With the audiobook to Hudson James & the Baker Street Legacy coming very soon, we talked to its brilliant narrator, Stephen Doyle, about the pleasures and perils of narrating and producing an audiobook – from finding the voices of the characters to avoiding stomach gurgles…
What attracted you to narrating audiobooks in the first place?
I always loved reading bedtime stories to my children, and like lots of parents, I did a different voice for each character to bring the story to life. Also, I’m a marketing copywriter in my day job, which means I often have to read my work out to clients, especially TV and radio scripts. People began telling me I was quite good at it, so after years of thinking about it I finally decided to give it a go. I’ve always been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and have Stephen Fry’s brilliant narration of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories on my iPhone to listen to in my car on the way to work. So when I found that the Davies brothers were looking for a narrator for Hudson James & The Baker Street Legacy I jumped at the chance. I was really intrigued to find out how they were going to bring a fresh angle to the Sherlock Holmes story.
How do you begin the process with a new book?
I began by reading the book quite quickly, to get a sense of what the characters were like. In the course of doing that, I began to hear the voices in my head. It’s great for a narrator when the characters are as well written as the ones in this book are. You immediately get a sense of how they sound. I also made a few notes in the margin. Particularly in places where I could see key bits of drama or emphasis falling or to alert myself to any tricky pronunciations. The Davies brothers also gave me some excellent notes on how they had imagined each of the main characters to sound.
What set-up do you use when you record?
It’s not that sophisticated really. I am lucky enough to have a quiet spare bedroom at the back of my house where I do my recording. My set-up is a condenser microphone with a pop filter, which softens off any loud ‘S’ and ‘P’ noises that might interfere with the recording. The microphone sits on a suspension boom, which is designed to remove any small vibrations, and the whole thing is surrounded by a semi-circular reflection filter made from sound absorbing foam. Fortunately, the room has quite a lot of wall hangings and soft furnishings like pillows which helps to soak up any reflected noise. Finally, I turn off the central heating because the radiator can be quite noisy at times! I have a small glass of water at the ready in case my throat gets dry. If you drink too much in one go though, you have to wait for a while until while your stomach stops gurgling! And like a lot of narrators I use a kindle because it’s a silent way to go from page to page without rustling. The microphone picks up the slightest sound.
What was the most challenging part of narrating Hudson James & the Baker Street Legacy?
The trickiest part was dealing with the parts where characters are in great danger, the action sequences. You have to find a way to turn the tension and volume up and down, to find some light and shade in the story to keep it varied. If you recorded it all at top speed and volume, going for maximum edge of the seat drama, it would be too exhausting to listen to. So I made some of the characters sound softly menacing and a few of the villains come across as slightly comic. I think that makes them even scarier than if they were shouting all the time.
What was the most rewarding part of narrating Hudson James & the Baker Street Legacy?
Narrating the scenes between Hudson and Ellie was so much fun. The unlikely friendship between the two of them is so beautifully written. There’s a lot of humour and dry wit in their conversations, as well as moments of great bravery and determination. After all, this is a pair of young people who are facing an international organisation of ruthless and powerful enemies intent on world domination. I really like the way they complement and support each other, Hudson’s unconventional brains and Ellie’s gritty, down to earth wisdom.
Do you have any advice for someone interested in trying audiobook narration and production?
Yes, definitely give it a go. It’s great fun. The biggest lesson I had to learn very quickly was the amount of time it takes to edit and master recordings. It takes a lot longer than you ever imagined, especially if you’re new to audiobook narration like myself. Editing out the repetitions, removing noisy breath sounds, correcting your mistakes and preparing each sound file is pretty laborious. I estimate that for each hour of finished recording there was easily a further three hours of editing involved. Using good recording software like Audacity makes it a lot easier.