“What I want is to find the spark, to dig down into their pain, their passions and their imperfections, and show you our heroes as they truly are. “
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.
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.
I read a lot of books and hear the words ‘unique reading experience’ all too often, but this really is just that. A great premise that makes a series of short stories about celebrities, an intriguing psychological puzzle. The author withholds their identities, taking us back to a time before they were famous, potentially giving us insights into who they were and even what made them become the stars we know and love. A lot of fun can be had sharing them with friends and working out who can identify which star first, or discussing which story you enjoyed most.
However, this collection of short stories is much more than a gimmick or party game. Simon Van der Velde is a great writer with an uncanny ability to get inside the mind of each of his subjects. He constructs their ‘selves’ beautifully, giving us fully rounded people behind the star status. He has a keen understanding of what it means to be human and how events may affect someone psychologically. In one story he shows how childhood bullying leads our character to a particular friendship, perhaps also the insight into human emotions that eventually make his song lyrics so poetic and beloved.
What the author does is almost filmic, in the same vein as the film Rocket Man, where the Elton John we know in the extravagant costumes strolls into a group therapy session. Then as he reminisces to the group we see a series of flashbacks, to the drink and drug fuelled 1970s. He takes us even further back to a lonely childhood with a mother preoccupied with how things look, and a severe father who can’t show love. Each time we return to the therapy group a little bit of his costume has fallen away, until at the end the costume is gone and he’s able to reconnect with that hurt little boy and give him comfort. It’s a beautiful way of framing an biopic and it’s exactly what the author does here. He creates those flashback moments or snapshots for each of his characters, so that we can piece together their ‘true’ personality, possible motivations and know them in a way we haven’t before. It’s almost like inhabiting another person and that’s how versatile the author is here. He’s a literary shapeshifter, jumping into each new incarnation with skill and insight. There’s something voyeuristic about looking this far into someone’s psyche, but it’s compelling and illuminating too.
I know these stories will send many readers to the internet to check how close to the truth some of the stories are and that’s definitely the fun part. However, it’s great to sit back and read the stories again to fully appreciate the brilliant sense of place and time across the collection. These people are fully grounded in a real world that I believed in. Despite these worlds being on different continents, time periods and encompassing varied family backgrounds, they all felt like real spaces. With each story being self-contained, this is a great collection to carry with you and read on the go. Each story might only take twenty minutes to read, but that’s perfect for spending your lunch hour or commute home totally immersed in someone else’s life experience. Its a chance to examine what made each person, become the household name they are. This collection is fun and intriguing, but also psychologically astute and a masterclass in how to construct a ‘self’ within fiction.
Published by Smoke and Mirrors Press, 25th March 2021
The Author’s Vision.
MY BACKSTORIES QUEST
“Whatever happened to, all of the heroes?” The Stranglers 1977
I was twelve years old when I first heard this song and although there was something in the feral tone that grabbed me, I didn’t really understand it. I do now. I get the angst and the loss and the emptiness, which is why, in Backstories, I aim to answer the question.
I’m not interested in simplistic tabloid truths. They clung on too long, drank too much, lost their looks and their charm and generally reminded us that we’re all getting older. That’s not what I want from my heroes.
What I want is to find the spark, to dig down into their pain, their passions and their imperfections, and show you our heroes as they truly are.
So join me on my quest. Let’s bypass the obvious, the tedious,and the dull. Brave the deeper, darker paths where the treasures can be found, and together we’ll uncover the fears and doubts that made our heroes what they were and perhaps catch a glimpse of ourselves along the way.
Whatever happened to all of the heroes?
They turned out to be human beings, in all their diverse glory.
Simon Van der Velde January, 2021
Meet The Author.
Simon Van der Velde has worked variously as a barman, laborer, teacher, caterer and lawyer, as well as traveling throughout Europe and South America collecting characters 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 Prize, and The Harry Bowling Prize – establishing him as one of the UK’s foremost short-story writers.
Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, with his wife, labradoodle and two tyrannical children.