Keith Roberts

[An obituary of the English writer, Keith Roberts, written by CP in 2000 for David Langford’s newszine Ansible. Roberts’ death had been long foreshadowed: he contracted multiple sclerosis and lived out his last painful years in a nursing home, more or less cut off from his fellow writers. Roberts made many of his literary colleagues uncomfortable: he was a prickly man, with a harsh temper and a capacity for bearing grudges over many years. He fell out sooner or later with almost everyone he met, including most of the people who published his books. At the time of his death, the news encouraged several people to vent their long-held personal dislike: two who rushed into venomous print, surprisingly, were Brian Aldiss and Michael Moorcock. CP’s short obituary, written in ignorance of what other people were saying about Roberts, was not intended as a corrective to this unpleasant score-settling, but in fact came to seem that way. Keith was a difficult man, but he was a superb writer. This article may be downloaded, but may not be uploaded or printed elsewhere.]

I met Keith Roberts several times over the years. He was tall, bulky, amusing, paranoid, opinionated and intolerant of idiots (which is to say, just about everyone). He was an extrovert mimic: he did the most hilarious impersonation of his former editorial colleague Harry Harrison I have ever seen, and told many of his anecdotes in loud, unrelenting imitations of his victims. He started publishing fiction professionally in 1964, concurrent with the beginnings of the New Wave, but was never really a part of it. His virtuosic short stories, usually written in a rich but conventional style, commanded instant respect and admiration. Within four years he had given us his finest book: Pavane, a wonderful novel of English alternative history, written in glorious English. I told him so once and he called me an idiot. Farewell, Keith!

Currently available books by Keith Roberts include The Furies, The Chalk Giants, Kiteworld, Molly Zero, The Grain Kings, The Boat of Fate and The Inner Wheel.