Fiction & Drama

Marion Todd: Recording audiobooks during lockdown


The popularity of audio books is rising and, as a keen consumer of the medium, I was delighted to secure a contract for my first two crime novels. But, when I was offered the chance to narrate them myself, I was less certain. Would I be capable of doing it? I’m not an actor. Would I have the skills required?

I chatted it over with Hannah, my agent, and agreed to give it a go. But, with recording studios closed, how would this work during lockdown?

The producer, Alex, assured me he would handle all the tricky technical stuff. He sent me links to software and a parcel containing a microphone and a pop shield – something I hadn’t previously heard of. This, I learned, is a robust mesh shield placed between the narrator and microphone to break up the rush of air emitted when a word beginning with B or P, for example, is spoken.

A sound check was arranged a few days before the recording and I prepared to read a short sample of the first book, See Them Run. At this point it became clear that a study was no substitute for a soundproofed recording studio. My computer tower hummed, the birds outside tweeted and, most worryingly of all, my internet signal was playing up.

I unearthed a duvet and some pillows and succeeded in deadening some of the extraneous sounds around the microphone and we tried again, successfully this time.

Unfortunately, our first day of recording was a day of heavy internet traffic. After an hour of trying different recording programs Alex suggested we make simultaneous offline recordings using a program called Audacity while we kept in touch via Skype. It sounded a bit make-do-and-mend but, incredibly, it worked like a charm. Thus, two hours later than planned we began.

I decided to use my normal speaking voice for most of the book, varying the pitch and accent for the main characters only; but even this took enormous concentration. It’s all too easy to stop listening to what you are saying and to lose the sense of the words. Inevitably there were stumbles and slip-ups where I said the wrong word or became tongue-tied. Alex noted the time of these slips and I went back a sentence and repeated the text. It would later be his unhappy task to edit all these slips to produce a smooth reading.

We worked in ninety-minute sessions and while to start with my mouth dried horribly, I became used to it and managed to keep going with only the occasional stop for a drink.

Each ninety-minute session was converted by me to a raw audio format known as WAV and sent to Alex using a program called WeTransfer. This took around ten minutes per file, long enough for a welcome drink and snack.

Then, after two solid days of speaking into a microphone, it was done. Alex told me his edited recording would be sent to a proof-reader who would check the narration against the book. Two weeks later we had another short session to record just seven edits, testament to Alex’s sharp ears.

And then it was done. My short career as a voice artist was over — until the next time, perhaps. I put away the microphone and pop shield, with a new-found respect for the endurance and talent of professional voice artists, and for the endless patience of audio producers. It was a fascinating peep into the world of audio books and an opportunity I’m so glad to have taken.

Marion Todd is author of the Detective Inspector Clare Mackay novels. The third in the series, Lies to Tell, was published last month.

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