Fast Talker: the Joy of Narrating Audio Books – especially my own!

I was in London last week.

St Giles in the Fields - where the sick and indigent of London have always gathered

St Giles in the Fields – where the sick and indigent of London have always gathered

Always great to revisit the city where I grew up, catch up with old friends, drink that sublime beer! Even better to go there with a purpose. And this time I was there to narrate the audio book of my latest novel, ‘Shakespeare’s Rebel’.

I hadn’t done one for several years – I recorded the first three of my novels for cassette – remember them? – in 2002-3. In the years since a couple of others were done by other actors. I was unavailable, too far away. The last one, ‘Vlad’, I was especially unhappy about. It was recorded in Australia and though the actor was English he had lived there too long, had picked up that Aussie habit of going up at the end of sentences. (Listen to some of them, you’ll hear!) Or maybe I’d have been unhappy with anyone else. I have discovered this truth – that I write to be read aloud… by me!

Its hard work though. Eight hours sitting in a booth, talking. Acting. You have to characterize. A variety of voices, of tones, timbres and classes have to be distinguished. You have conversations, sometimes between more than two people and you have to help the listener tell between them. There’s also a way of inflecting a sentence… and a way of not inflecting it .

Fortunately I was in the expert hands of Douglas Kean, who has done, literally thousands. He gently guided me when I went astray, swiftly put me back on track if I bobbled a line or word. The form is that you just go back a few words or to the top of a sentence. But he was always happy for me to call a halt too, when I felt my performance required more emphasis, more emotion, or less.

Especially that. This is, in so many ways, my most personal book to date. About actors. About Hamlet, the role that literally changed my life when I played him. About love – for friends, for country, for theatre. For a woman. For, perhaps especially in this case, sons. I got a little choked inside, reading some passages, as a father. Not outside though. I think an actor’s job is to move, not be moved. At least, not so much as it will distract.

I was booked for four days but to our mutual joy we managed to get it done in three. Man, I can talk fast!

I heard a BBC arts program last week that said that audio books are one part of the publishing world that is showing steady growth. Digital storytelling, downloadable at a touch. Also, in our busy lives, how nice to sit back and be told a story. I still think books are best. But if you haven’t got the time, or are driving… I know I’m prejudiced and perhaps not all authors have the background I do – but if you can have the author sit by your bed and tell you the tale, how good is that?

I’ll let you know when and where it is available for purchase.

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