Jun 242020

Duncan Harley reviews Mike Shepherd’s latest book, ‘The World Makers – Who Gets to the Top and Why’.

At first glance Mike Shepherd’s new book might well appear to be a detailed instruction manual on how to reach beyond the greasy pole and become a super-achiever.

And, there is certainly a glut of content here to sign-post the ambitious.

Tales of Olympians, top scientists, infamous and not so infamous politicians, ground breaking engineers and innovative business leaders – over achievers the lot of them, inhabit the pages.

But, as Mike points out early on in his introduction, the ambitious amongst us will undoubtedly gain insight here but the tales within might actually deter them from ever trying to get there in the first place.

Described as gossipy by the author, this is certainly no dry academic tome and throughout the 300 or so pages of discussion there are dozens of entertaining and often supremely bizarre tales involving the unexpected aspects of human behaviour exhibited by the gifted few.

Mathematician John von Neuman – who worked on the Manhattan Project, could memorise entire telephone directories and seemingly was able to recall any of the entries on request.

Moroccan Emperor Moulay Sharif who fathered some 1,200 children. Heiress Evalyn McLean who took the art of gloating to new levels by parading the Hope Diamond on the collar of her pet pooch.

Henry Morton Stanley who rose from penury to prominence as the man sent by the infamous New York Herald press baron Gordon Bennett Jr to find the missing David Livingstone.

Churchill, who despite episodic attacks of the Black Dog and a fairly mixed early career, rose to some prominence in the 1940’s. And many many more.

A stoic belief in one’s own destiny, an obsession with achievement, intense ambition and on occasion an intense and incorruptible – as in the case of Thomas Plimsoll of Plimsoll Line fame, desire to do good all feature within these pages alongside much discussion regarding the nature of those single-minded achievers.

Throw in a bit of hubris and a measure of narcissism and you get the drift of this book.

Many of the featured hyper-achievers deserve to be celebrated but inevitably many others do not. Florence Nightingale certainly falls into the former category – for her achievements after the Crimean Campaign.

Saparmurat Niyazov – tyrannical dictator of Turkmenistan, resides firmly in the ranks of the latter. But no spoilers here.

At the core of the discussion though is the idea that these big ideas of those few in number super-achievers shape our world and, like it or not, the rest of us have to fit as best we can into the framework they create.

On an optimistic note Mike concludes that the folk at the base of the pyramid can usually rub along just fine with those at the pinnacle but tempers this with the brutal thought that the actions of those achievers, whom he labels world makers, might just be a little extreme.

He may very well be right.

The World Makers by Mike Shepherd is published as a Kindle Book (291pp) and is available from Amazon @ £2.99

Sep 072012

David Innes reviews TONY HOGAN BOUGHT ME AN ICE CREAM FLOAT BEFORE HE STOLE MY MA, by Kerry Hudson.  [ Chatto & Windus, 266pp, £12.99]

Hands up who’s heard of Kerry Hudson?  One would think that even if the author herself hasn’t been picked up on the local media radar so far, at least the eye-catching Fiona Apple-esque novel title would generate some curiosity

Kerry Hudson, you see, is one of ours.

Her formative years were spent in a series of hostels, down-at-heel council estates and caravan parks in Aberdeen and its environs, as well as in other parts of the UK.

Her debut novel draws on this background to depict a grim picture of life for the growing underclass of the 1980s.  Thankfully, ‘we’re all in this together’ during the current crisis and there will be no return to those bleak hopeless days where families subsisted on meagre rations in dank accommodation between Giros…

Whilst the background Hudson vividly paints is grim and stark, this is overridden by the resilience, affection and family solidarity obvious in hero Janie Ryan’s narrative.

The characters to whom she introduces us are steadfast and lovable or feckless and despicable.  Janie’s ma, Iris, is a poor judge of partner but fights fearlessly and unstintingly for her children, has a healthy disdain for bureaucratic authority and displays almost unflinching smeddum in piloting her loved ones through crisis after crisis.

That she succumbs to middle age too soon and her spirit is ultimately almost quenched is one of the book’s frequent moments of great pathos.

The nominal Tony Hogan is a violent, drug-dealing psycho from whom flight is necessary more than once.  Janie’s Uncle Frankie is a well-meaning but weak figure who succumbs to the drugs he runs on Hogan’s behalf.  Baby sister Tiny is a bundle of love and reconciliation.  All credible, when a less-able author would allow them to become one-dimensional stereotypes.

Hudson’s skill in articulating, often hilariously, the family’s hand-to-mouth uncertainty through the eyes of a child from birth to late teens recalls Roddy Doyle’s best conversational triumphs where the narrative sprints along like a screenplay.  Drawing on contemporary 1980s and 90s cultural ephemera to illustrate the small material escapes which offer comfort to a child and adolescent fixes the novel firmly in its time.

The tone darkens when mid-teens Janie realises that she is on the same path as her downtrodden and spirit-crushed mother as he shuts out life’s increasing desperation through drinking and casual sex.  A growing realisation that she has ambition, a love of literature and a fear of becoming Iris, sees her take off to escape the fate she sees looming.

That the novel’s final words are ‘the beginning’ leaves the reader to hope that a character in whom we now have an affectionate interest will mature and prosper and that Kerry Hudson will write again to let us know how Janie’s getting on.

Jun 142012

Interested in joining the new Aberdeen branch of the Dickens Fellowship? According to the Fellowship, the Aberdeen branch is their first in Scotland. As highlighted in Voice’s previous article: A Tale of Two Centuries, a successful inaugural meeting was held on Tuesday 12th June in the city’s Belmont Theatre. Aberdeen Voice’s Nicola McNally went along to the event to find out what the local branch were planning.

The first meeting was set up following a successful spring programme of Dickens lectures, film showings and readings at the University’s King’s College campus and the Belmont Cinema.

The branch is being hosted and organised by the renowned Dr Paul Schlicke, Honorary Senior Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen and a Trustee of The Charles Dickens Museum.

The local literati who attended the first meeting included students, academics and assorted curious Aberdeen Voice readers who turned out to support this first meeting dedicated to the works of Charles Dickens, journalist and prolific author.

Future activities planned  for the Aberdeen group will include films, lectures, readings, parties and some themed evenings such as:  Dickens and Film; Dickens and Money; Dickens and Women  and Dickens and Social Reform.

Dr Schlicke recommended:

“The Aberdeen group could wait a year before affiliating with Dickens Fellowship headquarters“.

He asked the group to consider: what the Aberdeen Dickens Fellowship branch should be for: (parties/ social events or more formal lectures and readings), how often they would like to meet; and possible venues for the branch meetings.  It was decided that monthly meetings would be held with a variety of activities.

The choice of a Dickens text for the group to discuss at the September meet was not easy!   The  group’s options  ranged from topical novels such as ‘Hard Times’ or ‘Bleak House’  in these times of austerity…  or possibly one of the ‘blockbusters’: David Copperfield or Great Expectations?  A Tale of Two Cities or Oliver Twist?

The decision was made and the text for summer holiday reading, for those who choose to accept the challenge, is to be the excellent Sketches by Boz.

The group noted that city centre venues are better for some meetings but the University of Aberdeen campus, and in particular, the library, would allow the group to use lecture and film facilities as well as visit the Dickens Special collection in the University library.

The next meeting is being planned for Tuesday 26th June at 7pm in Room 301, MacRobert Building, Aberdeen University. This will feature an introductory lecture on the biography of Dickens by Dr Schlicke, followed by informal discussion. If you’d like to attend, please email Dr Schlicke on p.schlicke@abdn.ac.uk to confirm a place or for further information on the Fellowship.

New members with an interest in Dickens and his work will be made very welcome and membership is provisionally free so it is hoped that the Aberdeen group will go from strength to strength.  While new branches of The Dickens Fellowship are appearing all over the globe from Canada to Cambridge, your local branch can be found no further than King Street!