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Interview with Deborah Install - and Tang!

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Occasionally I’ll be offered a book to review which I know nothing about, which is what happened with A Robot in the Garden. Within it, I found the story of Ben, but most importantly, Tang.

There is a lot to love about this book, but I have to admit that I fell in love with Tang, the said Robot which turns up in Ben’s garden. He has the voice and ways of a cheeky child, and yet there is an adorable depth to him too.

Deborah kindly agreed to answer some interview questions, but you have to excuse us, as we let Ben and Tang get involved too….

Let’s start at the beginning – how would you describe your book to a new reader?
DI: ooh this is always a tricky one! But my best elevator pitch I think is: broken man finds broken robot in back garden, and on voyage of discovery both are fixed. Warning: may contain radioactive sausage dogs.

What aspect came to you first, was it Tang, or was it Ben’s story?
DI: it was very much Tang and his name that came first. My husband made an off the cuff remark about the smell of newborn nappies and I said ‘Acrid Tang, that sounds like a robot from east Asia’…why it did, I will never know! That was late one evening, and by morning I knew what Tang looked like, that his best friend was called Ben and that they would go on a round-the-world trip. What started out as practical elements to the story, eg giving Ben money so there’d be no question as to how he could afford the trip, for example, and having Amy leave him so he’d have no ties to keep him from making the journey, turned out to be really important elements to both plot and character, and also some of the most interesting bits to explore whilst writing.

Tang is just adorable.. where did you get your ideas and inspiration for his character – films, books, people?
DI: thank you! All of the above really. I grew up with R2-D2 being my favourite Star Wars character so I think I probably carried through to the book, but I get inspiration from absolutely everywhere. I was balling socks yesterday and thought of a funny section I could do about it. I reckon as long as I keep my eyes and ears open the ideas will find their own way, although that sounds a bit more mysterious than I actually am! I’d never base a character on a particular person, it’s just too intrusive and unfair. Odd conversations, foibles and traits though perhaps. And my son. My son is definitely like Tang sometimes!

This is your debut, are you working on anything else at the moment?
DI: I am, yes. Several things including another comedy, this time with time travel taking the place of robots – i.e. time travel is just something that happens, rather than being a big deal in itself. And where ARITG looked at friendships and relationships this one will look at work and careers, office frustrations that sort of thing. With time travel.

Surely Tang has more stories to tell.. are there any plans for more from him? 
DI: Oh, I’m sure if…
DI: shhh, Tang, please. To answer your question – yes I’m sure there’s more we can hear from the pair of them!

What do you like to read yourself, and what’s on your bedside table right now?
DI: I like comedy books, unsurprisingly, my faves being Nick Hornby and Alexander McCall Smith. They’re both so brilliant in they way they observe people and make ordinary things extraordinary. I also love Jane Austen, actually for the same reasons. But on my bedside cabinet at the moment is Ned Beauman’s The Teleportation Accident, which I’m reading for research but enjoying all the same. Also I’m revisiting Terry Pratchett so I have Guards! Guards! there too. On my Kindle is Sara Pinborough’s The Death House which I’m loving and reminds me of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, which I also loved.

I was wondering if I could have a word with Ben and Tang please….
DI: sure, go ahead! Be nice, chaps….

Ben, you managed to have quite a trip with Tang, which was your favourite part?
BC: I did, didn’t I. Never expected to be halfway round the world, certainly. My favourite bit…I think probably driving in the Dodge. I’ve never been a car man as such but it was quite cool to drive a muscle car. And I guess it’s when I first started to how special Ta…
Tang: CAR!
DI: Tang, please don’t interrupt Ben…and leave your gaffer tape alone.

Is travelling something you wish you’d done earlier in life?
BC: I never thought so, but since going on the trip I now wish I had done more of it. Travelling and holidays and stuff was always just something that happened to me that somebody else wanted to do, but I get the point now, I get why people enjoy it. I thought Tokyo especially was great.

Tang, how about you, what were your favourite parts of your trip with Ben?
BC: you did like the boat, didn’t you? I was proud of finding that. We had a really good time on the boat.
Tang: yes.

What’s your favourite way to travel?
Tang: I like fly. But big plane. Big seat. Not small rattle plane. Scared. But big plane, big seat. Game screen. Wheee! Ooh also bul-let. Bul-let train.
BC: I’d go with that.

Do you have any plans set for further trips or holidays?
BC: well Bryony’s got our folks’ holiday house in Tuscany and I’d like to go there again sometime. But we might have to wait until Bonnie’s a bit older. I’d like to take Tang to some places round the UK, too, he’s not seen a great deal of it. Maybe Legoland.
Tang: Leg…what?
BC: don’t worry, Tang, you’ll know what I mean when you see it.

How are your cooking skills developing, have you been shown how to make a proper sandwich?
Tang: Ben, what is means ‘proper sandwich’?
BC: erm…let’s leave sandwiches aside for a moment. How do you think you’re getting on with cooking?
Tang: is easier with box. I has taller. Can reach. I makes…what does I makes last day?
BC: you helped me make a cake for Bryony yesterday didn’t you, because it was her birthday.
Tang: yes. I stirs. Stirring. No…mixings. Did not oven though.
BC: no I had to put it in the oven, because it wouldn’t have done you a lot of good. You don’t get on very well with heat, do you?
Tang: no.

Ben.. do you have anything to add about Tang’s cooking…?
BC: he’s actually doing ok. I mean, it’s like teaching a child to cook and his concentration’s all over the place but, you know, I’m used to it. He really enjoys it which is the main thing.

Tang, are you enjoying your bedroom.. is your Witch cupboard big enough?
Tang: yes I loves bed room! I has room of things are mine. Mine! I think cupboard maybe bit bigger. Does not quite fit. Ben I can has big cupboard?
BC: if you like.

And finally Tang, how does it feel to have your own twitter account, and to have fans?!
Tang: I love fans! Ben what is twitters?
BC: Tang, we’ve been through this…you know perfectly well what twitter is, you’re just being deliberately obtuse.
Tang: what is ‘obtuse’?

I think we’ll leave them there! Thank you everyone.  :) You can follow Deborah on Twitter @TheRobotLady andyou also find Ben and Tang@BenandTang

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I'm going to read the book before I read the interview (a bit like films, I always prefer to do it this way around), and I'm planning to read it soon, as I loved the sound of it from your review, Michelle.  I'll be back later! :D

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