Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Audio Books

One of my jobs is to record audio books, mostly the unabridged versions which are faithful recordings of the original text every if, and or but. These are usually single voice recordings which involve sitting in a small, airless booth for days on end while the producer tears their hair out, silently, on the other side of the glass. They take quite a lot of preparation for the reader, as they have to be read through and then marked up.

All readers have their own techniques, but I am an avid collector of highlighters. If a book is 400 pages long and a character speaks on p.20 and then again on p.284, the highlighter is your friend. The book must be read through, then again with the highlighters, and again with a pencil to mark up the ends of pages. Every time you turn the page, the sound guys will have to edit the noise out and you have to turn at the beginning or end of a sentence. So the ends of sentences have to be written at the bottom of the page.

Similarly, with descriptions of how the dialogue is spoken, you can get quite far through a passage of dialogue before the author adds "He whispered". These directions need to be brought to your attention as you are embarking on the dialogue, so they all have be ringed or underlined.

Then there are the pronunciations. These can result in hundreds of question marks, consultations with embassies, detours on-line and to the dictionary. If you're lucky the author will be alive and contactable though even their patience can run thin after a week of erratic phone calls on the correct emphasis for an invented petrol company/haunted house/tinpot dictator. One novel had a character who liked to calm themselves by listing the names of every single road they had taken prior to their arrival which wouldn't have been too bad had they not enjoyed long journeys and lived in Sweden.

Some readers are just remarkably talented, they can skip through the pages with hardly any mistakes and are also talented actors with mellifluous voices. Most of us have our strengths and weaknesses as readers. The most difficult books have characters with strong regional accents travelling around the globe and learning new languages. One book I narrated was set in World War II and therefore rquired people from all over eastern Europe congregating frequently. They were all men of a similar age and in order to distinguish between them I resorted to various vocal tics so that they must have sounded like a conference on speech impediments.

This week, I am doing another recording of a series of fairy books for children. They are delightful stories with many characters of an extremely high vocal register. I shall be squeaking with abandon.


  1. This is not intended for publication on your blog - I don't want to embarrass you! - so please ditch it once read ...

    You might want to check out the spelling of "rhythm" in your second para.

    I hope you don't take it the wrong wasy - jus' tryna help!

  2. Publish and be damned. Thanks for the correction.

  3. I do audio book readings too occasionally. (I must be one of those "talented actors with mellifluous voices" you mention!)

    Instead of having to turn pages in a bound script, I do one of a number of things, depending on circumstances:

    i. I ask for a separable script, one that has, say, a plastic strip binder on the gutter edge which can just be slipped off to release the individual sheets;

    ii. if the producer isn't amenable to that, or just doesn't get around to supplying one, I photocopy the bound script (claim the cost to expenses if necessary) - this allows you to have two pages on one sheet and it can be blown up to, say, A3 size, making it easier to read;

    iii. Best of all, try to get the producer to give you (in advance of the reading) a digital copy of the script, perhaps in Microsoft Word or Adobe Acrobat format - you can then cut & paste it to suit your own preferences.

    The point is that by having separate sheets for each page, you can arrange the reading desk in the studio so that you can quietly remove pages as you come to the end and stack them to the side - if you don't bother turning them over you will eliminate almost all extraneous paper noises and the pages will be stacked in reverse order, so you can simply rearrange them into proper order after the reading.

    I narrated some fairytales too in what was then Czechoslovakia in the early 1990s (for Ceskoslovensko Rozhlas - Radio Czechoslovakia). It was great fun, not least because the production team insisted in altering our (English actors' ) voices electronically just to wind us up!

  4. Yes, Joe, I do use unbound scripts, one page per etc. But it still makes a noise when the page is removed. There will also be a gap while it is being done, so it is better just to do it, I think.
    What a lot of spelling mistakes! Goes to show how reliant I am on Spellcheck. Better cut and paste on Word next time. This is what comes of not going to school, I knew there was some reason I should have attended.

  5. One audio book read by Sophie, "Fairy Treasure" is thoroughly enjoyable from start to finish. I didn't know before all the work that went into performing these texts, but I had an idea it was extensive. By altering her voice, Sophie, not only makes us see, but also makes us care about the characters in the story.
    As I listened to Sophie portray 3 tiny fairies attempting to help their friend Connie, I grinned and thought, "Now somebody is having too much fun!"

  6. "Sophie said...
    Publish and be damned. Thanks for the correction."
    You see? This shows what a wonderful and down-to-earth person you are!

  7. You're all nuts! You know, there are more important things than spelling and it's not a measure of someone's intellect! However, the corrections were very gracefully received :o)

    Audio microphones pick up all sorts of noises these days so it's virtually impossible not to make some sort of noise when turning/removing a page...

    Oooh, like the sound of different coloured highlighters! That's an excellent way of marking up the text for meaning, emphasis or recurrent themes.

    Mmm.. stationery. I wonder if any of you too have a stationery fetish? Not a sexual fetish of course, that would just be a bit odd, quite frankly. My friends always laugh because I'm the only one in the group who would run back into the house to fetch a pencil case! So, if there are any others out there who have a penchant for Paperchase please let me know and I'll start up a support group.

  8. ... To quiz her famous chat show guests, what does the influential American tv host, Oprah Winfrey, ask them?

    Allegedly, "What'll you call your life story, then?" Because that's her favourite interview question

    Mmm, scarey

    "What title will Sophie Ward choose when she pens her autobiography?"

    Yep, currently the most popular pub-quiz question here on the tipsy South Coast of England, believe me

    Any "working title" suggestions yet from Nurse Ratched, off her blog?

    And, in a HeartBeat, too

    For example, remember October 2003? When your Cuckoo's Nest co-star, Shane Richie, entitled his autobiography, Rags to Richie

    Nothing too googly there, then. But it did top the bestseller list, all the same

    Geez, better do better than that, eh? Don't you believe in self-belief?

    If so, with a Sophie Ward autobiography - published in time for the Christmas gifts rush - with rivetting chapters for us all to enjoy and absorb, celebrity signing events staged in bookshops nationwide ...

    Plus, 2008, the New Year kicks off with Sophie Ward's One Woman Show in theatres across the UK ...

    Or all too much to hope for and look forward to?

    Personally, I'd find such vast ambitiousness unsettling

    And just irritatingly overwhelming

    Still, whenever troubled by the same doubts and uncertainties that plague the rest of us, at least posting a blog can expand thinking abit, that's for sure

    Warmly, from Trevor

  9. A title for a biog, eh ... ?

    Ward Dance ... ?

    Emergency Ward ... ?

    For Ward ... ?

    Although, given that a biog refers to past events:

    Back Ward ... ?

    Or ...

    Sophie, So Good ... ?

  10. Oh, 'Backward' a little too close to home, I think.

  11. Yes, I understand when you say about getting into character. Reading a book out loud sounds an easy task, but in reality it's actually very difficult.

    I am preparing to do readings of my own book 'Beautiful Strangers' at forthcoming Pride events, which should be very easy for me, being the author. Not so...I am practicing...and practicing...and practicing...and now I'm hyperventilating lol!!!

    Thank goodness I don't have to worry about making a noise when turning the pages...I just have to remember to breathe :)

    Somebody did suggest I put my book onto audio - so if you're free......

    Ellen Dean

  12. I don't think I'd really mind if they left in the page noise - if only to document it for posterity before "turning the page" becomes as much of a metaphor as "cut and paste" or "carriage return".

    I'm curious Sophie, will you be doing an audio book of your own novel?

    1. When we get there, if we get there, you bet!

  13. Ms. Ward,
    Thank you so much for this post! At your convenience, and if you are so inclined, I'd like some further advice.

    My grandfather has Parkinson's and Alzheimer’s, and can no longer read much. I know this causes him a great deal of pain. I think that if I learned to read aloud pleasingly, he might enjoy hearing poems and selections he probably learned in childhood.

    To that end, I’ve found a textbook called McGuffey’s Sixth Electing Reader (1879, 1921 edition), through It has elocution lessons in it, since memorizing selections and reading/performing aloud was such a large part of 19th century education. I went ahead and purchased a copy.

    However, is this I need? Do the principles still hold? Do the same rules apply for performance and reading aloud to one person? What about reciting poetry?

    My plan is to read poems and short selections he may be able to follow (in McGuffey's or not), starting with the poem “A Visit from St. Nicholas”/”’Twas the Night Before Christmas”, since I know Granddad had that memorized for a school exhibition in (probably) 1939-40. He also performed it for a family gathering about 15 years ago, so I know that he has it by heart, even if his brain and tongue no longer cooperate.*

    Mary from Tennessee

    *He also likes Kipling, but I developed my initial speech patterns in Rochester, MN and have lived the last thirty years in the American South. So the idea of reciting Kipling scares the, well, Dickens out of me.

    1. Dear Mary,
      I'm sure your grandfather will appreciate your readings that you have chosen with care. I wouldn't worry too much about the delivery, as long as you are clear and there is not too much background noise, he knows your voice and I'm sure will enjoy hearing you read. Much luck with your project. Sophie

  14. Thank you so much for your advice and kind words,

    Mary in Tennessee