Remember Animal Farm? Remember the Seven Commandments? Well, this time it’s the creatures in the zoological gardens that are attempting to manage their own affairs. And instead of a critique of communism the allegory is the life of Margaret Thatcher.
Ding dong, the witch is dead.
Which old witch? The wicked witch.
Yet even so, there’s no escaping the Iron Lady’s iconic status as the architect of modern Britain. Or her fascination for novelists.
“We could never have invented a character like this.”
Of course, this isn’t Thatcher’s first appearance 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 elevated to the status of protagonist before. Isn’t it about time, then, that she gave her flight feathers a good preen, sharpened the gutting blade on the tip of her beak and stepped up to take the leading role in a comic novel?
Disrespectful? Perhaps. But despite its irreverent humour THE IRON BIRD isn’t an exercise in malice. Indeed, as Richard T Kelly recently observed, “all fiction begins in empathy, and a politician is a complex … creature, just like you and me”. Even one that has been transformed into a bird of prey.
Empathy for Margaret Thatcher? Is such a thing even possible? Well, love her or loathe her, that’s the gauntlet that THE IRON BIRD throws down. And so it maintains a sharp focus on the beginning and end of its protagonist’s life, and takes a satirical swipe at the Milk Snatcher from these directions.
It is, then, both a coming-of-age tale, exploring the formation of the fledgling Prime Minister’s formidable character, and a private audience at the bars of the old bird’s cage.
First-person prose takes us into her damaged mind. But of course, the late Baroness is an unreliable narrator. Has she been persuaded to accept this speaking engagement, or is the audience of animals she is addressing a figment of her imagination? And what about that fledgling Prime Minister? What about that insignificant little specimen preparing for its maiden flight? 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?
Praise for THE IRON BIRD
“Hilarious, sometimes devastatingly so.”
Lindsay Clarke (THE CHYMICAL WEDDING, THE WATER THEATRE)
“An amazing read... Woodshaw's imagination in full flight is original and startling. Well written, and 'laugh out loud' funny.”
Sue Goss (THE OPEN TRIBE, THE CORBYN EFFECT)
Let me make one thing clear at the outset: I am a lappet-faced vulture, dear. Of course, the species has more than one name. Indeed, I understand there’s a specimen in another institution that insists on being introduced as a Nubian vulture. But I am afraid one is reluctant to regard oneself as Nubian. Goodness me, no.
There’s nothing wrong with the adjective ‘lappet-faced’. There is not. Oh, I dare say it might not conjure up quite the most attractive image, but make no mistake: the expression is innocuous compared to some of the other language that’s been directed at me over the years. You see, I am sometimes called the most horrid names: a harpy, a milk-snatcher, a cold-blooded carnivore that dines on the dead… It can be most upsetting. Naturally, one tries to push such spiteful comments out of one’s mind. One carries on. One has to; after all, there are more important things in life than being liked.
But even so.
It still hurts to be dismissed as a contemptible creature — of course it does; it hurts just the same. In fact, if I might share an intimate secret, sometimes it reduces me to tears.
Does that come as a surprise? The confession that I occasionally weep. Yes, I can see that it does. What was that? What was that? One is a little hard of hearing. Do speak up.
You’d been expecting a more resilient specimen? You’d assumed that I was a tough old bird?
I see. Well, I shall take that as a compliment, dear. I used to be tough. Goodness me, I used to be as tough as… Not old boots. One hesitates to compare oneself to an old pair of gardening boots. Let me choose another noun: I used to be as tough as iron. But I must admit the truth of the matter is that the onslaught of old age has rendered me rather frail.
What was that? I didn’t catch the question. Don’t sit there stuttering. Come on, dear, this institution belongs to the brave not the chicken-hearted. Spit it out.
How old am I?
I see it is no longer considered impolite to ask a bird her age. Next question, please. The creature sitting over there. The specimen scratching its flea-bitten coat. That’s right. You.
What’s the average lifespan of the lappet-faced vulture?
I don’t know where the idea to use the premise of ANIMAL FARM to take a satirical swipe at British politics came from, but I remember I was hanging a sheet of wallpaper at the time. Of course, I dismissed the thought at once. Why would I want to write a novel about Margaret Thatcher? I had other ambitions, other plans. But the bird that came out of nowhere that afternoon refused to give up the ghost…
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