How I "Cast" the Characters in an Audiobook

A few months ago, I narrated my sixth audiobook by Sven Hassel. Hassel’s books are famous for their mixture of almost unspeakable wartime violence and dark humour. Performing highly amusing character scenes alongside incredibly graphic descriptions of life on the Eastern Front was a thrilling (and daunting) challenge. I don’t mind admitting that these titles left me exhausted. None was quite as challenging though as the final one I narrated: SS General. Why was it particularly challenging? Well, apart from the vocal and emotional exertions required by the genre I needed to find a voice for no fewer than eighty-three characters. Eighty-three!

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Motivation Vs. Discipline

Monday

It’s a new week! The weekend was hectic, but a change is as good as a rest. Spending time with my kids away from school is precious. Every moment of quality I get to spend with them helps me to cope with the frustrations and confusions of my job. Not there are many of those right now. No sir! All is well at Sam Devereaux’s studio. I have a 176-page novel to record and 5 whole days in which to do it. 35 pages a day or thereabouts. No stress there. I read it last week and I know exactly how I want everybody to sound. My booth looks inviting and I just can’t wait to get started. Breathe-warmup-focus and…go for it. God, I love this book. I’m a very lucky man to have this job, this studio this life. Chapters breezed through. Decent sound as well, even if I say so myself. Managed a quick video games audition too. 

Pages recorded – 38

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What Makes Bond Sound Like Bond?

With Film being a visual medium it’s quite understandable that most focus on what James Bond looks like. The character’s creator, Ian Fleming, gave us many helpful pointers on Bond’s look in the 14 original books. But Fleming was much less detailed about how Bond sounded. He never even specifies 007’s accent. Given the era and Bond’s status as a senior civil servant with a decent education it’s fair to assume that he was intended to speak with some sort of RP. But what about the parts of the voice that are not governed by accent? What about tone, pitch and effort?

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Rooted In The Tongue

“You silver tongued devil!” is a phrase we all have likely heard at some point in our lives. The evocative imagery of a person’s tongue – the source of their loquaciousness – being made of silver implies that their use of language is both valuable and expensive. It also calls to mind a certain artificiality or ulterior motive. Convincing someone of your virtue with your silver tongue is seen, in other words, as something of a hustle. Equivalent to charming someone with your looks instead of your intentions. 

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How Do You Speak Maori? – Recording 'Not The Faintest Trace'

Imagine my excitement when the author, Wendy M. Wilson contacted me about narrating her historical crime drama: Not The Faintest Trace. Wendy hails from New Zealand and she has written a truly gripping murder mystery set deep in the 19th century. She wanted an English voice as the central character, Frank Hardy, is an Englishman. But the book also contains Danish settlers, Maori warriors, modern New Zealanders and even a sharp-witted Chinese cook. If you’re writing about indigenous New Zealanders then it’s surely essential to embrace the Maori language and this Wendy has done with aplomb.

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Your Voice is Nothing Without Body

When we talk about voice there is a tendency to focus on two things: your mouth and your throat. After all the mouth is used to shape the words and the sounds are made by your vocal cords. So, what relevance does the rest of your body have to the sound of your voice? A lot. It’s true that the squeak made by the folds of your vocal cords originates in your larynx, which is barricaded behind your Adam’s apple. It’s also true that you use the articulators of your mouth to create intelligible words. But where does the actual tone of your voice come from?

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The Agony and Ecstasy of Directing Yourself

One of the measures of an actor’s reputation is how easy or difficult you are to work with. You can probably all think of at least one Hollywood star who is famously difficult. There are also well-known stories of actors who are consistently popular on set because they are a breezeto be around. Beyond super-size trailer demands and personal hair stylists though, what actually causes others to label an actor easy or difficult? One measure is how easy they are to direct.

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Watch Your Larynx!

A great performer makes it look easy, don’t they? When an audience deliver themselves into the hands of a great professional artist they can relax. They can allow themselves to be taken to whatever place the writer/painter/musician/actor wants them to go. They are all happy to suspend their disbelief and go on a journey. That’s why we all need art. Art takes us to those parts of humanity not touched in our own lives. It’s exciting, it’s horrifying, it’s hilarious, it’s harrowing. Above all, art is life affirming and human.

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The Loneliness of The Audiobook Narrator

I was very happy with how the recording went that day. The challenge was to render a scene from World War II. A group of Wehrmacht soldiers were attempting to escape their pursuers on the frozen wastelands of the Eastern Front. In addition to narrating the scene in 1stperson I was also portraying 5 different characters all gripped in their own way by the immediacy of death. To play such a scene in one take all by yourself is no mean feat. Doing this sort of thing is why audiobook narration is so fiendishly difficult to do well.

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