The Sound Stage in the Closet

What It Really Takes to Be an Audiobook Narrator

As we close out our December celebration of the Best Audiobooks of 2017, I wanted to share some of our winning narrators’ lesser-known skills and challenges.

Xe Sands
Xe Sands, photo by Charles Tarnowski

These are tidbits of information that enhance my admiration for their ability and occasional bravery. Such as not panicking when a spider lands on your hand while you’re trapped in a recording booth voicing a romantic scene. Xe Sands, who read Helen Rappaport’s CAUGHT IN THE REVOLUTION, is officially terrified of eight-legged creatures. Yet professional that she is, she didn’t react until she’d finished her sentence, exited the booth, and closed the door. That’s when she screamed her head off.

Kate Reading
Kate Reading, photo by Teresa Castracane

Kate Reading, who performed Sherry Thomas’s A CONSPIRACY IN BELGRAVIA, hasn’t been in a recording booth with a spider, but she has shared one with her husband, narrator Michael Kramer. “Firstly, Michael’s a big guy. He would heat that little box up. So annoying. And when we co-recorded THE WHEEL OF TIME series, it got ridiculous when the sections were just one or two pages. We had to play narrator relay.” Now they have his-and-her recording booths, and peace reigns.

Simon Vance
Simon Vance, photo courtesy of the narrator

Most folks know that Simon Vance, who recorded SOHO DEAD, was a BBC Radio newsreader in the 1980s. But did you know that, “because it was fun,” he drove a bus for a while after college? Or that this Englishman’s facility with Scandinavian accents began at age nineteen when Swedish and Finnish exchange students arrived in his hometown? “I wanted to be able to talk to them and maybe get a date.” His efforts at cross-cultural communication and possible romance didn’t get far, “But I know enough about the languages to be comfortable with the shape of the vowels and how to make them understandable.”

John Lee
John Lee, photo by Ed Krieger

And how about John Lee’s performance of Jo Nesbo’s THE THIRST? It features his well-known skill with characterization and accents, for which he prepares with a “system of codes and shorthand, odd notations about pitch, and where someone might be from if their place of origin is not mentioned.” Unfortunately, they make no sense to anyone but him, and he has such bad handwriting that he sometimes cannot decipher what he’s written. “I suppose I should always write in upper case,” he muses.

Robin Miles
Robin Miles, photo by Jordan Matter

Robin Miles (THE STONE SKY) makes as many on-script notations as John Lee, and swears that she can read her handwriting. This is good because she often does extra research, such as reviewing maps of the Napoleonic Wars for WOMEN IN BATTLE DRESS. On workdays, she hits the gym early and eats a good breakfast before recording in ninety-minute segments for about seven hours. Afterward? Forget resting the instrument. “I need to reclaim my own thoughts spoken in my own voice, so I’m quite the chatterbox at the end of the day.”

Dion Graham
Dion Graham, photo by Jo Anna Perrin

And then there’s Dion Graham, who performed TROMBONE SHORTY. He tries not to pre-plan. Instead, he says, “I swim around in the books and like to let them swim around in me so that, when it’s time to narrate, I can be free to jump off the cliff and see where we fly, riding the currents of great writing.”

Thank you to all of them, swimmers, super-preparers, and every other narrator who gets into that recording booth, spider or not, to perform magic on our behalf.

Author and audiobook fanatic, Aurelia often falls asleep at night with earbuds still attached. She can also be found at www.aureliacscott.com.

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