individual story concentrates on a situation before that person became famous.
I found the stories extremely compelling because you have no idea who each story is about. It was a complete mystery (or should I say a series of complete mysteries?). Some I found more difficult than others. It was so challenging for me because with some I had an idea of who it was within the first few paragraphs, others had me guessing until the last paragraph, and a couple had me pondering for a while afterwards. The most exciting part is that with each story, cleverly woven by Simon Van der Velde, he makes no explicit declaration of who the person is, so if you can’t guess who it is, you’ll never know!
I’ve always been a mine of useless information so this really ticked my boxes and I found it so much fun to read. I would guess that younger people might find this harder if they do not get the cultural references that identify each person, although I’m sure googling may help! As a baby of the late 1960s I easily identified with the context of stories of people I was aware of, and also some of the people from further back. I think my daughter who is 27 would have certainly been able to work out a few of them, but may possibly have struggled to guess them all.
I found the whole experience of reading Backstories to be thought-provoking and I believe there is a second book due later this year. Backstories was a fantastic debut for Simon Van der Velde, and I am really looking forward to reading more of his work. I may still be on the fence a little with regards to short stories, but Backstories is so much more than a collection of short stories, and this collection works perfectly for me.
Backstories was published yesterday 25th March 2021 by Smoke and Mirrors Press. Many thanks to Simon for my proof copy of the book, in exchange of which I have written an honest review.
About the author:
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.