Welcome to another Friday Reads post. My featured book this week is The Silent Brother by award-wining author Simon Van der Velde. Let’s take a look at the cover and find out a bit more about the book.
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.
Northodox Press – https://bit.ly/3qObqdl
Goodreads – https://bit.ly/3ri3std
And here’s an extract
Chapter 1 – Italia ’90
I know straightaway that Benjy’s going to miss, cos his foot goes back too soon so he’s wobbling on one leg waiting for the ball to float down, and then he falls over. His head thumps on the rug. Mam picks him up. She cuddles him and tells him he’s as good as Gazza. But it isn’t fair, cos I’m better. I look at her face. She smiles over Benjy’s shoulder, and winks at me with her sparkly eyes. I run over and join the hug.
‘Come on, Benjy,’ I say, and kiss his squidgy cheek. ‘Let’s play some more.’
The ball is a pink balloon that’s gone small and wrinkly, and the tassly rug is the pitch. There aren’t goalposts, but if you do a really big kick then Mam shouts, ‘goal,’ and everybody cheers. Me and Benjy are the players. Mam says she’s the referee, but then she keeps tickling us when we’re trying to do a kick, which isn’t allowed.
We should have been in bed ages ago, except Mam said we didn’t have to cos England were going to win the World Cup. But then we watched on telly, and they didn’t. Mam said it was such a shame. She turned the telly off and Benjy started crying, even though he didn’t properly understand. That’s why we’re playing so late. So in our game I can be Gary Lineker, and England can win. I let Benjy be Gazza, even though Mam said he was too beautiful, and I told Mam she could be Bobby Robson, which made her laugh.
‘I’d rather be Dolly Parton,’ she said, and put the music on, singing along with that song about Jolene that we all like.
Well, us three anyway.
Benjy’s got the ball, sort of floating up around the train on his jarma top. I’m gonna do a tackle, but Mam’s got me. Her fingers are right up in my tummy, so I’m just lying on the rug, really laughing when Benjy does this massive kick and his eyes open wide like he can’t believe he’s done it and Mam’s shouting, ‘go, go, goal’ and the balloon’s nearly high as the light and Benjy’s squealing and jumping so his blond hair flops over his face. Then the front door slams and it’s like pressing pause on a video. Everything stops: There’s just the curls bouncing on Benjy’s head, the balloon floating down, and Dolly Parton singing about eyes of emerald green…
Want to read more? You can buy the book here:
Northodox Press – https://bit.ly/3qObqdl
Goodreads – https://bit.ly/3ri3std
Welcome, Simon. Have you always wanted to be a writer?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve always spent a lot of time alone in my head, choosing my imaginings over reality. It took me till my early 20’s though, to get my act together, and put anything on paper. My first story, Marco The Magician, was about a boy wizard having a tough time at school, until it turned out he had magic powers – and this was back in about ’92, before Harry Potter was even written! (Though Marco did owe a little to Diana Wynne Jones’ Charmed Life.)
There was even a little interest in my story – but I was firmly told by my horrified parents that writing wasn’t a practical career, and, to be honest, I lacked belief and tenacity. The end result was that it took another twenty years for me to really commit, and make it as a writer.
Has any author inspired you?
So many. I was a quiet, reflective child and our house was always full of books, so I guess it was bound to happen. I grew up reading all sorts of stuff; Cheap thrillers, hard-boiled detective stories, Dickens, Le Carre, World War II / Holocaust stuff, poetry and even a smattering of Stephen King.
From that rather strange base-layer, I then moved on to finding my own books. I still remember the revelation of Hemingway as a teenager, and for all Ernest’s flaws The Old Man and The Sea will always have a special place in my heart. Then, at about nineteen I discovered the deliciously subversive Charles Bukowski, followed by Graham Greene with all his agonising guilt.
I’ve enjoyed and admired a lot of Peter Carey’s work, pretty much all of Anne Tyler’s, Philip Roth, Lou Berney, Cheever, Carver, Cormack McCarthy, especially for the heart-wrenching love between a boy and a wolf, Colston Whitehead for the naked terror of Underground Railroad, Richard Flanagan’s, (slightly Hemingwayesque) The Long Road to the Deep North, Robert Harris’ Cicero trilogy for illustrating how very little has changed in the last two thousand years, whilst by a short-head, my all-time favourite is probably still J.M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians.
Blame my childhood if you like but I’m a Jack of All Trades in my reading, and I guess in my writing too. I hate the whole ‘genre’ thing. I appreciate the marketing industry needs something to work with, but I’m desperate to throw off that straight-jacket. Who cares what genre it is. I want to know if it’s good. If it’s true. If it makes me gasp, and think, and re-evaluate what I thought I knew.
Do you have a special place for writing?
Yes. Absolutely. The spare back-bedroom is my sanctuary. Once the kids are safely off to school, there’s nothing better than to sit down with inspiration buzzing round my head, and begin. Of course if there’s no inspiration it’s a lot less fun, but I begin anyway. I might have to write a page or two that goes straight in the bin. That’s just the price I pay. But I know, if I dig through the dirt for long enough, eventually, I’ll come up with the treasure.
Are you a pantster or a plotter?
A little of each. I like to know where I’m going, but then I’m happy to let my characters live and breathe and take me there in the manner of their choosing.
Is your writing ever inspired by your family or real life incidents?
The Backstories collection is, of course a series of backstories about my heroes, (and villains) before they were famous. This makes the inspiration easy, I just read and research one of my heroes until I see the way into their story – the key moment that made it all happen.
My other characters are indeed, a mish-mash of people I’ve seen or met, and yes, family members!
What are you writing at the moment?
Backstories II has more of an historical bent than the original, (and should be out in October), I’m also writing material for Rock ‘n’ Roll Backstories, and True Crime Backstories, as well as turning ideas over for the next novel.
What inspired you to write this book?
It began with an urge to understand my heroes, to cut through the shiny, public image and get to something more meaningful – and maybe get back in touch with how it felt to be seventeen.
The real trigger though, was going to see a musician from way back when. The truth is I was a bit concerned. Would he still be any good? Or just a bit sad? I mean the guy’s well into his seventies.
In fact, he was utterly and completely brilliant. Great voice, great music and above all, great honesty. That gig was my inspiration for this book, and for anything I write. So the next day put aside my novel and wrote a little piece about this guy’s life. That might’ve been that, but my wife, Nikki loved it. I told her there was no market for short-stories, but of course, as happens far too often in our house, she was right and I was wrong. That was how Backstories began.
What time of the day do you write best?
First thing in the morning, before the chaos of real life can kick-in.
What are your hobbies?
Writing, and reading. Really, that’s about it. The family keep me busy, (we’re a strange and diverse lot!) Other than that; I walk the dog and keep an eye on the football, but for me, fiction is where the real truth lies.
What advice would you give to other writers?
Do it for its own sake, for the joy of creating (simulated) life, and the meditative place it can take you. Take advice, selectively, and be prepared for the long-haul.
Great advice, Simon. Thanks for dropping by to tell us about your book. It sounds exciting. I hope it sells shedloads!
Simon Van der Velde was born and educated in Newcastle upon Tyne where he trained and practiced as a lawyer. Writing, however, was always the real passion, and Simon has now left the legal profession in order to concentrate on his writing.
Since completing a creative writing M.A. (with distinction) at University of Northumbria in 2011, Simon’s work has won and been short-listed for numerous awards including; The Yeovil Literary Prize, (twice), The Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal, The Wasafiri New Writing Prize, The Luke Bitmead Bursary, The Frome Short Story Prize, The Writers’ and Artists’ Short Story Prize, The Harry Bowling Prize, The Henshaw Press Short Story Competition and The National Association of Writers’ Groups Open Competition.
Simon is the founder and chair of Gosforth Writers Group and author of the widely acclaimed, Amazon bestseller, Backstories, ‘the stand-out most original book of the year’ in 2021. His literary crime novel, The Silent Brother is published on 16th June, 2022 by Northodox Press. Simon is
currently working on both Backstories II and his follow-up crime novel, Dogwood.
Having travelled throughout Europe and South America, Simon now lives in Newcastle upon Tyne with his wife, labradoodle and two tyrannical children.