Review: Backstories by Simon Van der Velde (2021)


Dreamers, singers, heroes and killers, they can dazzle with their beauty, 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.


Okay, so here is a rundown, in order, of who the famous people are in these stories: 1)…NO, I’m just kidding, I wouldn’t do that to you!

Thanks so much to the author for reaching out and for sending me a copy of Backstories in exchange for an honest review. I am really enjoying seeing how many of my blogger friends are also reading this book – I like the thought that we’re all trying to puzzle out the identities of the protagonists!

The game element of this collection is tremendous fun. Each story withholds just enough of the key details to make it a true guessing game. I got an inkling of about half of them before the ‘reveal’ but there were plenty of cool surprises. It is addictive as well – I read all fourteen stories in one sitting because I wanted to keep playing! The author handles the reveals skilfully, and they never come at the expense of the realism of the story. This interactive element makes for a really engaging, highly original reading experience, and I loved it.

What is also great about Backstories is that it is so much more than just a gimmick. These are also well-written, intelligent, varied short stories that stand up to repeated reading even once the jig is up and the identities are known. I read them through quickly for the fun of figuring out who each protagonist was, and then reread them as a more ‘conventional’ short story collection. There is a fantastic mixture of voices and styles, and it is impressive how well the author manages to convey different places and eras so effectively across a short span of pages. The stories are punchy, powerful, with beautifully written dialogue and a strongly visual quality. Van der Velde is a chameleon author, inhabiting different characters and voices subtly and skilfully. It all adds together to create a kind of ‘anthology’ feel to the collection, as if these really are written by different people, and it works very well.

I’m very keen to read more by this talented author, and I am delighted to hear that there is going to be a Backstories II. If you want a preview of one of the stories, head to the author’s website. I think this is a great collection for everyone, including people who maybe don’t ‘do’ short stories, or don’t read them often – I guarantee this collection will change your mind!

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.




6 thoughts on “Review: Backstories by Simon Van der Velde (2021)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s