Thursday, 25 March 2021

The Hippo Hangs Out . . . . with Simon Van der Velde



I'm thrilled to welcome Simon Van der Velde to my blog today as it's publication day for his new collection of short stories, entitled Backstories. These aren't just any short stories though, as they each contain a hidden famous person, and Simon is challenging his readers to identify them all in his Backstories Challenge - but more about that later as I want to introduce you all to Simon first.


Photo courtesy of Simon Van Der Velde

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) at The University of Northumbria 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 Short-story 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 their two tyrannical children.

                                                       *    *    *    *

Welcome to The Hippo Simon and happy publication day! Please pull up a chair, make yourself and home and let's chat.

What book/books made you cry and why?
So many.  Peter Carey’s Oscar & Lucinda, and Theft: A love story, were both brilliant – deeply emotionally honest – and that’s where the treasure lies - in emotional honesty. 

What other authors are you friends with and how do they help you become a better write?
Nobody knows it all.  There’s no substitute for honest, constructively critical feedback from people you trust.  That’s why, for the past few years I’ve been a member of Gosforth writers, along with Trevor Wood, John Hickman, Karon Alderman and Ben Appleby-Dean.  We’re all very different writers and all bring something different to the table.  There is no doubt that without their advice and support Backstories would never have been as good and successful as it is.

What’s your favourite motivational phrase?
If a thing’s worth doing, it’s worth doing badly.  Worry about doing it too well and you may be crippled by your ambition. 

What advice would you give your younger self?
Smell the roses.  Don’t be in such a hurry. 

Where did your love of books/storytelling/reading/writing etc come from?
I’ve read since I can remember.  My mum, I guess.

What did you edit out of your last book?
Three-quarters of the words.   Backstories is a short story collection with a famous person hidden in, and revealed through every story, and unfortunately, sometimes the stories just lacked that emotional power and truth I was looking for – so out they went.  I’ve learned never to short-change my readers or myself with anything less than my best, the long-term cost outweighs the short-term gain  every time. 

What do you think is more important: characters or plot?
My writing is all about character, and my reading too.  The point of a story, (for me), is to have my readers care as deeply as possible about the protagonist.  The plot, whilst important, is merely a vehicle to allow us to expose different aspects of the character, and, once the relationship is established, make the reader anxious for them.  In the end though, if the character isn’t real and vivid, the greatest plot in the world means nothing.

Do you have any hidden or uncommon talents?
I’m pretty good at kicking tennis balls, after years of practice with Barney the dog. 

Awww, Barney looks very excited to get his paws on another tennis ball in this photo! 🥎

Which literary character is most like you?
I’d like to think I have something in common with many of Graham Greene’s semi-autobiographical characters.  I do mean well, even if I don’t always make the best decisions.

You get a brilliant idea/thought/phrase at an inappropriate moment (eg in the shower or driving) what do you do?
Stop what I’m doing and make a note.  Always.

Do you have any bad habits?
Absolutely not.  And don’t ask my wife. 

Disclaimer: Nicola was unavailable for comment! 😉 🤣

What is your guilty pleasure?
I do like a glass of single malt whisky.  Or two.  Or three…

I'm guessing you might have a glass or three to celebrate this evening Simon! Cheers 🍾

                                        *    *    *    *

Now that we all know you a little better, let's talk about Backstories Simon. Can I just start by saying that I think the cover is absolutely stunning! The colours just pop right out at me and I would definitely pick it up if I saw it on the shelf in a bookshop.


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.


This book is dedicated to the victims of violent crime, the struggle against discrimination in all its forms and making the world a better place for our children. That is why 30% of all profits will be shared between Stop Hate UK, The North East Autism Society and Friends of the Earth.

                                                  *    *    *    *

I'm quite partial to a short story as I think they're great to dip into when you're short on reading time. Yours sound a little different though with their hidden characters. I briefly mentioned your Backstories Challenge earlier Simon, would you care to tell us more about it?

                                                BACKSTORIES CHALLENGE

Find this lost little boy to claim your reward

The Guitar: No doubt about it, he was a bright kid, talented even.  He was quick on his feet and with his mouth too, and he could smack a baseball out of the park.  But he was a Jew, and he was short.  I mean like really short.  The kid was the size of your average third grader when he was twelve years old.  When he was taking those first steps towards manhood.  When it mattered most. And this was back in the fifties, with Sinatra top of the charts, John Wayne High and Mighty on the big screen and New York thrusting itself into the heavens, one skyscraper taller than the next.  It was a one-size-fits-all sort of time, but it didn’t fit him.

Think you can name this guy?

Then enter the Backstories Challenge on my website for your chance to win a copy of this brilliant new collection.

Not sure? No problem. Visit my website to claim the rest of this story for free. The Guitar is available in both print and audio formats, to enjoy as you please.


That sounds like a fun challenge and I hope that you get lots of people accepting it!

Thank you so much for joining me here on The Hippo today Simon. I'd like to once again wish you a very happy publication day and I hope you have lots of success with Backstories. I can't wait to dive in to try and sniff out the truth for myself! 🧐

You can find out more about Simon, his book and connect with him using the links below:


No comments:

Post a Comment