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.
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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.
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