My Life as an Audiobook Narrator

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I sit in a padded box talking to myself in many different voices. Some call it madness, I call it a job.

In 2013 I graduated from Drama School as a 40 year old mother of two, desperately wanting to make a new life for myself as an actor and writer, hopefully reaching the holy grail of making a living at something I loved. I had no idea how it was going to work.

I tried a few things with varying levels of success and enjoyment before eventually finding my way into audiobook narration. The opportunity came about because I did an impersonation of Joanna Lumley at a Voiceover Network Event in 2015. Several months later I was asked to narrate four back catalogue books, but was called into the studio for an audition first.

Audiobook Beginnings

The night before I had an audiobook narrator nightmare. In my dream I couldn’t remember how to read. I looked at the text in front of me and it meant nothing, similar to those pre-stage show dreams where I was on stage in the wrong play and didn’t know the lines….. Then I discovered I was in competition with EVERYONE on my MA Acting course. It was horrendous.

The actual audition was absolutely fine and I booked the work. I had a wonderful time working on those books and prayed I would be able to do more. I loved being lost in the world of the book for hours on end, being holed up in a cosy studio, sharing the story with an unknown audience.

I had great fun developing the characters, working on accents and having conversations with many different people chipping in at a party or a wedding. I relished the emotional moments where the writing moved me and I felt myself tear up with the character or fill with excitement about them meeting the right man. I was hooked.

Where Am I Now?

Just over three and half years later I have my own studio where I record around a book a week. I have around 150 credits in a wide variety of genres; from horror to romance, psychology to business, via thrillers, classics , historical novels and a smattering of literary fiction. I love every moment of it and each book has something that I treasure inside it.

Having said that I do have my favourites: Enid Blyton’s Secret Seven series is much loved by me and my son and Tess of the D’Urbervilles was a favourite of mine as a teenager, so to be asked to narrate it was a real boon.

There are a few questions people ask me so I’ll try to answer them here but do feel free to send me any further ones of your own…

Do You Do the Character Voices?

Yes I do, male and female, including the accents, some better than others it is fair to say, but I do the best I can. I have also done the occasional animal noise, Scamper’s barking in Secret Seven was really fun!

Do You Read the Book First, Before You Record?

Yes I do. I read the book on my iPad using iAnnotate, making a note of characters, any interesting features about them, pronunciations I’m not sure of and working on understanding the story arc, genre and authorial voice.

How Long Does it Take?

It depends on the book but on average books are around 10 finished hours. Each finished hour takes me about 1.5 hours to record, though this varies depending on the complexity of the writing and the pronunciations.

What if You Make a Mistake?

I use punch and roll as I record. When I notice I’ve mucked up I stop, move the cursor to the start of the bungled phrase and re-record until I’ve fixed it. This can take a few goes and my language gets steadily worse….(thankfully all my personal swearing is edited out!)

For any mistakes I haven’t noticed I am eternally grateful to the fabulous proof readers who send me a list of my errors so I can record them and the sound engineer can pop them into the finished version. The engineers are also amazing and I am grateful to them for making me sound as good as possible, while removing any stray hiccoughs and belly rumbles.

Where Can I Find Your Work?

The books I have recorded are generally available on Audible, either the UK or US version. There are other distributors too. I do quite a bit of work for Tantor, Brilliance and Blackstone who also have distribution sites.

Do You Still Read for Pleasure?

Yes I do. My reading for work is a great pleasure but when I’ve finished a day of narrating and I’m settling down to sleep I read a bit of a novel before dropping off. I also read something inspiring in the morning to get me primed for the day.

How do You Look After Your Voice?

This is a tough one and largely a holistic approach works for me. I had great voice tutors at Drama School, especially Sarah Case, who helped me to re-connect with the voice my body always knew how to produce, before growing up and tension got in the way. Then my daily life involves lots of hydration, a bit of honey, meditation and breathing exercises as well as daily prayers that my tickling throat won’t turn into a full blown throat infection. If it does I let the producers know and, if possible, we reschedule for when I’m well again.

Hopefully that gives you a bit of an insight into my creative life. As you can see I use my creativity every day and it is that which helps me stay connected and in flow as I narrate. If you’d like to know more about the coaching I offer, working on your authentic creativity, please get in touch.

Oh and here’s a tongue twister for you!

“But then she considered the possibility of a future inextricable from these most disagreeable dinner partners.”

Esther x

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