There were dings and dongs, Liverpool fans formed a conga in the Reading ground and protestors in Brixton climbed the Ritzy cinema to rearrange the redograph letters into “MARGARET THATCHERS DEAD LOL”. But Anthony Cartwright, author of How I Killed Margaret Thatcher, told Cherwell that he isn’t that wary of getting caught up in the debate over the ex-Prime Minister’s death.
The novel is Cartwright’s third, set in the Black Country and beginning on the day that Thatcher came to power. It is the story of Sean, a nine-year-old boy who watches the Iron Lady take away everything that he loves until there is only one option left. He must kill Margaret Thatcher.
Tindal Street Press, who published the novel in 2012, seemed wary enough of being absorbed into death party row to post a piece on their website headed “Why we are publishing How I Killed Margaret Thatcher”. The statement flags up the novel’s importance and says that it is difficult for people today when “we can’t be bothered to despise our leaders enough to do anything about them”. It outlines “what it was like to live through a time when a bitter war of opposing principles were being fought and played out in people’s lives.”
They also advertise that the paperback version will be released this month, brought forward fromlater in the year. All publicity is good publicity.
When asked whether the title means anything different now that the Iron Lady has actually died, Cartwright says he is unsure. It is true that even now the initial surreal humour is gone, the police will hardly be inundated with calls from people hovering mid-click on Amazon, thinking they have found a murderer’s confession.
“As well as being provocative, the title is also intended to be ironic. Sean can’t kill her. He’s trapped in a world of her making.
“I’m not too concerned if some people are offended by the title. I’m proud of what I’ve written. I think the novel maybe strikes a chord with some readers, and hits a nerve with others.”
Reminded of a remark he made about the title also being a working title for his previous two books, Cartwright explains, “I had the title a long time before using it. . . The Afterglow and Heartland also deal with the repercussions of the turmoil of the eighties in some way.”
Cartwright describes his own memories of the early eighties as very vivid. He was seven in 1980 but likens the impact of Thatcher’s policies across the West Midlands to being caught up in a storm.
“From a child’s point of view it was initially so visible — closed factories, boarded up shops, men out of work in great numbers. Then, as the eighties continued, the shock waves and repercussions set in: poverty, long-term illness, issues with mental health. I’m talking about these things on a grand scale.
“Plenty of people have chosen not to see this over the years, and a few have benefited directly from it all. That’s why I wanted to write a novel about it — my version, if you like. “Something which is hard to convey today is it seemed that everything in the eighties was politicised, childhood included. That’s one of the key things I wanted to put across in the novel.”
His work has been very influenced by the George Orwell essay ‘Why I Write’ in which Orwell states “The opinion that art should have nothing to do with politics is itself a political attitude.”
Cartwright explains: “I agree with that. Obviously, the content of How I Killed Margaret Thatcher is overtly political, but if I write 20 novels in my life, then I only expect a small number to be so explicitly about politics. I want to be a novelist, not a politician.”
While Cartwright’s books on 1980s Dudley represent rising success in his career as a writer, they have also caused low points in his career as a reader. He once said that getting Thatcher for Beginners out of the library for research was a read bordering on dangerous, but he doesn’t name it as the book that he wouldn’t read again. That honour is reserved for a Steinbeck classic, and is a sentiment probably shared by many GCSE students. Cartwright has had jobs in factories, meatpacking plants, and with
London Underground, but has worked as an English teacher since 1988.
“I must have read Of Mice and Men 20 times as a teacher, and that’s enough! I stopped secondary school teaching last year — at least for a
short while — so I don’t have to read it anymore. I do like the book though, and I admire Steinbeck.”
The Great Gatsby is a book he could read over again, as are Hemingway’s short stories Big Two-Hearted River, parts one and two. He names Underworld by Don DeLillo as an inspiration for the openning sequence in his second novel Heartland and loves fiction that is “deeply rooted in a sense of place — Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Macondo.”
Cartwright writes in Black Country dialect, lots of “yow”s, “thass”, and “doh talk so soft”. He has admitted in the past that he developed a habit of talking to himself for research, while living near West Ham where Black Country accents are thin on the ground.
“I’m proud to be from there, proud of the people and the area. For a writer, it’s a fascinating place, full of stories and spectacular ideas and images. I don’t think it is represented particularly well in most mainstream media. There aren’t many Black Country novelists either, so I feel I can at least attempt something that no one else is writing.”
For Cartwright, How I Killed Margaret Thatcher isn’t a story of Thatcher’s life or even her death. Both have received enough coverage. It is the less well-know story of ordinary lives and — though the title would have
been less snappy, it should be How I Would Really Have Liked to Have Killed Margaret Thatcher given that Sean doesn’t actually succeed.
Cartwright isn’t even celebrating Thatcher’s death in real life.
“I heard someone say that Thatcher is dead but Thatcherism isn’t. It’s a shame that isn’t the other way round. Not least so that she might have seen the damage she inflicted undone.”
Anthony Cartwright is currently working on new material for adults
How I Killed Margaret Thatcher is available in paperback from 22nd April.