Susan Duerden on Narrating Dreams Before the Start of Time

Susan Duerden

ONE WEEK to the release of Dreams Before the Start of Time, and I’m really delighted to tell you that award-winning actress Susan Duerden is the main narrator for the audiobook edition. Her performance is simply wonderful, which comes as no surprise to me since Susan also narrated my first novel, A Calculated Life.

I’m fascinated with the transition from manuscript to novel to audiobook. As I listen to the audio, I feel I encounter the novel anew; it feels unfamiliar, in a good way, and I find myself grinning all the time that I’m listening. 

Last week, we chatted by email and Susan very kindly took the time to answer a few questions:

Is there a particular character or storyline that appealed to you in Dreams Before the Start of Time?

I absolutely loved Dreams Before The Start Of Time and narrating it was a joy. I particularly loved the character Toni and her storyline. She left such an impression on me. I was so glad she reappeared throughout the book. I really loved her sense of humor, especially in the face of adversity. I thought her relationship with Atticus was wonderfully written.

How do you prepare for a new narration project?

I read the book at least twice. I like to read it through first without making notes, just soaking it up and getting a feel for the characters. Then I read it again and make detailed notes. I make a lot of character notes, looking for vocal references, references to the vocal pitch, how the voice sounds… is there an accent? I make notes about who they are as people, how they behave in the book, their characteristics. I then fully flesh out each of the characters and have a mental picture of each one. I prepare in a similar way to how I would when playing a character in a TV show, a movie or a play. I also think about the genre of the book, the setting and the style of the book so I can capture the appropriate mood.

How did you cope with portraying so many characters in Dreams Before the Start of Time?

Because of my preparation, I can jump from one fully realized character to another without having to remind myself what they sounded like a few chapters before. I always have a strong mental picture of the character and will make each character distinguishable through changes in cadence, vocal pitch, accent, energy, attitude, etc. I think of it sometimes like I’m in a movie where I get to play all the different characters. Which is fun!

Do your twin careers of acting and audio narration feed into one another, or are the skill sets essentially different?

The skill sets are quite different. My acting experience certainly helps when it comes to playing the different characters in the book and voicing the scenes between characters, but I know many wonderful actors who have admitted to me that they tried to narrate an audiobook and didn’t enjoy the process, or felt they weren’t successful at it. It’s really about how well you can tell a story, I think. You’re telling a story and being pulled into the author’s world. It’s a different skill to acting on stage, film or TV. You also need a lot of stamina. Audiobook narration is a marathon. You have to record for hours at a time and you have to know the book and characters so well that you can keep going without stopping to refresh your memory or read ahead. 

What are you working on now, Susan?

I’ve just filmed a TV pilot for NBC and I have a recurring role on another NBC show. I’ve also just finished narrating a lovely book called Love In An English Garden.

Thanks, Susan. And good luck with the TV pilot!

As I mentioned at the top of this blogpost, Susan is the main narrator for this audiobook. A single chapter is narrated by award-winning narrator Derek Perkins. I contacted Derek to thank him for a really great performance. He replied, saying he enjoyed the chapter —”its dark edges and the twists and turns of the plot line.” You can read more about Derek’s career in audiobook narration here.

Susan Duerden is an Audie Award winning narrator. She has also won multiple AudioFile Earphone Awards for her work and has been named one of AudioFile’s Best Voices for fiction. Susan is also an award winning actress who has worked in film, TV and on London’s West End, with the Royal Shakespeare Company and Off Broadway. Extensive TV work includes series regular and recurring roles on a number of shows including LOST, THE VICE, HOLBY CITY, DAYS OF OUR LIVES and WATERLOO ROAD. Notable film roles include Bree Taylor in the feature film LOVEWRECKED opposite Fred Willard and Chris Carmack, Fiona Lieberman in SUPERVOLCANO and Sophia in DOUBLE DUTY. Susan plays the female lead in the soon to be released feature BRANDED and voiced the lead female role, Sara Clifton, opposite Rupert Grint, Jim Broadbent and David Tennant in DreamWorks/Classic Media’s POSTMAN PAT THE MOVIE.

E J Swift, author of The Osiris Project trilogy.

In other news:

Speculative fiction author  E J Swift and I have a conversation about the science content of our fiction, published this week on Medium by The Arthur C Clarke Award as part of the award’s collaboration with The Ada Lovelace Day. We talk about coral, genetics and climate change, plus writerly stuff about how we structure our novels. Good stuff.

And also… it’s a busy week… on Wednesday 12th April I’m guest hosting a twitter chat about Women Writers of Science Fiction. Follow the hashtag #women_writers. 5pm – 6pm. Join in! It will be fun.

And finally… if you’re attending Eastercon in Birmingham this weekend, here are my panels. Come along and say ‘Hello!’

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