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Spotlight on Simon Van Der Velde

I read Backstories by Simon back in November 2021 (review here) and absolutely loved it, and when you find writers you admire it's always fun to connect with them on Twitter and do what you can to help tell others about their amazing book. I hope after reading this you will rush off to order this highly-acclaimed, genre defying collection of short stories.

What has been the most challenging part of your life so far?

Having an autistic child.

I’m pretty sure that being a parent is about the hardest thing you can do. Certainly, the highs are higher and the lows lower than anything else I’ve ever done, and that’s doubly true when your child is autistic.

Back in 2008 - Like a lot of new parents, my head was filled with a load of nonsense about all the mistakes I wouldn’t make, and all the hopes I had for my son, Charlie. What I hadn’t quite grasped was that I unconsciously saw my child as an extension of myself, and whilst there is some element of truth in this, what I learnt, (eventually), was that our children are all individuals and what is important is Not to give them what you might have needed, but to give them what They need.

It’s been a long hard road to understanding Charlie, and then fighting for him in a world brimming with confident ignorance. The particular difficulty I have found in advocating for an autistic person is that I have to begin again and again by trying to overcome the half-baked, out-dated assumptions and beliefs of teachers, parents and so-called professionals before we can even get to the real business of how best to help Charlie achieve his full potential. Of course, just like everyone else, every autistic individual is different, but one generalisation that does hold true is that whilst autistic people can be sensitive and often don’t fit in to a mainstream environment - with the right help they have a fantastic amount to offer society, as evidenced by Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Emily Dickinson and Charles Darwin amongst many, many others.

Fourteen years later I’m still fighting for Charlie, and sometimes, I think I might be winning. Either way, I’m so very, very grateful for everything he’s taught me, about autism, humanity and love.

Charlie, (along with someone else who’s name I can’t mention), were, of course, the inspiration for the Backstory, Voiceless Child.

Why do you write?

A little like my autistic son, I enjoy spending several hours every day alone with my imagination. I find it peaceful and soothing, and whilst sometimes frustrating, it is such a joy when a story comes together.

As a husband and parent of two boys, and with a business to run, I spend a great deal of my time looking after other people. Whilst this is fantastically rewarding, I also think it’s important to have something wholly my own – and that’s where writing comes in. This is the one corner of my life that’s truly mine. Anything can happen, anytime, any way I like. I just have to say so – and as any parent will tell you, parenting is absolutely nothing like that.

On a deeper level, I’m from an earlier time than many of my readers. I was born in 1967 and grew up in the 70s when denial took the place of emotional honesty and a stiff upper lip was the solution to every problem. Hard as I try, I’m not that good at re-writing my script. At heart, I’m still that child of the 70’s and exploring my feelings doesn’t come naturally. But what writing allows me to do is to step inside other people’s heads and explore their feelings as deeply as honestly as I can, and in so doing, I come to understand my own. It’s as if writing lowers my defences and allows me to creep up on myself, unawares – and maybe gain some insight before the old defences snap back into place.

Tell me more about your current work in progress.

I’m currently working on the follow up to Backstories – a series of ‘stories about people you think you know’ – offering new insights into famous people, with the added twist that I don’t tell you who they are, so you have to work it out through the story, leading to that Eureka moment of discovery – and hopefully leaving you with a new insight into the actor, singer, activist or criminal concerned.

But what to do with Backstories II? I have a decent collection of stories ready to go, I’m just not quite sure of the best way forward. I could offer Backstories II with the same variety as book one? Alternatively, I could go for Rock ‘n’ Roll Backstories focussing on musicians? True Crime Backstories? Great Women’s Backstories?

The Great Women theme really appeals to me, with so many unsung and misunderstood heroes. On the other hand, I can see that some people might have an issue with a man writing such a book. Whilst on the third hand (!) I firmly believe that that feminism is not just a subject for women, but a subject we should all discuss.

Having written many stories from women’s POV in Backstories, I know that the writing per se is not the problem. Indeed, so long as it is done honestly and done well, surely that is the key purpose of a writer - to step into the minds of others and carry the reader with them?

Right now I’m still unsure which way to go. Any advice / thoughts would be very gratefully received – please email or tweet @simonVdVwriter.

Is there anything in the pipeline you would like to tell us about?

Oh, yes!

I’m delighted to tell you that my literary crime novel, The Silent Brother has been has been picked up by the fantastic team at Northodox Publishing and will be released on 16th June, 2022

Set in the lawless east end of Newcastle, The Silent Brother is a story of love, family and redemption, written with broadly similar sentiments to Shuggie Bain.

The Silent Brother – Synopsis:

When his beloved little brother is stolen away, five-year-old Tommy Farrier is left alone with his alcoholic mam, his violent step-dad and his guilt. Too young to understand what has really happened, Tommy is sure of only one thing. He is to blame.

Tommy tries to be good, to live-up to his brother’s increasingly hazy memory, but trapped in a world of shame and degradation he grows up with just two options; poverty or crime. And crime pays.

Or so he thinks.

A teenage drug-dealer for the vicious Burns gang, Tommy’s life is headed for disaster, until, in the place he least expects, Tommy sees a familiar face…

And then things get a whole lot worse.

Do you have any advice for those reading who might like to start writing?

Yes. Absolutely. Do it immediately. You don’t need permission. What you have to say is as valid as anyone else, but do it for its own sake. Do it because it brings you joy or peace or understanding.

Begin with short stories. Try to complete one or two. Find a hero. Give them a challenge. Put them under pressure. See what happens.

Do a course, evenings or on-line. Take what you’ve learned and write a couple more stories. Don’t expect instant perfection.

If you start to get hooked, do an M.A.

Yes, writing is an individual creative process, but just like all other human endeavours, people have been there before you. It’s a lot easier / less painful to learn from their mistakes than from your own. As Isaac Newton (autistic) said, ‘If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.’

Simon Van der Velde 4/1/22


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