While camping on Anglesey in north Wales this summer I received an enthusiastic email from my publisher suggesting a narrator, Heather Wilds, for the audiobook for my second novel. The email included a link to a voicereel. So, I sat outside the campsite bar—close enough for good WiFi reception, but far enough away to hear the voicereel over the bar’s 1970s music selection. After listening to just five minutes of clips, I emailed my response: “Fantastic. Heather Wilds is perfect for this book!”
A month or so later, Heather contacted me with some queries about pronunciations for specific words within the text—mostly Italian, French and Chinese words. It just so happened that I was in Italy at the time! So I was able to ask the hotel owner to pronounce the Italian words for me. I double-checked some French pronunciations with a bilingual English/French friend, and I contacted my daughter-in-law who speaks Mandarin to check the Chinese pronunciations. Team work!
When the completed audiobook for Sleeping Embers of an Ordinary Mind (in MP3- CD and compact CD formats) arrived in the post, I ripped off the packaging and immediately listened to the first three chapters, covering the main storylines of the novel. I was instantly thrilled with result! I contacted Heather to say thank you, and we conducted a Q&A by email because I really wanted to know how actors approach audio narration. I think you’ll find the answers as fascinating as I did:
Can you explain, Heather, how you decide on a character’s voice?
HW: The clues for character development are always in the text. It’s all there—you just need to know how to look. I read the book and allow the characters to speak inside my head like a radio play. I’ll play around with the voices until I get a clear idea of what the book needs. Sometimes a character will be high status or low status which would also indicate how confident they are or try to appear to be. Occasionally I’ll play against type to keep the listener on their toes. Some characters I find through physicality. Other times inspiration comes from people I’ve met whose essence matches the character. It’s different with every book. That’s what makes narrating audio books so much fun. Where else would I get to play an old Italian master painter, an eight year old girl from the future and a Chinese businessman?
Did you have a favourite character in the novel?
I enjoyed voicing all the characters but I felt the most for Antonia as she is the only one who is truly vulnerable. The other characters in the book get to choose what they want to do with their lives. Antonia doesn’t. She has absolutely no say over her future. It’s dictated by her father’s ambition for the girl. Also, Antonia has a purity to her which I liked. She’s an innocent who simply wants to love and be loved. I found myself worrying about her. Would she be happy with her father’s choice for her life?
I’d love to know about your preparatory process? Can you elaborate?
HW: I like to read the book and highlight all the different characters so I know who’s talking. I make a list of characters and words to look up for pronunciations. Whilst reading the book I’ll write down impressions I get for each of the characters as well as any clues from the text about how the character interacts with others and by themselves. All this information feeds into my vocal interpretation.
HW: I’ll research anything that comes up in the book like places that the character goes to, specific objects for instance a famous painting or languages e.g. Italian.
So it’s a long process before you even start recording.
HW: I like to give myself enough time to prepare slowly so I can think about the characters before committing them to a particular interpretation. Sometimes I’ll do simple actions as the character—like making a cup of tea as the character or when I go food shopping walking around the shop as the character. It means when I get into the studio I can slip into the voice and physicality of the character with ease.
Thanks, Heather, for these insights. I’ll enjoy your narration even more now!
Heather Wilds trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and her accomplishments can be found here: www.heatherwilds.com