Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

Backstories is a unique, easy-reading, non conformist book of short stories.  The fourteen stories contained in the book are cleverly written puzzles … it’s up to you, the reader, to identify whose backstory you’ve just read.

‘A highly original and beautifully crafted collection that explodes into the reader’s consciousness like fireworks.’
Kate Horsley, award-winning author of The American Girl

Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

PUBLISHED: 25th March 2021
SHELF: fiction | short stories
AUTHOR: Simon Van Der Velde
PUBLISHER: Smoke & Mirrors Press (indie)
FORMATS: Paperback | Kindle | Audiobook

what it says on the back cover …

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.

Simon has a wonderful page on his website dedicated to his Backstories Quest. It’s well worth a visit to read it.

my review

I was intrigued when Simon first contacted me about his book of short stories.  I’m not usually a fan of short story books, but Backstories is very different from your usual fare … each of the stories is a mystery for the reader to solve.  And that’s what hooked me.

How would I describe Backstories? That’s difficult as it refuses to comply with any genre boundaries I know of. So I’ll sum it up like this. If you’ve ever sat with someone – a friend, a parent, a grandparent – looking at old photos and you point out a picture that captures a moment in time, one that prompts them to recount a memory triggered by that photo … that’s this book. The memory flashes from their mind to your imagination and briefly that frozen, two-dimensional snap is a fully-formed showreel playing just for you.  And from that moment on, you know a little bit more about that person’s life before you entered into it, you recalibrate what you know about them, and understand just a little tiny bit more about what motivated and inspired them to become who they became.

The research that’s gone in to compiling these fourteen biographical stories is clear to see.  Each story recounts an event in the younger life of famous and notorious people; they’re all recognisable household names … but the name of each person is withheld.  From the contextual hints and canny little clues, it’s up to the reader to guess who that story belongs to.  The majority of the stories are set in the 1960s, ’70s, and 80’s so they carry a lovely element of nostalgic recollection, as well as the satisfaction of learning something new.  

My initial concerns that this book would expose my general ignorance were totally unfounded, and I’d read and ‘solved’ the first puzzle within a few minutes of the book landing on my doormat.  In some cases, my eureka moment happened midway through the story, although most waited until the very end to reveal themselves.  I was able to unmask them all  … although I should perhaps offer up a heartfelt apology to Bob Geldof and Paula Yates for misappropriating one of the stories to them so appallingly badly!!  In my defence, that was a story that left its exposé moment right to the very VERY end.

From rock royalty and screen sirens to sporting legends, cultural icons, and the downright evil, Backstories lets the reader in on little-known real life events in the younger years of these unforgettable people.  Some stories I enjoyed more than others, partly due to the familiarity of the main character, and partly due to the era it was based in.  Short story collections are always like chocolate selection boxes though aren’t they, and there’s always going to be a coffee-cream lurking malevolently in there somewhere.

I was particularly impressed to learn that Simon will be giving 30% of all profits from Backstories to Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society, and Friends of the Earth. Of course there are many worthy charities, but as anyone who reads Backstories will see, these are the causes that resonate most deeply with Simon.  I strongly recommend you pop over to Simon’s website to read more about this generous commitment.

Obviously you can read this book how you choose – it’s snappy and engaging enough to devour the whole thing in a single sitting, or you can extend your enjoyment, dipping into the book one story at a time,  That’s how I did it; one story each evening with a glass of wine, and a triumphant pat on the back when I realised I’d guessed correctly (notwithstanding my Geldof/Yates shame!).  

Backstories is an enjoyably absorbing and thought-provoking book that catches your attention all too quickly – it calls out to your competitive spirit and satisfies your thirst for information at the same time.  It would make a great book to distract you from the daily commute (once we’re allowed back in our planes, trains and automobiles again), and I can already think of a few people on my Christmas list who’ll be getting a copy when the time comes around again. In fact, I understand Backstories II will be published in the summer, so my best-behaving friends may event get both!  


a copy of Backstories

Take the Backstories Challenge for your chance to win a free copy of this amazing new book.  Find the lost little boy at and email your answer.  Entries close 25th April.

Thank you to Simon Van Der Velde for sending me this advance copy of Backstories in return for an honest review.

Simon Van Der Velde author

simon van der velde

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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2 thoughts on “Backstories by Simon Van Der Velde

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