Listening To Books Is Fun

Author Jill Amadio

Jill Amadio

I wrote an article last month for about some British actresses who came to Hollywood for film work and found themselves also narrating audiobooks. Here are their stories:

Listened to a great mystery lately? Almost one and a half billion audiobooks in all genres were sold last year, according to the Audio Publishers Association, a U.S. not-for- profit organization. The number represents a 20% increase over the previous year and the surge shows no signs of stopping. The growth, points out Jessica Kaye who recently moderated a panel of audiobook narrators at a Mystery Writers of America meeting in Los An- geles, is due in part to the fact that audiobooks can be purchased directly from your com- puter, iPad tablet, or mobile. From any of these you can order the CDs or download them. We’re so into the digital age these days that being able to listen to a book through a CD player or earphones while jogging, cooking, and other activities where you can’t hold a print book or find it too heavy and inconvenient, is a great solution for book lovers.

“Accessibility is key to big sales for authors”, said Kaye, an intellectual property rights attorney and founder of The Publishing Mills, an audio and literary publishing company. “Any author can easily turn their book into an audiobook. They and small presses have the same access to download venues as big publishing houses. Websites, unlike bookstores, never close and products can be bought 24 hours, seven days a week.”

I asked her why most voice over narrators appear to be men. Do they sound more like murderers? She said that it’s all about the casting process and having something in common with the story. If the main character is female, then obviously, if there is a sole narrator, the actor is female, especially if told in first person.

The popularity of audiobooks is proving a boon for Hollywood-bound creative Brits. They are often surprised at the unusual opportunities that can pop up after being offered acting and writing work in America. The most natu- ral yet unexpected extension of their careers is in the realm of audiobooks.

Are special skills required, especially for crime novels? “Not necessarily,” said Kaye. “What makes a good narra- tor is their ability to convey the sense of the writing, whether it is genre fiction or otherwise. It helps to understand the genre but a good story well told is always the basis of a good book. If the narrator has an ear for the meaning of the content then he or she will be successful at conveying that to the listener”.

British actors who have crossed the pond to work in the U.S. include Neil Dickson, Steve West, Martin Jarvis, and several others. Most come over to work in film and television, and are often invited to narrate audiobooks. Two actresses who are especially popular as narra- tors are Susan Duerden and Jayne Entwistle. Susan is from Winchester, and at 18 moved to London to study drama and acting. She is currently filming in L.A. and juggling 12-hour workdays and childcare, She has performed in theatre in the West End, in more than a dozen films, several video games, and in many television roles, and is the voice of Thursday Next, in Jasper Fforde’s literary detective series. Susan has won several awards for her audiobook narrations.

“I’d done a lot of voice over work when my agent put me forward for an audiobook several years ago. I enjoy narrating books tremendously”, she said. “I love that moment when I first receive a book and start to read it. I get to tell incredible stories, and thrillers are among my favorites. I particularly love narrating young adult books and historical fiction. It’s a big responsibility but extremely rewarding”.

She explained that her excitement comes from wondering what characters there will be to portray, giving actual voice to the authorial voice. “I am so invested in the story”, she added, “that sometimes I have to stop if it’s an emotional part, or, if it’s a thriller and I feel scared when I am recording, I can share that feeling with others”.

Her greatest challenge, she acknowledged, is having to read the part of several characters as the solo narrator, and be able to jump from one to another and make them all distinctive so that the listener knows who is speaking. “When you are in a recording studio with a director and sound engineer you can’t just stop and say, Oh, hang on a minute, what did I decide to do for this character? So preparation is crucial”.

Susan reads a book straight through once, then again to make notes about the characters, including their descrip- tion and what others in the book say about them. She creates fully-fleshed out characters and a strong mental im- age in her mind so that they are easy to recall. She thinks, too, about the cadence of her voice, the tempo, the depth, the breathiness of each character, as well as the setting, the period, and genre.

“A lot of preparation goes into an audiobook”, she said. “I love it”!

The only books she refuses to narrate, she noted, are those that are racist or hateful or a subject against her beliefs. Her advice to wannabe narrators”?

“You don’t have to be an actor but aside from having a great voice you need to be able to tell a story, and be engaging and consistent. You have to be able to play a wide range of characters that aren’t cartoonish but con- vincing. Listen to a lot of audiobooks. Read aloud, and take classes if you can.

Another favorite narrator is Jayne Entwistle, the voice of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mystery series and winner of several audiobook awards. Last year she was voted one of the best narrators of 2015. Originally from Lyth- am St. James, Jayne trained in both theater and improvisation, studied at the Voice One conservatory in San Francisco, then headed south to Los Ange- les, home to Tinseltown as Hollywood is often called.

Seeking acting work, she checked the jobs on Craigslist, a catch-all web site where you can find employment, housemates, furniture, and pets to adopt. Jayne answered an ad for a voice actress to play an 11-year old British girl. “I was a greedy little reader”, Jayne said, “hoovering up books as fast as I

could find them, so I can honestly say my training for audiobook narration started as a child”.

The ad on Craigslist was from Penguin Random House. Talk about starting at the top! Once she arrived at the re- cording studio she almost ran away but was curious enough to go through with the audition and discovered it was for the first Flavia de Luce book.

“I was hooked at once”, she said. ‘I love stepping into the world of the book and getting to play hundreds of char- acters that I would never, realistically, be able to play as an actress: little boys, old men, trolls, witches, wizards, talking trees, dragons, and even a French seductress”!

Accents Jayne uses include the German Dieter Schrants in the Flavia series, or the American Carl Pendracka. She recently narrated a book that called for Chinese, British, French, American, Polish, Russian, Austrian, and French- Canadian accents.

“My greatest challenge when narrating is remembering the feeling and sensibility of a character in the Flavia books that appeared in the first or second one and who suddenly reappears in the latest book,” she said ,“which also speaks to the preparation necessary. Alan Bradley loves words. He loves art and history and Latin and ancient wars, and anyone who contributed to science. He loves classical music and most of all, he loves chemistry – or rather dear old Flavia does. That means that my vocabulary has to increase by hundreds of words for each book. The words have to be researched for pronunciation and meaning”. Jayne went on to explain that because of living away from England she has to remember how to pronounce words like garage, patent, and clerk.

When preparing to narrate she starts by finding the voice for each character and determining touchstones that bring the voice back to her easily. For example, Flavia’s father sits very erect with a hand on one knee. Daffy sucks her cheeks in when she talks. Other characters may jut out their teeth or their chin.

“Subtle things like that,” said Jayne, “can change the voice and ground the character physically”.

Her advice for those seeking a career in narrating audiobooks: Read, read, read. Read aloud and record yourself, then listen back. Get accustomed to the sound of your voice and practice reading everything from your favorite book to a cookery book. Read them performing as a child, as an old wizard, as an upright professional. Practice accents. Study, because with study comes practice.

“Erotica is out as far as I’m concerned. What would Flavia think”?

   Published by No Exit Press 22 Sept. 2016

Daniel Pembray The Harbour Master

Henk van der Pol is a 30 year term policeman, a few months off retirement. When he finds a woman’s body in Amsterdam Har- bour, his detective instincts take over, even though it’s not his jurisdiction. Warned off investigating the case, Henk soon real- ises he can trust nobody, as his search for the killer leads to the involvement of senior police officers, government corruption in the highest places, Hungarian people traffickers, and a deadly threat to his own family…

For fans of Euro Noir, John Harvey’s Charlie Resnick series and Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch, The Harbour Master is an action-packed detective investigation set in the evocative locale of Amsterdam. Delivering for Amsterdam what fans of Scandi- navian fiction have come to love, this gripping novel shines a fascinating light on the dark side of a famously liberal society, combining vivid characterisation with ice-cold suspense.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *