The 2019 Debut


"Hilarious – sometimes devastatingly so" (Lindsay Clarke)


Some animals are still more equal than others




The Iron Bird by Robert Woodshaw (Cover)

Cover design: Mecob


Forget pigs and carthorses and bring on the Big Beasts, because Animal Farm has been reimagined. This time it’s the creatures in the zoo that have decided to take back control. And instead of a parable about the evils of communism, the fable is the life of Margaret Thatcher.

It is 2010 and Baroness Thatcher (a lappet-faced vulture) is losing it. And so she is an unreliable narrator: grand, uncompromising, deluded. But before she drops off her perch, it’s time to set the record straight. What turned a grocer’s daughter from Grantham into the most powerful woman in the world? What put all that infamous iron into her soul?

And it’s also time to take a satirical swipe at other, more recent Prime Ministers. Who is the battle-scarred rhino caught in the glare of the spotlights? And why does he agree with Nick? What animal is David Cameron? And why would Lady Thatcher want to inspect some organ that has been inserted into the mouth of a pig?

“The idea is irresistible, the execution brilliant.”

David Brewerton (Financial Journalist of the Year)


Love her or loath her, there’s no escaping the Iron Lady’s iconic status as the architect of modern Britain. Rich or poor? Remain or Leave? This is still a divided nation. Indeed, it was during the last months of her premiership that the long march to Brexit began.

Yet even so, as Orwell’s biographer, D J Taylor, has pointed out

“If social historians are just beginning to get to grips with the grocer’s daughter from Grantham (then) novelists still lag far behind.”

The Iron Bird sets out to redress this imbalance, then. Of course, this isn’t the first time that Thatcher has appeared in the pages of fiction – she danced into Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty, she toddled into a short story by Hilary Mantel – but she has never been cast as the protagonist before. Isn’t it about time that she gave herself a good preen, sharpened the gutting blade on the tip of her beak and stepped up to take on the leading role in a novel?

Disrespectful? Perhaps. But despite a generous coat of irreverent humour, this isn’t an exercise in malice. On the contrary, as Richard T Kelly recently observed

“…all fiction begins in empathy, and a politician is a complex human creature, just like you and me.”

Even one that has been transformed into a bird of prey.

Lappet-faced vulture, photograph: Bee Elle


Move over Maggie. There are other specimens from the political menagerie in The Iron Bird, including a “bear-faced” liar called Bojo de Pfeffel who has aspirations to perform some ridiculous stunt on a zip wire.

And as one online reviewer remarked…

“The author has obviously had fun choosing which animals to use to depict cross-party politicians … And the reader can have fun identifying them.”

What animal is David Cameron? Gordon Brown? Theresa May? Just rearrange the pieces in the puzzle to figure it out…


The Iron Bird is available in paperback, but perhaps in this instance it’s the ebook that has the edge, because it contains a series of links allowing you to explore the allegorical interpretation of the novel. Some of these lead to secret pages, hidden deep in the coding of this site. Others reach out across the Internet and curate its content. Each has been chosen to add something meaningful to the reading experience. And sometimes raise a smile.

For example, in one scene in the novel set in 2010, Baroness Thatcher is under the delusion that Cameron is planning to offer her a role in his Cabinet – a chance to finish the ‘great work’ she started back in the 1980s. “Yes, that’s right, dear,” she says, struggling to suppress her excitement. “The Mummy Returns.” This is the link:



Who am I? Well, I was brought up in Bristol, and I studied English and Drama at the University of London – an experience that led to a brief career in casting, and assistant credits on several films, including Wonderland (1999) and 24 Hour Party People (2002). In the mid 2000s, though, I realised I could no longer ignore an idea I’d been nurturing for a novel about Margaret Thatcher, so I retreated to a small town in the foothills of the Italian Alps, took up a teaching position at a local secondary school, and put pen to paper.

I finished the novel 2015, and submitted it to all the usual gatekeepers, but the response was the same. Here’s a snippet of a letter from one of London’s top literary agents:

Dear Robert,
Thank you for sending me your brilliant manuscript. I was very impressed by your prose and imagination. The concept is unique and your execution – superb. The problem for me, however, is that I can’t quite see a market for it…

Ouch. It didn’t occur to me to consider the market. Why would it? Writers write because we have to; we write because we believe our stories need to be told. In retrospect, though, there was no escaping the fact that I’d produced an unusual novel. And so I decided to submit it to Unbound – a professional publisher that finances its books through crowdfunding, transferring the power to commission fiction to the reader. Now, at last, I could test whether or not there was a market for The Iron Bird.

I was astonished by the support the project received when it went live. In fact, it still amazes me that perfect strangers chose to invest more than £50 in a special edition that Unbound agreed to produce. As a result, The Iron Bird went into production in 2018 and is due to be released this February.


Of course, I’d be the first to admit that it’s been a bumpy journey – and there’s a long road ahead. Who knows? Perhaps the gatekeepers were right. Perhaps there isn’t a market for a novel about Britain’s first female Prime Minister: her coming-of-age, her spectacular decline. Perhaps there isn’t a market for literature that contains more talking animals than The Jungle Book or The Lion King. I guess time will tell. But one thing is certain: the decision is no longer theirs; it is yours.

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Over the spring, Robert will be taking part in a number of bookshop events across the UK, including an exploration of alternative approaches to history with Stephanie Bretherton and Alice Jolly, and an evening of “Sex & Politics” with Lucy-Anne Holmes.

Alternative approaches to history

Tickets – just £3, including wine and nibbles – are available from Max Minerva’s Marvellous Books, here.

And in March I’ll be taking part in …


Lucy-Anne Holmes & Robert Woodshaw - Sex & Politics event

Where and When?

Foyles, Cabot Circus, Bristol – Wednesday 20 March, 2019 at 7:30 pm – Tickets available here.

Housmans Bookshop, King’s Cross, London – Wednesday 27 March, 2019 at 7:00 pm – Tickets available soon.


More venues for this event coming soon.


…and a letter from Margaret Thatcher


How? Just join Robert’s mailing list before 31 March 2019 and you’ll be entered into a prize draw to win:

  • a signed, first edition paperback of The Iron Bird
  • a letter from Margaret Thatcher printed on Downing Street notepaper
  • a 1980s Spitting Image squeaky Margaret Thatcher dog toy! (Well, why not?)

And so please sign up. It just takes a moment, and you can unsubscribe at any time…