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robotOccasionally 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…
Tang: I HAS PET…I TELLS YOU ABOUT PET
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?
Tang: FISH FISH FISHES FISHINGS. FISH! And car.
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

You can find this interview, plus many others, over at The Book Club Forum 🙂

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James is the author of Hollow Pike, one of my top reads this year. He’s also very passionate about reading and writing, and he’s shortlisted to be Queen of Teen! James was kind enough to answer a few of my questions…

Q. Let’s start at the beginning.. what can you tell us about your book, Hollow Pike?

A. It’s been described as ‘Mean Girls with witches’, which works for me. It’s about a girl called Lis who moves to a small town called Hollow Pike only to discover it has a dark history. She think the witchcraft rumours are nonsense, but when a girl is murdered, she starts to think she might be next…

Q. How long have you been a writer for?

A. I’ve written for years. I used to write stories for my Grandma and then later wrote music reviews and interviews for papers and magazines. Hollow Pike was my first attempt at a novel.

Q. So what was your inspiration for Hollow Pike – where did the ideas come from, and how did they develop?

A. I really wanted to write about school. I think anyone who went to school will recognise Hollow Pike. Moreover, I wanted to write about people like me and my friends – I wasn’t seeing characters like us in other YA books.

The supernatural has always fascinated me too. The idea that in very ordinary villages, there are mysterious happenings! As the novel developed I looked to things like The Crucible and The Malleus Maleficarum for inspiration.

Q. There are some great characters in your book – go on, be honest, are they based on anyone you know?

A. Absolutely! All of the characters are versions of my friends or composites of people I know. That’s what writers do -beg, borrow and steal!

Q. Considering the success of other books, were you not just a tiny bit tempted to add a vampire? 😉

A. Not in this one. I do hope the vampire genre can come back post Twilight though as one day I’d love to tell a vampire story. But not this one, no!

Q. What comes next for you – will we hear any more from Hollow Pike, or are you moving on to other things?

A. I’d love to go back to Hollow Pike and explore the town in more detail at some point, but the next book will be something completely different. It’s still for YA readers and is even twistier and turnier than Hollow Pike.

Q. You’ve been shortlisted for ‘Queen of Teen’, tell us a little more about the award, and what it means.

A. The Queen of Teen is great because it’s all voted for by young readers. It doesn’t take itself too seriously either. The winner gets an ACTUAL CROWN.

Q. What would it mean personally to you if you won.. what would you do with the title?

A. It would be fantastic because I really hope that Hollow Pike (and my next book) captures what it’s like to be young. Getting an award from young adult readers would be a seal of approval.

If I won, I’d be able to visit schools as ‘the Queen of Teen’ instead of ‘another author’, which would be great because I could share my books and love of reading far and wide.

Q. Do you enjoy attending events, chatting to readers on twitter etc, and how important do you think this is?

A. I really do. Writing can be a solitary career so getting out and about is hugely important. For authors, Twitter is the watercooler.

Q. Finally, what do you like to read yourself.. who are some of your favourite authors, and who’s on your bedside table right now?

A. I am a YA reader AND writer. I love the pace and edge of YA books. I love Patrick Ness, Philip Pullman, Malorie Blackman and Maureen Johnson. At the moment, I’m reading Miss Peregrine’s Home of Peculiar Children by Ranson Riggs.

James would be thrilled if you could vote for him at www.queenofteen.co.uk/vote

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Kimberley Derting is best known for her Body Finder series, which in my opinion reached a brilliant new level in book 3, The Last Echo. She’s also started a new series, which starts with The Pledge.

Q. To start us off, please tell us a little about your books.

A. The Body Finder is a series about a teen named Violet, who has the ability to sense the bodies of those who have been murdered. She can also tell who has killed each victim because both the victim and the killer share the same unique echo / imprint. There’s also a boy named Jay…and there may be some kissing. I like kissing.

The Pledge is about seventeen-year-old Charlaina (Charlie), who lives in the violent country of Ludania, where the classes are strictly divided by the language they speak. The smallest transgression, like looking a member of a higher class in the eye while they are speaking their native tongue, results in immediate execution. It’s there that she meets a beautiful and mysterious boy named Max who speaks a language she’s never heard before and her secret is almost exposed. And there may be kissing…you know, because I like kissing. ;)

Q. Tell us a little more about The Body Finder – where did the idea come from?

A. The initial idea first came from my husband when he asked me: “What if there was a kid who could find dead bodies?” In his head “the kid” was a middle-grade boy, but it was actually a great idea, so I changed his kid to a sixteen-year-old girl, and came up with the idea for the echoes. And then there was Jay, of course!

Q. In The Last Echo you introduce some more characters, with different abilities – how long are you hoping to write about them for?

A. As of now, there are four books scheduled for the Body Finder series, but who knows what the future holds. I love spending time with Violet and Jay, but I’ve also got some other ideas that I’m very excited to explore. Only time will tell!

Q. The Pledge is a different type of book completely – would you class them as dystopian or fantasy… is it meant to be a future world, or a completely different one?

A. This is a great question because most people who read it seem to assume that it’s set in our future. I’ve only ever clarified it when asked because I don’t think it really matters one way or the other.

To me, though, the world is an alternate version of ours—the way ours might have developed had there been magic in our royal bloodlines. As far as classification, because of the magic, I consider it fantasy set in a dystopic society. (Try finding that genre in a bookstore!)

Q. You end The Pledge on a darker note – does this mean there’s more to come?

A. Yes, there are two more books in the trilogy…and a lot of darker notes to come! :)

Q. Have you always been a writer, and how did it feel to have your first book published?

A. I started writing when I was a teenager and actually had my first agent in my early 20s. When my first manuscript didn’t get picked up, I did everything from going to school with the hopes of becoming a doctor one day to being a stay-at-home mom for several years. As for my first book getting published, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life!

Q. Can you tell us anything about what you’re working on at the moment…are you continuing the two series already started, or do you have something new?

A. The fourth book in the Body Finder series and the second book in The Pledge trilogy are finished. I’m currently working on some edits for both of those, and also writing the final Pledge novel. After that, I have some plans in the works, but hey, a girl has to have her secrets, doesn’t she???

Q. You’re currently in the middle of a busy schedule, doing talks and signings, and you’re active on twitter. Do you enjoy being in contact with your readers?

A. I love it! For me, it’s one of the most rewarding things about being an author. I’ve always been very social, so having the chance to connect (online or in person) with some of my brilliant readers has been amazing! I know some authors who just want to write in a cabin in the woods somewhere and never come out of their homes. I’m the exact opposite. I will not only come out of my house, I might just show up at your house one day for tea.

Q. A little about yourself…what do you like to read, and what’s on your bedside table right now?

A. I recently finished CARNIVAL OF SOULS by Melissa Marr, which was an absolute thrill-ride of a read by a brilliant author! I’m just finishing up BLACK HEART (the final book in the CURSE WORKERS trilogy) by Holly Black, and because of this series, Holly is my reigning author crush! Also, I’ve just started VELVETEEN by Daniel Marks, and so far it has everything I could want: a sadistic serial killer, a badass ghost bent on revenge, and a super snarky tone! LOVING. IT.

Q. And when you’re not writing, reading, or tweeting…what else keeps you busy?

A. Shockingly, I’ve become someone who goes camping a lot. I say shockingly because those who know me wouldn’t consider me the outdoorsy type. But my husband figured out a way to make camping fun for me. By buying an RV, he’s made sure that I have access to hot tea, hot showers, and my flat iron, so it’s all good!

You can find Kimerley at http://kimberlyderting.com/

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