The making of an audiobook

audioimage3I am currently deeply engaged with the recording of an audio-book of ‘The Village; A Year in Twelve Tales’.  My collaborator, Elizabeth, is much more experienced in this than I ( you can find her and listen to some of her recordings at www.elizabethbergstone.com ).  As my earlier post suggested, this isn’t a straightforward matter at all for an author, though the process itself is relatively simple.

We are using Audiobook Creation Exchange or ACX, an on-line market place for the creation of audio books, bringing together writers, narrators and producers.  The finished article is then marketed by Audible, Amazon’s audiobook arm ( yes, yet another Amazon company ).  They take their cut and the profits are distributed according to agreement between the individuals who create the master tape.  It’s inexpensive and, for the writer, relatively easy.

Not so simple for the narrator.  There are fifty four named characters in The Village and, as Elizabeth pointed out, War and Peace has twenty eight!  It audioimage2also has scenes in which quite a large number of characters contribute dialogue, such as the Summer Fete committee meetings and the Board meeting of Herald Newspapers. How does one differentiate characters aurally in such scenes?  Especially when they come from different socio-economic, geographic and ethnic backgrounds.

We debated the use of accents.  This was difficult, as I have, quite deliberately, not located the village in a particular place.  At first we decided on a general ‘country’ accent and Elizabeth listened to episodes of ‘The Archers’ BBC radio series to get a general idea. ( This long-running series is set in a fictional place – Ambridge – somewhere in the English Midlands, for those who don’t know. ) But, subsequently, we have abandoned this idea and only the older characters, who have lived in the village for a long time will have a ‘country’ accent.  If anyone reading this blog post has ambitions to produce an audio-book I would strongly recommend that s/he thinks long and hard before asking their narrator to incorporate accents, unless they are really pertinent to the story, or unless everyone has roughly the same one. I was too inexperienced and Elizabeth too helpful, to agree that using a variety of accents wouldn’t work.

The narrator has enough to think about when telling the story,  without ‘doing’ a wide range of different accents, or variations on the same one. As Elizabeth explained to me – ‘When I’m narrating, I like to totally focus on the meaning of the words I’m saying; it’s as if I’m actually telling the story to someone, and seeing, in my mind’s eye, what I’m talking about. I think the best storytelling happens when the narrator really wants the person to “get” what they’re narrating, how sunny the day is, how fearful the character is, how imposing the room is, etc. Even if you have thousands of words to get audioimage1through, you can’t put it “on automatic” and think about what you’re going to cook for dinner that night.’ So adding lots of accents just adds a layer of complexity, which makes it even more difficult for the narrator.

So we press on.  Our plan is to have the audio book in production as early as July.  That way I will be able to play some of it at the Literary Evening at Clapham Books on 16th July.  For details about that event, watch this blog space!

If you enjoyed reading this blog piece try       How does a book sound?                     Sometimes voices        Oh, to be in England

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