Several months ago, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wayne Farrell. It was shortly after I had listened to Danelle Harmon’s lovely story CAPTAIN OF MY HEART, book one of the Heroes of the Sea series narrated by Mr. Farrell. Just a few days ago I listened and reviewed another in the series, WICKED AT HEART also narrated by Wayne Farrell. My impression of Mr. Farrell’s work was confirmed. He’s a marvelous narrator. Below are links to both book reviews. Today I wish to share with you his impressions of creating audiobooks.
http://wp.me/p40XtX-Gc my review of Captain of My Heart
http://wp.me/p40XtX-Qo my review of Wicked at Heart
There are many ways to bring an audiobook into the world, but I would only really be qualified to tell you about how the ones that I am contracted to record are done.
Let me briefly bring you through the process.
Usually, I am contacted by either a publishing house, or an author who has heard my work and wants me to record their book. I am very lucky in that I get a lot of repeat business from authors who are writing sequels in a series or are already prolific on Amazon or in print.
Most of the ins and outs of auditions or contracts are done through my PA and this allows me to focus more directly on narrations.
The first stage is to get the book into my hands so that I can read it and start to decide on how it flows for me, how it makes me feel inside. Hopefully it moves me in some way and I can read it. There have been occasions where I have sadly had to give books back to authors as I either felt that I couldn’t do it justice or the story simply didn’t gel with me. Hard to do that when you are literally saying goodbye to revenue but at the end of the day, if I don’t like what I’m reading, the end product won’t be as good as it could be and so damage can be done to both my own and the author’s reputation. That’s what is most important to me.
When I am reading, I make notes about characters and usually place them into areas of priority within the story and allot time and resources to developing them in accordance with that. For example, the postman who delivers a letter to the main character, will not have as much research put into him as, if the text doesn’t mention it, I simply don’t have the details of his background, his accent, his history or vocal quality etc.
Main characters get a lot more attention; how they sound, how they come across and how well are they separated from others. If three male characters are British, how do you make them all sound the same but different.
A lot goes into that and because you are only dealing with one person playing all parts instead of a dozen actors like in a movie, and also being hindered by only being able to use one channel of communication – just voice and not gestures or facial expressions, and I need to be able to do all of that in a reasonable timeframe.
The word “narrator” is a bit misleading. Traditionally, a narrator is the person who fills the gaps in a story – the bridge between scenes and acts in a play. If I was to narrate an audiobook in the traditional way, I would only be reading the narrative between the dialogues in the story. Very much like a radio play with a full cast whereas with audiobooks today, I get to do the whole lot. I’m an actor playing several roles within a text, one of which is the narrator.
A lot of authors like to direct their audiobooks, and it is here that there can be turbulent waters. Once we have agreed that I will do the book, apart from an initial chat about the main characters, it is time for the author to let go, and give the book to me in its entirety.
I understand this is the first romance book you’ve narrated. Why is that?
“Captain Of My Heart” was my first romance novel. The reason for that is because I tended to only narrate in genres I was fond of reading myself. I’ve done general fiction, fantasy, crime and horror. Those are the genres you will find on my bookshelf. The only romance novel in my house was one that a visitor left behind so when I was approached by Danelle Harmon and asked to narrate Captain Of My Heart, I turned her down as it wasn’t what I normally did, and as I said earlier, if it doesn’t gel with me then I usually will respect the author enough to not read something that I am out of my depth with.
After a few weeks of auditions Danelle still hadn’t found a narrator, so we agreed that, as an experiment, I would record a section of the book and see how it sounded. She was happy. I was reasonably happy and so we decided to work together to produce the book.
At this stage, the fact that Danelle was fairly new to audiobooks, was kind of a mixed blessing. While she didn’t know the ins and outs of production, she did know what she wanted in relation to how the characters were and she has been an absolute gem to work with. I am always ambivalent about working with new authors and I have to say she has been great. The result of her allowing me to take control of the narration with limited fiddling is what you hear in the final product.
What drew you to Danelle’s series?
The initial draw for me in a title is always its front cover.
The old saying may indeed be true, but in my case, covers are like flowers to a bee.
If you think about it, when you browse a bookstore, you don’t pick up every title on the shelf. Rather, you pick the ones that “catch your eye”.
This is what happened in Danelle’s case. I liked her cover, and when I opened it up and started to read, I loved how easily it flowed. It made me smile. Her descriptive passages were wonderful and I found myself getting lost in the text. When that happens, very good narration tends to follow. But I will let you be the judge of that.
How long have you been narrating and do you envision hanging up your hat from your day job and do narrating full-time?
I’ve been narrating for about two years now. It has been a long road of learning what works and what doesn’t. Both in the story-telling aspect and also in streamlining the production process, making sure that time invested brings worthwhile returns.
Leaving my day job would be a huge move for me. It would involve a lot of criteria having to be met. I’m not the world’s greatest risk-taker. I would need to have some very solid agreements in place with publishing houses and authors about guaranteed numbers of books per year and then I would need to look at moving away from where I live here in Oman. This country is incredibly beautiful and the Omani people have given me a wonderful life here that I would be very reluctant to leave. The crime rate is low, the streets are safe. If I could arrange to submit audio to publishers from my professional studio here, then I might consider it.
The ultimate decision though, would have to be made in tandem with my wife, Roselle. She has been a phenomenal support in me getting behind a microphone and telling stories, listening to endless hours of me droning on in practice, while trying to do her own job in the hotel business.
If she gave me a green light, I would probably look at going into audio production full-time.
What satisfaction and challenges do you have in the production of a novel?
The challenges lie in many areas. Character design, adequate separation of voices, the creation of moods, building tension, pronouncing foreign words or phrases.
The biggest one for new narrators though, is trusting your ability as a story-teller.
This is assuming that you can tell a story. It’s not just a case of sitting down and reading a book. You’ve got to be a natural. It’s very hard to teach pacing and pausing for effect.
My only advice to those coming up is to listen to as many audiobooks as you can and hope that the good stuff rubs off.
I was lucky enough to spend a few years as a production assistant at The National Theatre of Ireland, where I gleaned a lot about the acting process but my biggest learning experience was being able to share some time with legendary Irish storyteller Eamon Kelly who taught me things that you’d never find in any book. A master of his craft.
What other genre have you narrated? Comparing them to the romance genre, what would you say is the same and what is different in the way you go about production? Dare I ask if you enjoyed yourself more with this genre?
I mentioned the various genres I have done earlier.
Most audiobooks are the same in how I go about constructing them for recording.
Captain Of My Heart was a very enjoyable title to work on. It made me laugh and it engaged me throughout. There is nothing worse than having a book that is difficult to get through. Most audiobook aficionados can tell when a narrator is peeved.
The audience for audiobooks are very astute and new narrators would do very well to remember that. They will let you away with nothing and you are really only as good as your last performance.
When I heard you singing Yankee Doodle Dandy in that terrible off-key voice the character Mira Ashton has, how hard was that? What did you think about having to sing? You must have flair for the comical! Did you have to practice? And I have to laughingly ask, can you sing on key?
Ah Mira Ashton…..!
What a lass!
I have a very musical ear. And I can indeed sing in key. (Did I not sing Yankee Doodle in key when Brendan first boards Kestrel on launch-day?)
Years ago, there was a British comedian called Les Dawson, who has sadly left us now. He used to do a sketch where he would play songs on a piano out of key, and I can remember being told just how difficult it was to do that, especially if you can sing and hold a note.
I did a few practice runs for Mira as there was a lot going on in the scene. I’m doing a girl’s voice, singing a song that I am not familiar with and doing it out of key.
All in all, I think it worked out well.
Your voice for Ephraim fit the man. He had lots of bark, not a refined gentleman in conduct, and spoke is mind most emphatically. Tell us how you worked to get the screaming dialog that happened between Matt, Mira and her father to be so perfectly timed fitting the right voice with the right level of emotion?
First of all, the whole book is written very well and this scene is no exception. The flow of the argument comes from experience I guess, and again, trusting your ability to tell the story.
I guess the skill comes in being able to change voices quickly and being able to glance ahead in the text to see who is going to speak next.
That’s another key skill for a narrator. You have to be able to “read ahead”. I am usually scanning the next sentence as I read the previous one aloud.
A lot of my interpretations of a text comes from experience. I’ve been in arguments with Ephraim’s sort. I’ve been on tall-ships. I’m Irish like the main character, and thankfully have been in love, been through the ups and downs of it and eventually got married.
Maybe romance is my genre after all!
Thank you, Mr. Farrell for sharing. I always enjoy behind-stage staging. To make any kind of artistic presentation much goes into its final cut. I shall enjoy listening to the rest of the series and look forward to hearing your narration of other authors.