Deborah Install | „A Robot in the Garden“
In a nutshell:
Not too far in the future. Ben, a friendly but frustrated house husband with an even more frustrated wife finds an old rusty robot in his garden. Not quite as sexy as the far newer android models, Amy wants to get rid of it as quickly as possible. Despite the marriage crisis, Ben wants to find out what’s it all about with Tang and where the heck he came from. An adventure starts.
Who should read it:
Nokia 3510 users, divorce lawyers, Tokyo lovers, those in midlife crisis, mawkish people, new parents, jetsetters, those who have already booked their summer holiday, geeks and nerds
I have to admit that the idea of travelling across Texas in a Dodge Charger with a retro robot and a radioactive sausage dog is not something I would have imagined myself doing …
What made you want an old rusty robot in your first novel?
It just came to me like that. He was always old and rusty. It started with the name: Acrid Tang. My husband and I were discussing smells one night he was describing one such olfactory delight. I said ‘acrid tang’ sounded like a robot. I knew the next morning that his best friend would be called Ben, and Ben who would take the robot around the world, looking for his creator … Well, then I started writing.
It seems like you had a great experience writing A Robot in the Garden. Can you describe how Tang developed? His behaviour, his design …
I had in my head that he was going to be like a child. And also I wanted him to have some life experiences. Not very good ones. The story is slightly in the future and so I opted to give Tang the ability to be empathic, instinctive, stubborn and sometimes manipulative, and knew that these traits were going to be developed to a far more sophisticated level than his creator Bollinger ever intended, or in fact was even aware he could engineer.
I think you really did a terrific job in terms of rounding that out. It turned into comedy, mainly because the interactions between Ben and Tang are so funny. Is that something you were planning or did it just happen?
I knew pretty much straight away that it would be a comedy, because the idea of Tang the robot and his best friend Ben just sounded funny to me. Then I wrote a few of the little episodes, such as hiring the car and the bit with the dog and it became clear I wouldn’t be able to write it any other way. What surprised me actually was how dark some parts of the book were – I didn’t intend to write any sad or upsetting sections but I think in order for the comedy to really be there it needed some sadness to balance it out.
It’s strongly implied in your book that Ben is dealing with some sort of midlife crisis from the opening pages. So the question is, does Ben help Tang or is it the other way round?
It’s very much a bit of both. Tang gives Ben a focus and goal to work towards, so although he is intent on getting the robot fixed, the journey was always going to be equally beneficial to Ben, if not more so. Their characters’ journeys mirror each other, I think.
Have you ever dealt with something like that in your life?
No, thankfully not, I don’t think so anyway! I have had ups and downs, of course, but I’ve never had a feeling of not knowing who I am or what my purpose is in life. I’ve always wanted to be a writer so I think that’s probably helped – I’ve always had a goal to work towards. I think it must be a horrible feeling to be as lost as Ben … although I meant for him to be frustrating at the start, I’ve always felt very sorry for him!
What was your path to publication?
I participated in a writing group for a really long time. They were quite critical and didn’t just tell you how “lovely” your writing was. I always had periods of on-and-off writing. I started three different novels, but never managed to get them finished. Then the robot came along and I thought, now this is a kind of opportunity, probably the only one I will ever get; so I gambled on making it work, which was a hard thing to decide in terms of money. I went to a festival. To be honest I couldn’t even afford to go there. I had inherited some jewellery from my grandaunt and I knew it was worth a bit. I sold it and that’s how I got to the festival and entered a 500-word story competition.
The author living in Birmingham was finally discovered at the Festival of Writing in York in 2013 by a literary agent. So if you think you could put some of your own stuff on paper, please get information on this. In Berlin you can apply for the Open Mike – the international competition for young German-language writers of prose and poetry. Be brave!
Deborah Install A Robot in the Garden, published by Transworld Publishers for 12,99£.