Richard Owain Roberts
Richard Owain Roberts
|Born||1982 (age 38–39)|
Ynys Môn, Wales
|Notable works||All The Places We Lived (2015), Hello Friend We Missed You (2020)|
|Notable awards||Not The Booker (2020), Penfro short story prize (2019)|
Richard Owain Roberts (born 1982) is a Welsh author. He is the author of two books, All The Places We Lived and Hello Friend We Missed You.
Hello Friend We Missed You won the 2020 Not The Booker prize and has been hailed as "a turning point for Welsh fiction". There has been international interest in adapting his work for film and television.
Early life and education
Describing his time on Ynys Môn, Roberts said: "It was very tranquil and idyllic but also it’s one of the most deprived places in Wales. I wasn’t fully aware of this at the time, it was probably just normal to me. A lot of people at my school arrived in Jaguars and Range Rovers but my friend and I used to show up in an old Lada. Seems really defiant somehow. I don’t know."
After completing his studies, he moved back to Cardiff. Speaking about Cardiff, Roberts said:
"As a young capital city we have the advantage of having no current reputation internationally. Someone else might choose to see that as a negative (truly a boring, defeatist opinion) – it’s a positive though because it means we have a blank canvas to create something incredible. But we still have over-ground car parks, and we’re still putting up office/residential blocks that look a decade old already. Every single piece of new architecture should be the boldest statement of individualism, within an overriding city narrative. We should be building a city that looks like 2115. And this is possible. Go to SCI-Arc or the RDAFA and give someone a chance to make something awesome for us."
All The Places We Lived
All The Places We Lived was published by Parthian Books in May 2015. Roberts said he wrote most of the book at Chapter Arts Centre while listening to Kanye West: "I listened to 808 & Heartbreak during the writing period for All The Places We Lived and then Yeezus during editing."
The book features a story about two characters named Kanye and Kim, which many reviewers have taken to be West and his wife Kim Kardashian. It also features characters called James, Dave and Betsy Lou Franco and Eazy-E.
Wales Arts Review selected it as one of their summer reads for 2015, João Morais stating that, "Read it if you like the understated satirical style of Bret Easton Ellis, or read it if you understand how Frank and April Wheeler can feel both alone yet together in Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road. But more than anything, read it if you like great fiction."
Bridey Heing, writing for Sabotage Reviews, stated that, "For the author, being human means a very particular brand of self-sabotage and misanthropy... he is more of an observer, documenting each interaction and each movement without commentary. His prose balances starkness with a unique lyricism borne of repetition, a flowing sort of growth from sentence to sentence. The writing is lean, with no extra filler to soften its harsh edges."
Cult book review website Workshy Fop stated that, "Roberts creates strange, disjointed narratives; his prose features lists, brutally short sentences, social media updates and offbeat pop-culture references. The vignettes presented in All The Places We Lived reflect the influence of social media and marketing on our perception of the world and the people around us, with a darkly comic humour."
Serbia tour and Terrence Malick
The Serbian translation of All The Places We Lived was released in November 2017 by Serbian publishing house Partizanska Knjiga. In his foreword, an essay titled 'Kim is Offline', the novelist and critic Srđan Srdić described Richard Owain Roberts as a natural successor to David Foster Wallace. The forthcoming documentary, ULTRA, is set to cover Roberts' time in Serbia promoting the translation.
In September 2019, Roberts won the Penfro short story prize, judged by Niall Griffiths, for his story Terrence Malick. Writing in Wales Arts Review, Nigel Jarrett described the story as, "fresh, fugitive, dreamlike, yet one in which the writer is in complete control of the aesthetic".
In a review for Nation.Cymru, Jon Gower compared Roberts' writing to Paul Auster and said, "shot through with references to popular culture, cocaine and Pringles, the story acts as a playful, edgy advert for Roberts’ forthcoming debut novel".
The Zero Point Fiction podcast has released an episode with Roberts reading the story.
Hello Friend We Missed You
Robert's second book Hello Friend We Missed You was published by Parthian Books in May 2020 and won The Guardian's Not The Booker Prize in October 2020 with the competition organiser Sam Jordison writing "The net result is a novel that has impressed me more than any other on our shortlist. I do believe we’ve found a gem."
It is described by the publisher as: "A deeply poignant and bleakly comic debut novel about loneliness, the 'violent revenge thriller' category on Netflix, solipsism, rural gentrification, Jack Black, and learning to exist in the least excruciating way possible."
Anthony Cummins writing for Literary Review, having made comparisons with Tao Lin and Martin Amis, said of the novel, "[it] is recognisably alt-lit in style and sensibility, but with the benefit of added heart. Above all, it succeeds because of Roberts’s gift for comic timing and for dialogue that rings true – or ‘rings true’, I should say."
Duncan B Barlow, formerly of legendary cult punk band Endpoint, writing for Vol.1 Brooklyn wrote, "It's Roberts’ writing that really makes the story something special—a steady pulse of short sections and tightly wrought sentences which develop a rhythm that ripples forward in a wake of momentum, carrying the story forward with a delightful quickness."
The novel was described in Wales Arts Review as "a witty and imaginative reflection on grief, loss and the importance of moving forward". New Welsh Review compared Roberts to Bret Easton Ellis and said he was "able to perfectly capture the nihilism and pop culture of the adult millennial generation." Hello Friend We Missed You was later shortlisted for the Wales Arts Review Book of the Year prize, with the final award eventaully going to the recently deceased Jan Morris for her non fiction collection Thinking Again.
In August 2020, the novel was included on The Guardian's Not the Booker prize longlist alongside such contemporaries as Jenny Offill, Garth Greenwell, Brandon Taylor and Rob Doyle. It then survived a voting process to be included on a six-book shortlist. Speaking after being nominated, Roberts said: "I am very happy for anyone to email me, and my idea now is to continue and focus in this moment."
On announcing Hello Friend We Missed You as the winner in October, Sam Jordison stated, "At the end of this process, we have a worthy winner. Hello Friend We Missed You is just the kind of book we hope to find with the Not the Booker prize. It’s a title that has not yet been widely reviewed, from a small publisher and – most importantly – by a writer of real talent and potential. It took me by surprise when I read it, and it’s haunted me ever since. It’s formally daring, with clipped sentences, short elliptical chapters, and almost impressionistic streams of thought. It’s also very funny. (The title itself turns out to be a fine joke about Domino’s Pizza.) But it’s the emotional complexity and gentle melancholy of the book that endures. It’s a moving experience – and that matters. Especially in a difficult year such as this one."
The BBC Radio Review Show described Hello Friend We Missed You as "a turning point in Welsh fiction"
As with Roberts' short fiction debut All The Places We Lived, the Serbian language rights for Hello Friend We Missed You have been acquired by Partizanska Knjiga, the first time Parthian Books have sold foreign translation rights ahead of English language publication. According to the publisher, "Roberts follows Jarett Kobek, Ben Lerner and Miranda July as the latest English-language novelist to have his work translated into Serbian."
A video of Roberts reading from the novel was published by Wales Arts Review, along with a short clip of ULTRA, as part of its Digithon festival, organised in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Personal life and controversies
After the release of his first book, Roberts was "involved in a couple of spats that played out in the public forum". Writing in Wales Arts Review, Bethan Tachwedd said: "One centred on a business using his name without permission (albeit for a charity event), the second surrounding an publicly open and viewable Google Doc response to an Independent article that he took umbrage to." Roberts' evasive and truculent approach to answering questions led Tachwedd to compare him to Joffrey Baratheon from the Game of Thrones television series.
Roberts, who is a vegan, currently lives in Cardiff with his wife, daughters, and cat, Abi The God. He has worked as a teacher at Cardiff prison as well as delivering leaflets for "less than minimum wage". Outside of writing, Roberts likes to "read sports management biographies on my wife’s Kindle, look at Jaden and Willow’s Twitter, walk aimlessly around Mount Chiliad trying to befriend the wildlife".
- Jordison, Sam (2020-10-26). "Not the Booker prize 2020: Richard Owain Roberts wins with Hello Friend We Missed You". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-10-27.
- "Welsh writer's debut novel up for prestigious award". Western Mail. August 25, 2020. p. 13.
- Jarrett, Nigel (2020-01-08). "Heartland: The Penfro Anthology". Wales Arts Review. Retrieved 2020-01-08.
- "Hello Friend We Missed You". Parthian Books. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
- "Interview: Guillaume Morissette". Plastik Magazine. 2014-06-18. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
- Tachwedd, Bethan (2015-05-11). "So, Who is Richard Owain Roberts?". Wales Arts Review. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
- scottmanleyhadley (2020-08-30). "Hello Friend We Missed You by Richard Owain Roberts". Triumph Of The Now. Retrieved 2020-08-31.
- "Richard Owen Roberts - Wales Literature Exchange". waleslitexchange.org. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
- "All The Places We Lived - Parthian Books". parthianbooks.com.
- themetreview (2015-11-04). "Interview with Richard Owain Roberts Conducted by Renn Hubbuck-Melly". The Metropolitan Review. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
- "All The Places We Lived by Richard Owain Roberts". Sabotage.
- Milsom, Rhys (2015-07-15). "Fiction | All The Places We Lived by Richard Owain Roberts". Wales Arts Review. Retrieved 2020-01-16.
- "Workshy Fop: All the Places We Lived - Richard Owain Roberts". workshyfop.blogspot.co.uk.
- "Our Summer Reads". Wales Arts Review.
- "Penfro Festival".
- "Review: Heartland - Penfro Anthology offers range and verve in the writing". Nation.Cymru. 2020-01-11. Retrieved 2020-01-13.
- "Zero Point Fiction: Terrence Malick by Richard Owain Roberts". zeropointfiction.libsyn.com. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- Falvey, Deirdre. "57 books to watch out for in 2020 – all from independent publishers". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2020-01-30.
- Pearson, Gemma (2020-06-01). "Books | Hello Friend We Missed You by Richard Owain Roberts". Wales Arts Review. Retrieved 2020-06-01.
- "Hello Friend We Missed You". New Welsh Review. 2020-06-30. Retrieved 2020-07-08.
- Jordison, Sam (2020-08-03). "Not the Booker prize longlist: vote now to decide the 2020 shortlist". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-08-04.
- Jordison, Sam (2020-08-17). "Not the Booker 2020: the first three novels on our shortlist are …". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-08-18.
- "Not the Booker: Emma Donoghue, Abi Daré and Shahnaz Ahsan join the shortlist". the Guardian. 2020-08-24. Retrieved 2020-08-25.
- "Translation rights signed for Hello Friend We Missed You". Parthian Books. Retrieved 2020-05-27.
- Review, Wales Arts (2020-03-27). "Digithon Lit | Richard Owain Roberts". Wales Arts Review. Retrieved 2020-03-28.
- Review, Wales Arts (2020-03-27). "Digithon Cinema | Ultra". Wales Arts Review. Retrieved 2020-03-28.
- Gilliver, Liam. "Plant-Based Writer Shortlisted For Major Award After Publishing Book Centered On Veganism". Vegan News, Plant Based Living, Food, Health & more. Retrieved 2020-08-27.
- Roberts, Richard Owain (2016-12-06). "What It's Like to Work for Less Than the Minimum Wage". Vice. Retrieved 2020-01-16.