Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

Can you find the famous person hidden in every story? And once found, can you understand them?


Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde is a wonderful collection of stories that encourages the reader to take a closer look at the lives of people we think we know. Challenging us to see them and their backstories as not just figures in history, but real people.

Within its pages are the backstories of a collection of public figures, all of whom have made their mark on our collective history, for good and bad. None are actually named, leaving the reader to fit the pieces of the puzzle together, as the writer slowly reveals his interpretation of the events that led to that moment in history, for which we know them. Some I recognised, others I didn’t, but that is one of the wonders of this series of stories, you can simply read them as that, or go on to search them out and learn more.

Simon Van Der Velde takes us on a journey that feels like a series of revelations, taking these figures and turning them from the distorted, often one-dimensional caricature created by public scrutiny and political bias, opening them up to us in all their diversity, humanity and sometimes the quiet evil that that drove them to acts that will make you shiver.  

He makes you realise that not all our super heroes wear cloaks and that murderers are often that person living next to you, the one that makes you feel uneasy, though you can’t quite explain why. They had lives that shaped them, that led to either acts of extreme bravery, of quiet, yet life changing decisions which changed society for the better, crossroads in history, that altered the lives of millions. Or acts of such evil, that you are left wondering how humanity can be both good and bad.

The writing is superb, perfectly formed stories that feel complete, not rushed, but rich and complex. The short form narrative is not easy to write, it requires discipline to tell a story in a much tighter format, without leaving the reader feeling robbed of detail or emotion. Simon Van Der Velde has created a series of stories that feel compelling, that take names from history, allowing them to walk out of the past and making us realise that the rich complexity of mankind, is not about the loud shouty people, but those that step out of the shadows and into the light, sometimes just for a moment, but forever changing the world as we see it.

You can purchase this novel from Amazon

About 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.

You can follow the author on Twitter

Catch Your Breath by Ed Patrick

Catch your Breath is a gut punch of a memoir by a doctor – and comedian – whose job is to
keep people alive after putting them to sleep. Ed Patrick is an anaesthetist. Strong drugs for
his patients, strong coffee for him.

But it’s not just sleep-giving for this anaesthetist, as he navigates emergencies, patients not
breathing for themselves and living with a terrifying sense of responsibility. It’s enough to
leave anyone feeling numb especially in the midst of a pandemic.

Hilariously funny, moving and truly insightful, it follows Ed’s journey from bewildered
medical student in Aberdeen to unflinching anaesthetist on the NHS frontline. A dose of
insight into life on the hospital wards during the pandemic, while injecting hope that we will
all get through this.

But don’t worry, there’s plenty of laughing gas to be had.


We have all lived a shared experience in the last two years, but for some, the essential workers, the experience was much more acute, it took all they had and more. For those on the front line, in our hospitals and ambulances, our GP surgeries, we asked of them to walk towards a virus that threatened both their lives and of those they cared about. They faced an emotional and physical threat and did so with little thought other than treating those most in need. Nothing in their training could prepare them for the onslaught of the loss of life, the relentless waves of admissions, lack of governmental support and the terrible knowledge that there was little they could do! Yet through all of this, the abuse from the Covid deniers, the corruption around PPI, they kept going, they found humour in the darkest of moments!

This is what Catch Your Breath a deeply moving and often hilariously funny book is about, not just the authors journey to becoming a anesthetist, but the often harrowing reality of life in our already struggling hospitals even before Covid hit. It’s the experience he shared with his colleagues, the sudden knowledge that their lives were about to change for ever, caring for patients would become much harder, more emotionally and physically draining. Their worlds were about to be caught up in a tsunami that left them scared, traumatized and numb. Yet still they got up and carried on, what other choice did they have and they found humour and a connection with humanity wherever they could. People like Ed Patrick looked to their colleagues for support, they took heart from messages left by those working outside of ICU “Good luck, ICU! Love from the Medical Team!”

Please don’t worry it is not all heartbreak and devastation. Yes it is a memoir that hits you at moments like a hammer blow, yes it will upset you, cause you to reflect, but also it will have you rolling around laughing so hard you will need tissues to wipe away tears of laughter. Catch Your Breath moved me from laughter, to moments of remembrance and gave me a whole new appreciation of what working in a hospital is like. It reminded me that humour is the greatest tonic we have, that at it darkest it is the most healing, the more perverse, the more irrelevant the funnier it can be. Because it pushes away the darkest of thoughts, allows those facing what men and women like Ed Patrick did, to maintain some level of sanity.

I laughed hysterically at the moment he was asked to make a unicorn out of a medical glove to distract a young child before he was anesthetized, wanted to hug him tight when he realized he couldn’t save every patient and found what being an anesthetist involved endlessly fascinating.

That he is a comedian as well as an Anaesthetist shines through in his writing, he brings a lightness of touch to his narrative and as a result Catch Your Breath feels like a perversely gentle read despite some of the subject matter! I found I didn’t want to put it down, even when I felt the remembrance of the early days of the Covid Pandemic coming back, because his warmth and humour made it easier to deal with. His and his colleagues sense of humanity shines through and I can’t recommend this book enough to all of you.

So to all those that railed against nurses doing dance video’s on Tik Tok, for those that blamed medical teams for cancelling surgery, closing clinics, take a step back and take a long deep look into your souls and acknowledge the debt we owe these people.

You can of course buy Catch Your Breath from Waterstones and Amazon. But why not pay your local independent bookshop a visit? Many of them deliver!

About the author

Ed Patrick has performed across the UK, including at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Ed hosts
the “Comedians’ Surgery” podcast where he speaks to guests including Joe Lycett, Rose
Matafeo and Reginald D Hunter about their health stories and experiences.
He also created and presented “Infectious Personalities” with Hat Trick Productions,
broadcast on BBC Radio 2 with guests Charlie Brooker and Sindhu Vee. Ed has written and
performed on BBC Radio 4, for shows such as “Now Wash Your Hands” and “Newsjack”, and
he has also written for the Guardian about the intersection between medicine and comedy.

A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins

‘What is wrong with you?’

Laura has spent most of her life being judged. She’s seen as hot-tempered, troubled, a loner. Some even call her dangerous.

Miriam knows that just because Laura is witnessed leaving the scene of a horrific murder with blood on her clothes, that doesn’t mean she’s a killer. Bitter experience has taught her how easy it is to get caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Carla is reeling from the brutal murder of her nephew. She trusts no one: good people are capable of terrible deeds. But how far will she go to find peace?

Innocent or guilty, everyone is damaged. Some are damaged enough to kill.

Look what you started.


It is not often that I say this, but I was hooked on A Slow Fire Burning by Paula Hawkins from the very first page. The story and writing literally capturing my attention before the first chapter had even started. What Paula Hawkins does is set the tempo of the narrative from the opening moments and I knew instantly that this novel was going to be dark, clever and utterly compelling!

It takes a lot for a novel to stand out from the mass of books published each month, so to be able to say that this new offering by Paula Hawkins is thrilling and worthy of your hard earned money, is a testament to how much I enjoyed it.

I like books of all types, I love thrillers that are fast paced, but my very favorites are those that are intelligent, full of characters that feel like people you might know. Because the seeming normality of the world the story is set in, makes it quietly more terrifying and emotionally more compelling. A Slow Fire Burning is full of damaged individuals and it is a tale that takes their complex lives and weaves a gripping story around them. Their lives, their actions, the events leading to up to the murder are what makes this story so clever, so much so that the actual murder feels incidental to why this disparate group are all the potential killer! She has created characters who each have a reason to be a person of interest and as in one of Agatha Christies best tension filled drama’s, plays with the minds of the readers. Teasing them with clues and wrong turns, until the final reveal, which is deeply emotional, heartbreakingly complex and altogether more effecting that a traditional police led narrative.

As a writer she taps into the complex nature of humanity in all it’s variety and manages to give the reader a reason to care about them all. It is like all great thrillers filled with twists and turns, but it has an emotional depth so many ignore, rather than choosing violence and grim detail over a characters psychological characteristics, she brings their feelings, their background into play, leaving me utterly devastated at the end, yet at the same time heartened by the lengths some people will go to protect the most vulnerable. A Slow Fire Burning is a tale about secrets, lies, heartbreak and the damage done by the cruelty of others. Paula Hawkins delves deep into the way events shape us, drive us forward into lives constructed equally by love as by cruelty and deprivation. That person sat next to you on the bus, walking past you in the street could each be containing within them moments of heartbreak, shaped by one badly chosen action and that is why A Slow Fire Burning is exceptional, it taps into this and creates from it a story that grabbed me and still haunts me still!

You can buy this novel from Amazon and Waterstones, but why not pay a visit to you nearest independent bookshop and show them some bookish love?

About the author

PAULA HAWKINS worked as a journalist for fifteen years before turning her hand to fiction. Born and brought up in Zimbabwe, Paula moved to London in 1989 and has lived there ever since. Her first thriller, The Girl on the Train, has been a global phenomenon, selling 23 million copies worldwide. Published in over forty languages, it has been a No.1 bestseller around the world and was a No.1 box office hit film starring Emily Blunt.

Into the Water, her second stand-alone thriller, has also been a global No.1 bestseller, spending twenty weeks in the Sunday Times hardback fiction Top 10 bestseller list, and six weeks at No.1.

Black Reed Bay by Rod Reynolds #Review

Don’t trust ANYONE…

When a young woman makes a distressing middle-of-the-night call to 911, apparently running for her life in a quiet, exclusive beachside neighbourhood, miles from her home, everything suggests a domestic incident.

Except no one has seen her since, and something doesn’t sit right with the officers at Hampstead County PD. With multiple suspects and witnesses throwing up startling inconsistencies, and interference from the top threatening the integrity of the investigation, lead detective Casey Wray is thrust into an increasingly puzzling case that looks like it’s going to have only one ending…

And then the first body appears…


Having read Blood Red City by the same author back in 2020, I was excited to learn that Orenda Books was publishing another novel by this writer. Blood Red City City showed he had exceptional talent, a way of telling a story that boded well for anything that came next. So I picked up Black Reed Bay filled with a mixture of trepidation and excitement, would it be as good?

Well I’m delighted to report, that it is an absolute corker of a read!

Rod Reynolds is an author who creates tension within Black Reed Bay that builds up from the small moments, into a tsunami of events leaving the reader feeling plummeted and exhausted and boy it feels good. It is a joy to sit down and read a book that leaves you feeling like you have been immersed in events that both terrify you and fascinate at the same time. I was left feeling shocked, entertained and desperate for more. Luckily for me, this is the first in a series, bring it on!

So why did I enjoy it so much?

Rod Reynolds writes like a seasoned pro. He immerses you completely in his tale of murder, treachery and mystery. From the moment you read the first page, to the last, you are gifted a tale of immense quality. He sets the scene like a master, you as if you are there, the sky feels epic, big and foreboding, the community from which the girl goes missing feels claustrophobic, as if behind any of it’s doors a potential murderer lurks. You want him to unlock the doors to each house, but at the same time, you really don’t, the tension so palatable, you feel you can taste it. The world seems to recede as Detective Wray walks the streets of a community that sees no evil, hears no evil, speaks no evil if it threatens their comfortable world, until she forces the truth out into the open. It is unbearable at times, how the writer plays with their motives, your emotions, all the time leaving you teetering on the edge, of what feels like a cliff edge. Did the girl die that night, do the inhabitants know her fate or is she still out there somewhere, terrified, running for her life still?

In Detective Wray he has a fascinating new character who is career minded, intelligent, conflicted, she is in fact a perfectly formed detective. So many writers portray women in such roles, as either closed down and cold, or overly emotional and flighty. Wray is far more balanced, she knows when things feel wrong, she bases her actions on her own gut reactions, just like her male colleagues would. I found myself willing her to not always need to seek advise before she acts, but to just do and Rod Reynolds never let me down. Better still he doesn’t surround her with male colleagues determined to undermine her just because she is a women, because although this happens, often intelligent men and women can work together without ulterior motives and it felt refreshing. This novel is about the evil presence that haunts the community of Hampstead County and her role within it is to solve the mystery around the missing women and she does so, because she has natural empathy and a keen resourceful mind. He creates a story around his characters, makes them integral to the natural flow of the narrative, but never allows each individual personality to overpower the story itself. Here we have a cleverly crafted story, with evil at it’s centre and a exciting new character, who is up to the challenge of bringing it to justice.

I wanted a keen intelligent thriller and that is what Black Reed Bay is!

You can buy this novel directly from the publisher Orenda Books, Waterstones, Amazon and all good independent bookshops.

Many thanks to the publisher and author for the ARC in return for an honest review.

About the author

Rod Reynolds is the author of four novels, including the Charlie Yates series. His 2015 debut, The Dark Inside, was longlisted for the CWA New Blood Dagger, and was followed by Black Night Falling (2016) and Cold Desert Sky (2018); the Guardian have called the books ‘Pitch-perfect American noir.’ A lifelong Londoner, in 2020 Orenda Books published his first novel set in his hometown, Blood Red CityBlack Reed Bay will be published in 2021. Rod previously worked in advertising as a media buyer, and holds an MA in novel writing from City University London. Rod lives with his wife and family and spends most of his time trying to keep up with his two young daughters. Twitter: @Rod_WR email:

My Wonderful Reading Year – August 2021. The Journey Continues.

I am continue to try balancing my reading simply for pleasure, with book reviewing and have found some absolute gems that have patiently sat on my bookshelf waiting to be read.

What follows are the books that I read in August 2021.

One of my first reads for August was The Passing Playbook by Isaac Fitzsimons. This YA novel is about young Transgender boy who is passing, accept no one knows. When a discriminatory law forces his soccer coach to bench him, he has a choice to make, sit on the sidelines or fight for his right to play!

It is a very moving and enjoyable read.

Next came No Honour by Awais Khan about a young women in Pakistani village, who seeks a life in which she can choose her own destiny.

Very moving and powerful, this is a story that will haunt you for some time to come!

The next read was a gentler novel, though equally enjoyable and addictive. Miss Austen by Gill Hornby. This is a wonderful and imaginative retelling of the life of Jane Austen and her sister Cassandra.

My next read so me return to one of my very favorite book series, The Great Silence by Doug Johnstone. This family lead drama is full superb characters, a thrilling storyline, humour and sadness. It is simply put, the perfect package. I’m so glad there are more to come!

We Begin At The End By Chris Whittaker certainly deserves being lauded as the must read crime novel of the year! I had sort of fallen out of love with the traditional crime novel, but this stunner reminded me why I loved them so much.

The last book I read in August was the exceptional Black Read Bay by Rod Reynolds.

I have read so many exceptional books so far this year that choosing my favourite ones at the end of the year will be no easy task, but I’m delighted to have been so lucky as well. September is set to be full of some wonderful reads as well.