You may have winced as she interrupted a musical concert to distribute white feathers to “cowards” in an episode of Downton Abbey, or your sympathies may have risen to her touching portrayal of a mother left destitute and forced into prostitution in Call the Midwife, or, you may have seen her most recently as needlewoman Patricia in the TV series The Collection, co-produced by Amazon and BBC Worldwide.
When I listened to actor Rosie Jones read the first few pages of my novel The Parentations I knew absolutely that her voice, her interpretation, pacing, and understanding of the text had created a thrilling, beautiful audio version of the book. I am further delighted that Rosie has agreed to answer a few questions about her experience of audiobook narration.
Narrating an audiobook requires a different set of skills, doesn’t it? Would you agree that it’s not quite reading and not quite acting? How would you describe your approach to audiobook narration?
For me, narrating an audiobook is very much an acting experience – not in the traditional sense of seeing and hearing a body in space – but certainly in terms of performing a story and investing in character. I tend to do quite a lot of prep for my books, so although I am sight-reading, I know the characters quite well; their journeys and roughly what will happen to them next. There’s something utterly joyful about delivering a story in its entirety and playing all the parts! There is freedom in not worrying about where the camera is or whether the back row of the balcony can see your face – the microphone connects you to your audience and becomes your best friend; you can make vocal choices that you can’t make in other mediums.
The art of narrating is a rigorous endeavour that requires gargantuan focus over a period of days, or possibly weeks, how do you keep the momentum going?
Yes absolutely – being in a black box talking to yourself all day long is demanding both physically and mentally! When you’re reading a really compelling story, you can enter the world of the book and get lost in it. But it’s not always easy. Occasionally you can find yourself drifting off or thinking about the next cuppa, and in those moments you have to pull yourself together and remember that you’ve got to focus and reconnect with the material – you owe it to your audience. The way to keep momentum is to invest in the storytelling.
Which do you find easier, third person narration, or first person, and why?
I find first person narration tends to be easier to record, because you can enter the mind of the character. First person novels often contain less external description and concentrate more on evoking an interior world which can make life simpler for a narrator. That said, it’s easier to invest in character voices and differentiating in third person narrative because you come at them from outside (rather than hearing them through the mind of the protagonist) which allows more opportunity to be playful.
In your narration of The Parentations your character voices were wonderfully subtle with just a hint of suggestion of changing characters. Is this your preferred and intentional approach to dialogue?
In general, I probably do more rather than less with character voices because I love dialects and one of the great joys of narrating books is getting to experiment with different sounds. But The Parentations was trickier in that regard! With some of the book being set in Iceland there are a number of Icelandic characters, and it’s not an accent I have easy access to. I didn’t want to do a disservice to that sound but I did want to make the two worlds distinct. So I tried to give those characters a different flavour without attempting a cod Nordic accent… I hope it’s worked! And for the sake of consistency, I tried to apply the same logic to the English characters too. Some characters come easier than others – I had really clear pictures of the Lawless sisters and the Fowlers.
What was your favourite scene or chapter in The Parentations to narrate?
I really enjoyed the opening of the book – it’s such a captivating start that lures you in – a beautifully drawn, detailed scene. I also loved Willa turning the tables – I won’t say any more because I don’t want to give away the story!
Thanks very much for taking the time to enlighten us on the audiobook narration process.
Rosie Jones is currently recording the Little Brown Bear children’s book series and will be directing Hansel and Gretel at the Rose Theatre Kingston during Christmas 2018.
Listen to an excerpt of Rosie narrating The Parentations here