|Katherine Kellgren, Narrator of The Firebird, in the Studio at Audible|
So I have great respect for the narrators who bring my own books to life in their audio versions.
Whenever a narrator takes on one of my books, I'm always reminded of Neil Gaiman's reaction when he visited Pinewood Studios during the filming of his novel Stardust and saw the crew working to create the flying pirate ship: “I felt so guilty," he recalled in this MTV Interview. "I wasn't saying how great it was; I was going, 'I am so sorry I made it up!' Because it didn't cost me anything, just the price of whatever tea I was drinking and some ink. And now 70 people have spent two months working to build this thing and you can dance on the deck.”
I understand this guilt. I feel it in my gut each time I talk or correspond with those poor narrators who have to perform my books. Because I simply wrote the story as it came, and put the people in the mix with one another without ever once considering the headaches it would bring to any actor who would have to "do the voices".
So I felt a bit guilty to dump it on narrator Nicola Barber, along with the various Cornish and West Country people my heroine meets, and the Irishman from County Cork, and a handful of Londoners, some of whom live in a previous century.
I felt guiltier still when I took the first phone call from Rosalyn Landor, who narrated The Winter Sea (for which she very deservedly won the Audie Award for Best Female Narration). Because she had to take on a Canadian first-person narrator and a host of characters, some fictional and some lifted right out of real history, whose accents came from very different areas of Scotland.
|Rosalyn Landor (Photo by Arielle Rudman)|
Roz was determined to get all my characters' voices exactly, from the Glaswegian doctor to the Perthshire-born past hero to the Doric-speaking landlord of my heroine. I listened in amazement as she mimicked all the voices I could hear so very clearly in my own head. But I still felt guilt.
And I'm surprised that Katherine Kellgren, when she called to go over the voices for The Firebird, didn't hang up on me right then and there.
Here's what she had to say, after the fact, about her experience with the novel:
"There were technical requirements in The Firebird in terms of the many dialects spoken in contemporary and historical scenes which made the book both a challenge and a joy to record. Luckily I was able to enlist the help of a wonderful and very experienced dialect coach when preparing to go into the studio - but we were both working overtime on this one! I was practically dreaming in Scots dialect by the time we were done!"
And here's why. When she first got in touch on the phone, we began with the Scottish voices. The Firebird, as a sort-of-sequel to The Winter Sea, contains a few of the same characters, so I was ready with the references I'd given Roz, sometimes matching the accent of a living actor to that of a character, to make things easier.
For example, Colonel Graeme, who's in both books, is a Perthshire man. He looks and sounds in my own mind like Scottish actor Brian Cox, which proved to be a useful thing for Katy, as she actually knows Brian Cox, so she's familiar with his voice.
Rob, the modern-day hero, is from Eyemouth, which becomes more problematic, since the accent is sui generis, unique to that one town, and even if you do it properly it can be somewhat difficult to follow. "But," I said to Katy in an effort to be helpful, "he'd modify the way he speaks when talking to the heroine, because she's English. So it would be sort of watered-down Eyemouth. Except when he's angry. Or drunk."
We moved on, to the cast of historical characters. Irish nuns in Flanders. Siberian servants in St. Petersburg. In the house of General Lacy, who was also in St. Petersburg, we had the general's wife, who was Livonian; their children, who had been raised on the general's estate in Livonia; Edmund O'Connor, an Irishman from County Kerry; the family priest, who would most likely be Italian, and the general himself, who had come out of Ireland as a young teenager and lived abroad ever since. "So his accent," I said, "would have altered a bit, though it may become stronger when he's speaking to other Irishmen."
"Right," Katy said. More notes jotted. "And Charles, the nephew of Vice-Admiral Gordon...?"
"Well, Charles," I said, "is a second-generation expatriate Scot. His father was born and raised near Aberdeen and sent as a young man to serve under a Scottish general in Russia, where there was a fairly large community of British expatriates, so Charles would most probably have grown up speaking English with an Aberdonian inflection but also some influence from his mother, who may or may not have been Russian…"
And that's where she should have hung up on me, really.
I'm glad that she didn't, because her performance is beautiful, as were the others. (Below you'll find samples of all three American audio books, so you'll see what I mean when I say I've been much more than lucky with all of my Audible narrators).
I still do feel guilty for making my narrators build the equivalent of a full-scale flying pirate ship out of the voices I've put on the page. But it is always an awesome experience seeing that ship built, and getting to dance on the deck.
Thanks to the generosity of Audible, I have three copies of the audiobook of The Firebird to give away to American listeners. Leave a comment below before midnight on Saturday, September 7th, and I'll choose three winners at random from all who have commented. Best of luck!