Today I’m pleased to welcome Deborah Install, who’s debut novel, The Robot in the Garden is out now.
Deborah kindly answered a few of my questions.
1. Tell us a little about The Robot in the Garden.
Stagnant Ben and high-flying Amy are a couple whose relationship is on a downward spiral. When they find a battered and broken robot in their back garden, Ben’s interest in it is the last straw for Amy and she leaves. With no ties to home, Ben decides to find out where the Tang the robot came from and attempt to get him fixed. Through his friendship with Tang, Ben begins to rebuild his life, and Tang begins to find his place in the world.
2. What inspired the idea of Tang and his story?
Hehe, I don’t think I’ll ever tire of answering this question – it always raises eyebrows! Shortly after our son was born (he’s now 2 and a half), my husband was talking one night about the ‘acrid tang’ of newborn nappies. I said that sounded like a robot from East Asia. I have no idea why! Overnight I kept waking up thinking about the robot, and in the morning I knew he’d travelled across the world and ended up in the garden of a chap called Ben, who had a wife called Amy, and whose arch enemy would be a sort of mad scientist character. I started writing. Tang moved from East Asia to the South Pacific, but the premise remained the same.
3. What has surprised you most about the publishing process?
That’s a great question. I think it’s probably my own feelings throughout that have been a surprise. It’s so much more of a rollercoaster than I imagined it would be – I have been lucky and had an awful lot of highs, but the lows that there have been were really horrible. Reading the first bad review, for example. You know it’s coming, but you can never really prepare yourself for it. I guess it’s because it’s been my ambition since I could hold a pen, almost literally, so it couldn’t mean more to me. Fortunately I’ve had incredible support, not least from bloggers like yourself. If you ever wonder whether you’re important to authors then be assured: you are.
4. Do you think your background in copywriting helped in developing your writing style? For example, I used to work as a writer and I learned to edit as I wrote. Did you pick up any tips or systems that helped in writing fiction?
It has helped, yes. Possibly not in style but in terms of practical things like deadlines. I’m used to having to knuckle down and produce something even if I’m not feeling especially creative, because as a copywriter you have no choice. So I’m better with a deadline than without, definitely! It taught me about writing as a business. Another way it’s helped is in understanding the audience, which is absolutely the golden rule of copywriting. Being able to understand the market helps enormously with both the writing process and in marketing a book, I think. And after all, if we’re not doing this to please, challenge and/or entertain readers, why are we doing it?
5. What is your writing process? Do you plan it all before you start or just sit and write? How long does the process take you from first line to completed novel?
I like to plan. I have to know the story arc and roughly speaking the character journeys otherwise I just don’t know where I’m going or why. It’s important to be able to be flexible when it comes to editing though – for example the ending of the book changed about five times from the one I’d planned out. I also like to write the section I feel like writing at the time – I don’t write a book from beginning to end, it just doesn’t work for me. So I end up with a collection of sections from throughout the novel, then I string them together.
6. What sort of books do you like to read? Who are the authors you turn to for when you are stuck in a book slump for example?
Ugh I hate a book slump, don’t you? I feel so guilty when I’m not enjoying a book, especially when there’re a few in a row like that. In answer to your question, though, I can always pick up an Alexander McCall Smith and a Nick Hornby and enjoy them, so they are a sort of a slump refuge. Can never go wrong with Jane Austen either – her writing always feels like a safe haven.
7. I like to end my Q&A’s with the same question so here we go. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been asked – and what’s the answer?
One question I’ve not been asked is why, as a woman, do I choose to write with a male protagonist and from a male point of view. I’m told this is pretty unusual, so I’m just surprised no one’s asked it yet. That said, I’ll probably get it asked all the time now I’ve said that! The woolly answer is that it just feels right to me. I have a lot of male friends and some of my hobbies both past and present are perceived as traditionally male (watching rugby, RPG and video gaming, martial arts eg) so I think that’s why – I’m just around men a lot. The technical answer is that I think it helps me detached myself from the character – I worry that if I wrote as a woman then she would just be a version of me. Perhaps I am being too harsh on myself, but that’s the fear. Writing as a man helps me make sure that doesn’t happen.
Thanks very much for taking the time to answer my questions and for appearing on the blog.
You’re welcome, thanks for having me! Dx