Mike Scott Thomson’s story ‘Me, Robot’ appears in Crying Just Like Anybody, the most recent Fiction Desk anthology. We asked him to write a few lines about the inspiration behind the story…
While the maxim is to ‘write about what you know’, I can honestly say I have never been tempted to spray myself from top to toe in silver paint.
The idea of ‘Me, Robot’ came, as the story itself hints, from a walk along the London South Bank one Saturday afternoon. Among the musicians, magicians, dancers and puppeteers, there were at least three statue performers — either remaining utterly motionless, or making jerky movements like, indeed, robots.
It certainly wasn’t the first time I’d seen street artists like this — I’ve seen them all over Europe as well as the UK — but on this occasion something was triggered in my mind. These were guys who had decided, for whatever curious reason, that colouring themselves silver or gold, sticking a bottle down their trousers (for reasons best left to the imagination) and standing still for the greater part of the day was something they simply just had to do.
I was intrigued.
However, the idea of the main plot came not from any thoughts about the motivations of these people, but more when I mused aloud to myself: they could witness all sorts of things, undetected. Invisible, in plain sight. Conspicuous, yet anonymous. An ideal protagonist, I thought, for a story. But my idea was a simple one: what if one of them sees his partner with someone else?
After this initial concept, the back story of the character, and the details of his unfortunate situation, fell into place. The notion of a human being becoming a robot, as opposed to the famous science fiction tales where the reverse is sort of true, led to the (hopefully not too cheeky!) nod to Asimov in the story title.
It turned out to be a comic story, more by accident than design. Comic stories, however, to my mind need an undercurrent to run alongside the humour: something darker, or some pathos, to prevent the tale from turning into a long joke. Hence my attempts to make the reader sympathise as much as possible with the main character. Even if he does go around thumping people.
Nor did I immediately plan for it to be written in the style of one side of a conversation. I wrote a few stories like this in mid-2012 without really knowing why, and I’ve been wondering where the inspiration came from. Upon the death in December 2012 of the actress Daphne Oxenford, and having read in her obituary about her close work with Joyce Grenfell, it all came back. When I was little, I read and re-read, from cover to cover, Grenfell’s George, Don’t Do That. Wonderfully engaging humour and characterisation, despite only hearing the voice of a narrator: in her instance, a nursery school teacher attempting to control a class of unruly children. I guess this format stuck with me.
— Mike Scott Thomson
Read more about the anthology Crying Just Like Anybody.