E-mail conversation with Richard Owain Roberts

Recently, I e-mailed author Richard Owain Roberts whose debut book All The Places We Lived is out on Parthian later this month (Amazon link $$$: http://www.amazon.co.uk/All-The-Places-We-Lived/dp/1910409650), asking if he would talk to me about his perspective on the personal brand and creativity – two subjects on which Richard has a lot to say. What follows is the unedited e-mail thread.

—— MT > RO ——


You asked me about brand building the other day. It got me thinking about the blog that we’re doing at Small Joys. One of the things that I was hoping to do was to publish some transcripts of e-mails threads that I’ve had with interesting people. Would you be interested? If you agree, I’ll publish everything from the start of this e-mail until it gets boring for us. Kind of an e-mail interview or something more useful to use e-mail for.

Are you interested? 

I’m interested in what branding means to you as an author. I mean, is that what you’d even label yourself? What is a Richard Owain Roberts? 

Feel free to sell yourself. We believe in advertising as long as it betters the person being sold to in some way. 



—— ROR > MT ——

i am interested

should i start now, or do you want to start a new thread?

—— MT > ROR ——

Let’s carry on in this one.

—— ROR > MT ——

i would say i’m a person. i’ve got a book coming out on the first of may. i’m writing another book. i’m writing another book. i’m doing 2 x other projects. i would say i’m a person who is writing books and trying to make things.

i read on facebook recently re an author who was complaining about not getting enough attention for their work. this sounds like ‘an author’. i didn’t relate to that. either be happy with what an outdated model can give you or make your own attention, i suppose.

branding is important because if you expect people to buy your products then i think it’s right that the product doesn’t end with the book or film or whatever. for example, kanye made yeezus and it’s maybe half an hour long; but there’s probably 3-4 hours worth of video interviews he did around the time it came out. and these were the interviews where he went in and said what was on his mind rather than giving generic answers re what were your influences when making this album etc etc. this feeds back into the music and then back out again. this seems very relevant to me.

there is an impression maybe that branding is somehow disingenuous, i know a lot of people just hate the word because of associations to business culture. i think, maybe in 2010, some people heard a contestant on the apprentice use the phrase ‘personal brand’ and it made them angry. instead of being angry, they should have enjoyed it. the business jerk was entertaining them on a fictional programme. in 2014 someone on twitter got very angry because i referred to ‘my brand’. this was in 2014: four years after the business jerk on the apprentice. this is funny to me. i favourited and retweeted him. it’s okay.

branding is about honesty. or it doesn’t have to be. everything in my book is real, one way or another.

this isn’t to say that some people aren’t being disingenuous, although most of the time, if they are, this is reflected in an uninteresting product or nondescript brand.

—— ROR > MT —— 

rather than a fictional programme, the apprentice is probably better described as ‘fiction’ lol

—— ROR > MT —— 

the idea of striving to impress anyone (i suppose traditional gatekeepers in whatever industry for example) or acting ‘political’ in terms of being careful about what you say / attempting to manipulate people, seems very outdated. if you have confidence in what you’re making, and how you present your brand, i think everything will be okay. brand is way less cynical than pretending to be everyone’s friend.

—— MT > ROR ——

I have so much stuff to say about what you wrote in your last messages. It’s hard to know where to start. I think what I really want to say is: 

Kanye comes across as a real weirdo, right? But I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. He’s really good at what he does as his primary outlet for creative work. But what interests me specifically is that he has blurred the boundaries between Kanye the rapper, the artist, the personality and also as Kanye the fashion designer. I like that about him. Do you think that’s the new mode? 

—— ROR > MT ——

i think kanye, to me, comes across as being a very honest person. i think he’s doing what a lot of people are doing to be honest, in terms of not limiting himself, but he’s doing it to a large audience, some of whom are ready to listen. when he talks about designing uniforms for cities, designing buildings, i appreciate that. for example, in cardiff we have a couple of brilliant buildings, maybe some more on the way, but i still see a lot of generic new builds going up. 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.

—— ROR > MT ——

if you feel like you can make something, anything, you should work on it and then do it. i think that’s what kanye is doing. it’s pretty simple and it’s sad that people make fun of him for it.

—— ROR > MT ——

you put a post up on facebook about the revamped morgan(?) arcade creative spaces and how it was now being pushed as ‘a lot like london’ with a ‘fairly soho vibe’. i mean, that is the worst branding i can imagine. it’s also a dated ghetto mentality being spoon fed to people who who earnestly read the western mail and don’t know better.

the merger of a load of universities no one had heard of internationally to make USW was good. i think some people lost their jobs but that’s okay if you believe in collectivism or are a perfectionist. if you want to make a product that is interesting or exciting, i think disappointing/angering other people is inevitable – but that’s their decision to be angry or disappointed, it shouldn’t effect the creative person’s approach to their work

—— ROR > MT —— 

have you watched the movie ‘jobs’ with ashton kutcher as steve jobs? i suppose it’s a boring film for maybe 70% but i’d recommend it to anyone who has an interest in what hard work and genuine commitment to a brand is

—— MT > ROR ——

One of the interesting things that has happened since we last spoke is that there was some discussion over Twitter/Facebook/elsewhere about DIY culture. For example, I mentioned that I’d been with someone who had applied for funding to do a thing that she could have done with her phone for free. And her main concern was that if she did it on her phone, there wouldn’t be a high production value.

That really annoyed me because 1) It seems dumb and 2) It’s such a cop out. 

What’s your view on DIY stuff? 

—— ROR > MT ——

the idea of ‘high production values’ seems cringeworthy somehow. mark duplass did a talk at sxsw that felt relevant to this point. i’d encourage people to google it.

‘high production values’ in films: you could watch ‘the theory of everything’ and it probably conforms to what ‘high production values’ means in a traditional sense, but i can’t imagine what anyone could possibly get out of it on an emotional level. read the wikipedia page on stephen hawking or something.

diy seems like a better way of approaching things. you can learn editing on youtube, you can learn any technical skill on youtube. what mark duplass is saying is relevant: there are no barriers to telling stories.

if someone wants get in touch with me about making a film together one weekend i’d be happy to listen and talk about it.