Hello this fine April day to author Deborah Install, whose debut novel A ROBOT IN THE GARDEN came out in paperback this February. I met Deborah when she kindly came to the launch of my second novel at Lincoln and I was then delighted to read her book. Here’s the blurb:
Ben Chambers wakes up to find an unfamiliar object – rusty and lost – sitting underneath the willow tree in his garden. Refusing to throw it on the skip as his wife Amy advises, he takes it home.
Ben does not want children, or even a job, and now he has found yet another reason to stay in his study and ignore everyone around him.
It is only when Amy walks out that Ben realises he has now alienated all the human beings in his life. He has only one friend left.
This is the story of an unlikely friendship, and how one man opens his heart to a past he did not want, and a future he cannot lose.
you explain from where the germ of this novel came?
It started with the
name. The words ‘acrid tang’ were mentioned in a conversation with my husband
and I thought it sounded like a robot. I have no idea why! I can only assume a
robot novel was sitting in the back of my mind somewhere and just needed the right
impetus to come out!
Deborah and a cuddly version of Tang.
 This novel seems to be set in a near
future where people have androids in their homes. What planning did you carry
out into creating this world e.g. mood boards, picture walls, sketches, lists,
It was mostly from
just looking around at current life and taking a step to imagine what it would
be like with robots. It was a blend, I think, between how smart phones are used
(and felt about) and also slavery. I’m interested in the life and work of
William Wilberforce; it wasn’t a huge leap to imagine androids being treated as
slaves, although I chose to apply a kinder overlay than slavery ever had.
 I feel like this story is a kind of
E.T. for grown-ups – one of my favourite movies. What Sci-Fi films have you
loved and been influenced by?
I like E.T. for
grown-ups – that’s a good way to put it! I grew up with the original Star Wars
films and they’ve been a bit influence on me. Also the Terminator films, Short
Circuit, Batteries Not Included and the like. The biggest influence they all
had on me though was that I wanted to create a more harmonious world of humans
and robots, rather than one where the robots rise up and kill the humans. That
has been done a lot and doesn’t interest me.
 What research into robotics and
technology did you find you needed to carry out?
More than I
expected, but less than you might think. I intended not to do very much,
because Ben is a layman and that’s very much the angle I wanted to come from.
If Ben didn’t know it, I shouldn’t know it. But in fact because the subject
just interests me I found myself reading more and more about it. I love
technology anyway though so I guess I was always going to want to research it,
despite what I thought!
 What kind of plotting did you carry out
while planning the novel, or was it more a case of the plot emerging as you
grew to know the characters of Ben, Tang and Amy, as you wrote?
I knew from the
outset that it was going to be a journey for Ben and Tang, that plot came to me
almost as soon as the character names. I like to know where I’m heading in a
plot otherwise I find I meander and don’t really ever come up with anything
coherent. That’s not to say it was fixed – the ending changed a number of times
throughout the course of editing, including advancing the timeline on at the
end by about 6 months. So yes, in a sense the more I knew about the characters
the more I developed the plot, though I had planned. I like to draw a timeline
on a big sheet of lining paper, partly so I can make sure the timing makes
sense, but also because ideas come out of it. For example, if you have a robot
whose never experienced Christmas, and your timeline crosses Christmas, then
there’s a chapter right there.
 What philosophical ideas do you feel
are at the heart of this story?
First and foremost
I think it has to be sense of self. Both Tang and Ben develop their sense of
self, what it means to be human and also what it means to fail and succeed.
Consequence is also a big part of the story: one person’s actions and treatment
of another having the power to govern both of their lives. Family and
friendship is a biggie, too, and love – in every sense of the word.
you’re working on next?
I’ve finished a first draft of a sequel, and now I’m working on a novel
where I use time travel in the way I used androids, i.e. it exists, but it’s no
big deal. That will look at both working relationships and the concept of
wanting what you can’t have. There’ll probably be an element of mid-life crisis
in there, too!
Thanks very much to Deborah for her really interesting responses about technology and self-hood, time travel and robots, and the super pictures of all those gorgeous foreign editions!
You can find Deborah online here: