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. In fact, it was during the last months of her premiership that the long march to Brexit began.
Yet 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, it 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.
Move over Maggie. There are other specimens from the political menagerie in The Iron Bird, including a “bear-faced” liar called Bojo.
In fact, 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…
Although The Iron Bird is available in paperback, perhaps 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, 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. “Yes, that’s right, dear,” she says, struggling to suppress her excitement. “The Mummy Returns.” This is the link:
Thatcher’s ghost still haunts us, but this outrageously entertaining novel performs the valuable service of confining her to a zoo … the experience proves both revealing and hilarious – sometimes devastatingly so.
An amazing read… Woodshaw’s imagination in full flight is original and startling. Well written, and ‘laugh out loud’ funny.
What a wonderful book. I was immediately drawn into the characters – Bel-imperia grabbed me and held on so tightly … It’s her voice that stays with me the most. It’s so evocative, not just of Mrs Thatcher, but of the idea of her, of how, maybe, she saw herself. I think it’s rare to be able to do something like that so well.
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). Come 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 manuscript 2015, and submitted it to all the usual gatekeepers, but the response was encouraging and disconcerting in equal measure. Here’s a snippet of a letter from one literary agent:
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 if 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 and has now been released.
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