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Talking with Simon Prebble
In celebration of the 150th anniversary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's birth, AudioFile spoke with narrators of his Sherlock Holmes stories . Sherlock Holmes is a perennial favorite, and the audio format offers a vast number of listening choices, with new releases appearing regularly.
Money was on everyone's minds in 2009, and Simon Prebble made Niall Ferguson's "financial history of the world" accessible. Our review raves, "Prebble moves along this metaphysical history of dinero with command, authority, and a BBC accent. His tone and timing add an element of class to the project. It's sort of like sitting in on a really fab Oxford lecture."--
Simon Prebble reinvented himself as an actor when he came to America in 1990. After twenty years as a radio journalist, BBC announcer, and actor who toured with Ian McKellen in HAMLET, Simon tried narrating two or three audiobooks for Recorded Books in New York and was "hooked." He's now completed nearly 200 audiobooks. "Artistic gold" is a phrase Simon uses to describe audiobook narration. "It gives me the ability to practice my craft--acting. I get to make creative choices--rapidly and constantly, as the narrative progresses."
Simon's genius as a narrator lies in the scope of his imagination. The art of narration is the art of communicating what one's imagination sees," says Claudia Howard, artistic director for Recorded Books. "In the Technicolor of his imagination, he can be anybody, police inspector, jockey, psycho-killer, spy." Simon has recorded scores of titles in popular series by Dick Francis, Simon Brett, and Michael Pearce. Simon won't acknowledge any particular gift with accents, and he has a notably light touch with characters. "I like to stay in the background and put the story in the foreground." He says he envisions himself speaking from just behind the listener's ear. Simon finds the most interesting challenges in works of psychological suspense like those of P.D. James and Minette Walters.
Reticent to talk too much about any specific approach to his work, Simon did share the concept of the "art of crossing the sill." This idea that an actor steps into a scene in an instant is something he learned from McKellen. The actor must pick up at an exact point with the right tone and intensity. This doesn't mean that one goes unprepared, and Simon likes to get "the shape of what a book means, what it's saying and where it's going" before getting near the studio. Simon also acknowledges his skill with reading--speaking a line while his eyes and mind are two or three sentences ahead--as key to his success. In a feat showing off the virtuosity of a professional reader, Simon recently recorded Gerald Seymour's A LINE IN THE SAND, a book with 154 characters.--[December 2000]
December 2007: Audies nominations mixed with some interesting classics: 1984 and Dostoevsky's THE GAMBLER join Oliver Sacks's new MUSICOPHILIA and the performances of romances adored by listeners.
December 2006: Whether it's bodice rippers or spy novels, Simon always puts the right spin on a delicious mix of topics in his audiobooks. Following the success of Susanna Clarke's JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL , Simon recorded THE LADIES OF GRACE ADIEU, teaming with fellow Golden Voice Davina Porter. Simon's performances of steamy romances consistently get Earphones Awards--see THE TRUTH ABOUT LOVE and THE PROMISE IN A KISS . Spy thrillers have long been a forte, whether they're revivals--the Quiller series by Adam Hall--or the fast-action Alex Rider teen thrillers ( SCORPIA ).
December 2005: Simon was a finalist for five Audie Awards this year. Susanna Clarke's JONATHAN STRANGE & MR. NORRELL received two nominations, while THE PERFECT LOVER by Stephanie Laurens received another. Two ensemble recordings resulted in the additional nominations. Simon's other audio highlights include Ian McEwan's THE CHILD IN TIME , THE GREAT FIRE OF LONDON by Neil Hanson, Simon Brett's A SERIES OF MURDERS , Sandor Marai's CASANOVA IN BOLZANO , and Caleb Carr's THE ITALIAN SECRETARY .
December 2004: "As close to perfection as it gets." What a way to start an audiobook review, but believe it, and find an opportunity to listen to Simon read THE BOOK OF THE LION by Michael Cadnum, which received an Earphones earlier this year. Other recordings of Simon's to seek out – Neal Stephenson's QUICKSILVER and THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS by Ian McEwan. Simon also read McEwan's children's novel, THE DAYDREAMER.
December 2003: Simon brought forth some vivid history in his narration of THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII , Caroline Alexander's THE BOUNTY, and the chilling HITLER'S SCIENTISTS . We're glad Simon also read some of the intellectual mysteries at which he's so superb: Graham Swift's LAST ORDERS and a teen mystery, SKELETON KEY. The pinnacle of Simon's year, he says, was his wedding to Marie-Janine Hellstrom in September.
December 2002: Simon recorded some fine literary fiction this year, including A BIOGRAPHER'S TALE by A.S. Byatt and BORDER CROSSING by Pat Barker. His ensemble readings of ENGLISH PASSENGERS and REBECCA'S TALE also caught our ear. Fans are raving about Simon's "hot" historical romances in the Bar Cynster series by Stephanie Laurens.
December 2001: Simon is amused at the great variety of work he's recorded this year--from steamy romances to literary works. Mystery, biography, health and humor are also among the topics Simon's covered. William Trevor's DEATH IN SUMMER and A.S. Byatt's A BIOGRAPHER'S TALE star among the literary titles. Simon's mystery accomplishments include NOT DEAD, ONLY RESTING , another entry in the Charles Paris mysteries by Simon Brett,and A LINE IN THE SAND by Gerald Seymour. Simon has added his distinctly professional polish to several collections of stories in Listen & Live Audio's Adrenaline series. In ROUGH WATER Simon presents a riveting account from Shackleton's Antarctic expedition. Sound familiar? Audiences viewing the IMAX film ENDURANCE are treated to Simon's narrative. MR. PHILLIPS by John Lanchester is hard to characterize, but a recent recording by Simon that's well worth your listening time.
Photo by Jo Anna Perrin
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