Quick one – It’s UP! The Audiobook version of Atlas, Broken is up and out and on Google Play and Chirp and all of those places! Well, it is not up on Audible yet, but that seems to take a year and a day, so I’m not surprised, and it’s not about to put a dampener on my celebrations.
The past few weeks have been cold. Bloody cold. OK, not Canada cold, so I can’t complain so much, but there’s something to be said about doing voice work when you’re chilly.
I have to rug up in layers, of course, because the garage isn’t heated and, though the sound booth has a good bit of insulation, it, too, is not heated. In summer it’s a hot-house and in winter it’s a refrigerator. The problem with layers, though, is that the warmer stuff tends to be noisy.
Noisy clothes? Yep, totally. You probably don’t pay much attention to it, but when you move your arm or twist your torso, or lean forward or back, or even roll you neck, there’s an associated noise. If you’re naked, it’s not so evident. If you’ve got on cotton, it’s hushed. If you’re wearing a polyester puffer-jacket, it’s the equivalent of unwrapping a Mars bar in the middle of a quiet cinema.
Not good. The slightest shuffle or motion (let alone wild gesticulations) are captured on the mike and each scene needs to be done again. And again. It’s a waste of time, but at least I’m warm.
Cotton hoodies are pretty good, so long as I suppress the zipper on the front. It makes little ‘tink, tink’ noises that are pretty darn obvious. I’ve taken to putting a blob of blu-tack underneath to stop it chattering while I’m vocalising. The chair is solid, steel chair, very cold on the tuchus, so I’ve put a small cushion on and covered it with a terry towel.
I can’t put a heater in there because the space is too confined for anything that isn’t electric, and electric heaters are notorious for making a hum. I’m thinking seriously about pre-heating the space before I start, to take the edge off. Makes sense, I guess, only we’re on the other side of winter and that means the days are getting warmer and all of this effort will be for nothing until the next year.
So that was me these past few weeks: Squatting in a rickety sound booth, freezing my proverbials off, rugging up in a woolen beanie, gloves and scarf with a wodge of blu-tack stuck to my zipper. And that’s if the weather was favourable. It was a slog, but I got through it and I’m happy.
I had to do the supermarket scene again because there was a lot of choppiness and I flubbed the voices. Everyone got a bit too bogan and by the end of it, I couldn’t even understand what I was saying.
After all of that, Atlas, Broken has been turned into an audiobook and submitted through Findaway for processing. It will be a few weeks before we see it come out the other side. Fingers crossed I’ve dotted all my i’s.
It was a tough book to write. Henry Ludlow, that sorry excuse for a protagonist, never stood a chance. It was unfair. He didn’t get much of a character arc. George Abbot said something like, in the first act, your hero gets stuck up a tree. Then, in the second, you throw rocks at him. Finally, in the third act, you get him down from there. He has changed, he has progressed.
Henry doesn’t, though. He gets plenty of rocks thrown at him and his tree is more like a thorn-bush. And in the end, he’s not allowed to come down. It isn’t a Disney ending and it certainly isn’t what people seem to want the story to be. There’s nothing really uplifting or inspirational.
Sure, you want Henry to succeed. You want him to find some strength within, some untapped resource that he needs to discover. You want him to figure out life. You want him to get it.
But he doesn’t get it. He can’t, and that’s the problem. That’s the goal of the story. Henry is doomed. He is doomed and the people who can save him won’t, or can’t. Either way, it doesn’t matter. He’s not a super hero, he’s barely an average guy.
I doubted that I was actually doing something wrong, there. Was I being needlessly cruel? He’s just a character, after all. But he’s not just a character. He’s more than that.
Then I read a couple of Franz Kafka books and I realised, yes, not all books needed to have fairy-tale endings. Not all books needed to even have likeable characters. Maybe Atlas, Broken, isn’t a nice book, or a happy book, or a readable book, but it’s a book that I had to write and now, I’ve figured, I might as well do the audiobook as well.
The setting is in suburban Melbourne. The folk are typical suburbanites. There are Tim Tams and seagulls and beer. Really, this should be right up my alley. Let’s see.
I’ve always liked the name ‘Jolimont’, ever since I would walk down that street toward the Melbourne Cricket Ground to go sell pies and chips. And on the way home again, exhausted and covered in post-mix and fryer fat, I’d stumble under the sign for Jolimont Station and wait, half-dozing, for the train to come and take me away.
The darkest of the series, Jolimont takes a good look what happens when you let rumour and gossip go unchecked, when you take for granted the goodness in people, when you become confident in your own findings. Both the Professor and the narrator are blindsided by the goings on.
Yes, it was the narrator’s clumsiness that got them into that mess. It was his fault, intentional or otherwise, and so it was also his duty to rectify the situation. Does that make him evil that he unleashed the demon? I don’t think so. It makes him naive, and it shows the danger he poses if he continues to bumble about in a child-like fashion.
And so the voices needed to reflect this. Chester had that ye olde radio voice, not too hard to pull off, although I must say it was difficult to maintain.
Sergeant Hart was a little tougher. He had to be rough, yet exude that forced politeness of a man of the city. I had to imagine him in his bobby hat sporting decent hair on his lip and chin.
Something like this dude:
Lighter on the science, with more adventure, I reckon I like Jolimont the most so far, even more than Beaumaris.
As of writing this, Jolimont is out on all the major platforms. There was a delay in getting to Audible, probably because of the Corona Virus. Isn’t everything, these days?
After the events of Jolimont Street, the Narrator and the Professor are pariahs in their own town. It was already a struggle to get cases to investigate, so it is only natural that they would venture somewhere more populated. With a big town comes many people, not all of them natives, and with that comes, you guessed it, more voices.
You’ve got Madam. Middle-aged and well-to-do, she was also the head of her family and at war with her other half. She needed a manicured voice, one that held power and poise, not at all flighty or weak, even though she is confused. She must keep a brave face, in spite of everything.
My biggest issue was not so much the femininity of the voice, rather my tendency to start speaking like Her Majesty the Queen. In fact, I’ve found that with a lot of the voices, I come close to sounding like parodies and I need to actively check myself, pause, and start again.
Mister Belfiore is Italian. I don’t think that comes across so strongly in the book, but that’s who he is in my mind. He plays a more prominent role in Cooper Alley, so I had to make sure that whatever voice I used, I could maintain between books.
I started with my go-to voice for Pantaloni, breathy, old and heavily accented. Nope, no good. Too old, too breathy. Still, it’s a starting point. What I needed was a somewhat younger version, someone in their 50s or 60s.
I backed off on the accent some, sang the ‘Franco Cozzo’ song to get in the mood and left him a little wheezy.
Now for the main event: Zindello. I haven’t any Romanian friends, and if I did, I’m sure I wouldn’t any more for the terrible disservice I have done to the vocals.
I have watched Eurovision. I have seen the various countries and heard their accents and tried to mimic a few. Pah, who am I kidding? After a few words, my mouth degenerates into a generic Eastern European drawl, located nowhere in particular between Russia and Lithuania.
Still, it’s Zindello. It’s the self-assured strutting man who knows what he wants and how to get it. He’s this guy:
His voice is forceful, he comes across as brash and bold and dangerous. He knows about everything he needs to know about. He likes to be in control. No, he must be in control.
Throw in the usual ruffians, the hotelier and what have you, and Portsmouth Avenue comes out a very hard book to do voices for. It certainly took the longest to date, if only because I needed to frequently stop and re-adjust my voice to get back into character.
You can find Portsmouth Avenue Ghost in Audiobook at most outlets but, as at the time of writing this, Audible hasn’t gotten around to it. There’s some kind of hold up with the publishing gods. Maybe I haven’t sacrificed enough virgin sardines or something.
Hampton court posed its own challenges. Female voices, specifically. How do I take my voice and make it sound more feminine? More than this, there were not one, not two, not three but four women to deal with. Annie and Miss Fitzgerald were ok – although I think Miss Fitzgerald ended up sounding similar to the Professor – probably because they were older.
Lisa and Sally, though, they… they were tough. Lisa had to have a condescending tone in her voice, be a bit haughty and snooty, overly affectionate and bossy. Sally was quite the opposite, being bubbly, chipper, and homely. And, of course, they were both young.
I couldn’t ask for help with this. It was a mission I had to face on my own. And so I did. For Lisa, I took on a breathy, higher pitched voice. It took a good ten minutes to get it ballpark. At first she was squeaky and not at all lady-like. It oscillated between a mouse and a baritone until I landed somewhere in the middle.
The best I could do was imagine someone like this in my head and try to match her voice.
Sally took longer. For her, I needed something a little younger. Cue the baby voice. Nope, no good, too young. So I experimented a little, holding my noise, squishing my face. Then I relaxed my cheeks, letting them flop about a bit. It’s hard to explain.
Think of Richard Nixon:
He’s got those jowls that flop about a bit, giving a kind of hollow sound to the mouth. Not that Sally has jowls in my mind’s eye. She’s more of a happy-go-lucky button that sees the good in the world before the bad, a tad naive, but not stupid. Only, I couldn’t get that playfulness in her voice to come through and, after experimenting a lot, I came to the conclusion that I could only do so much with the equipment God gave me, and that the whole ‘hollow-cheek’ thing would have to do.
Now I’m really sorry for Sally.
I’m really happy for Hampton Court Ghost, though, because that is up and out on Audible and Google and Chirp and all the good places!
I started the audiobooks off with The Bullet. Why? It’s short. It’s slow. It’s silent.
I needed, more than anything else, to launch an audiobook off the ground and see how it flies. Unfortunately for The Bullet, it’s my Woobie. The book I abuse when I want to ‘Test the Waters’ and see how things work. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed writing it, and I enjoyed reading it out loud, but since it was the first of my AudioBooks, I made the most mistakes with it.
Because it is short, it lends itself to being the one to be thrown in the test-tube to see how it reacts. Because it is short, it gets pushed around, it gets forgotten. Because it is short, I could finish the audio and see how difficult the process would be.
I stammer. It’s a thing I’ve got going with my mouth. The jaw moves, the lips move, but, quite often, the words don’t form properly, and I find myself yammering out the same syllable again and again. It’s very difficult to control, and I often don’t say what I truly want to say, because I know that if I try, I’ll mangle the words up. Sometimes I’ll sit and practice saying a sentence just to build up enough confidence to get it out. Too often the topic has gone stale and I’ve missed the opportunity.
The Bullet, being a slow, rhythmic piece, forced me to pace over the words, bring my normally rambling and mumbling mouth to account and put effort into forming words properly and slowly. I don’t remember how many takes I did of the first few paragraphs, or even the chapter. Each time I’d listen and realise that I was stammering and rushing through my words.
Voices. I’m not bad at voices. I’m not great, but I’m not bad. Joey tells me. He likes my various accents. I know that a true Scot would laugh at my attempts, and a Londoner would scoff, but that’s not what I’m aiming for. All I really need is a way to associate a voice with a character.
Still, adding the necessity of dialogue on top of the rigours of the audiobook proper was way too much to handle. As such, The Bullet, having no conversation, is a prime choice for a book upon which to cut my teeth. I could speak freely, then, with no need to put on a voice or persona or accent. I could just be me and concentrate on speaking slowly, properly, carefully.
I am pleased with the end result. The Bullet is still my little friend, that book that I kick around and abuse when I’m unsure about things.
Doing audiobook work takes it out of you. It’s not enough to just quack the words as they appear. You need to stay engaged and use intonation and adjust the tempo and pitch. You need to constantly monitor your words, avoid repetition, keep the tone of the language. And then there are the ‘accents’.
Beaumaris presented a new set of challenges. It was no longer a two-character affair (ignoring the cab driver) like in Grosvenor. I now had to come up with voices for Professor Felix, Mister Brown and Professor Pinkerton, along with members of the academic Board of the University.
It is at this point that I need to apologise to those native speakers whose accents I have mangled. It’s the price one pays, I suppose, doing voices for an audiobook – if the characters all sound the same, there are no cues for the listener to know who is saying what.
To make matters worse, in many parts there is dialogue between the players, so it is necessary to jump between the voices in order to keep things flowing. As you can imagine, sometimes the voices get muddled together. I take a drink of water, mark the error with a beep and carry on.
That doesn’t always work, though. In some instances, I completely lose what a character sounded like and have to go back – physically exit the booth, pause the recording and rewind to a spot – to hear myself. I’ve found a trick to help with this, though.
For each character, I have a phrase that encapsulates their general speech. For Felix, it’s, “That sounds about right, then.” For Pinkerton, it is, “Be that as it maaaaay…” For the Professor it is, “Laddie, what are you getting at?”
By saying those phrases in my mind, and visualising their face, I can jog my vocals back into character. The faces? Ah, yes. When writing the book, I had the characters in my mind’s eye – it’s just a still, like a photograph of what they would look like, nothing in particular. Felix is a portly, fluffy, rose-cheeked kind of guy who prolly gets into the whisky a wee bit:
Whereas Pinkerton is a dark-haired, straight-laced gent who looks at his peers over his nose.
The Professor, weirdly enough, pops in my mind as something like a wild-haired Bernie Sanders slapping on a white Abraham Lincoln beard. Something like this:
Go figure, that’s just what my mind conjures up. I guess what I’m saying is that, when it comes to dropping and picking up character voices, it’s a lot harder than you might think, and you should consider all avenues to jog your vocals back into line.
Anyhow, as for the book, the audio went well enough. I learnt a lot from The Bullet and Grosvenor Lane Ghost. Still, it was rejected on the first round because I hadn’t uploaded one of the tracks properly. Not a big issue, just one of those things.
And so the time came to click that little button: Publish.
Whether it’s on Smashwords or Amazon’s KDP or Findaway Voices, it’s a bloody hard button to click. The cursor dances around it. The mouse button doesn’t seem to click properly. Joey comes asking for something or other. Either way, the gremlins and gods conspire to prevent that button from being clicked.
Who am I kidding? Me, obviously. Just press the damn button already. It’s only a mouse click, after all. Two glasses of whisky later and a stiff self-reprimand, I get to the point where I’m about to do it. No, wait, I’d better check over it all. I’ve already checked it twice, but hey, let’s go for a third time. There comes a wave of angst, followed by paranoia, followed by the chill of ‘what if…’
What if I make a complete fool of myself? What if my voice is too nasal, too dry, too Aussie, not Aussie enough? What if I’ve mispronounced a word or skipped a sentence or edited out a crucial piece of prose? What if I should have used the Grosvenor Lane music for the intro? What if, what if, what if?
One more shot of whisky, one more attempt to blind my conscience and fool my censure and just go for broke. One more shot to hit the damn button that will release me from my anguish. After all, if I don’t publish, what was all the work for? If I do publish, and fail, so what? So what? So. What.
So… I take a breath and steel my nerves with whatever alcohol-free neurons I can muster, slap my already-red cheek for the last time and straighten my back. It has a curious effect, sitting up straight does. The spine clicks into place, the muscles stretch, rejoice. I feel empowered.
My glass is empty. Joey is in bed. The cat is asleep on the couch with Wifey. The computer fan hums. There are no more distractions. No more dancing cats on YouTube. No more, no more. Nothing left between me and the button.
It’s just a collection of pixels, anyway. About a hundred or so wide, forty or fifty deep. Push the button.
I’ve come this far. I can stall another week, yes, spend another week going over what I’ve already gone over. Yes, or I could push the button!
I’ve nothing to lose, except my credibility, but do I even have that any more? Is that measurable? Is that quantifiable? Who cares, just push the button.
I push the button. It’s a bothersome, annoying anticlimax. No fanfare. No sounds or rewarding animations or trumpets. Just a confirmation. A bloody confirmation. Well, that’s all I was after, anyway.
And so the button was clicked, Grosvenor Lane Ghost was published and the waiting game begins.
If you have a search on the web for ‘create a damn audiobook’, you will inevitably stumble across ACX, Amazon’s Audiobook Creation eXchange. You read up on how it all works.
Looks like it functions as a collective of authors, narrators and producers, ready to put together a bunch of audiobooks. More than this, there are options, man, options! I’m a fan of options. Not too many, because then you get overwhelmed, but I like to be able to choose what suits me.
As a narrator, for example, you can sign yourself up and get a gig doing the reading side of things. As an author, you can put your book up to be read. Sounds pretty good so far. But what if, as an author, I want to narrate it myself? Sure thing, that’s fine, too.
Great. Let’s go with this. How does the royalty side of things work? Well, there are three options – either pay outright for a narrator to read my book, share the royalties of the book with the narrator, or do it myself. Easy.
I like the idea that I can collaborate with someone to do the narrating. Some of my larger books, see, would be a struggle for me, so I wouldn’t mind sharing the royalties at all. It’s one of those win-win situations.
So I go through the motions, sign up, look at the different options, figure out how I’m going to do it, and there’s a decent page on how to encode the sound files. There’s also the necessary part of reading out the title and author and narrator (they’re very particular about this) and the closing statement (must contain ‘The End’) and things like that. All good, I can handle this just fine.
I’ve gone over my files, encoded them properly, made them mono rather than stereo, checked the size, formats, added the top and tail, checked the amplification… all the chapters there? Yup. All sound right? Yup. What about the credits? Yup. It’s all looking good. Then… disaster.
In one of the little forms I need to fill in, I select from a drop-down that I’m from Australia. Uh, why is there a red box showing? What does that say? Oh, wow, really? ‘Unfortunately, at this time, ACX is only servicing citizens of the UK and the USA.’
I live in neither.
There I was, dangling high and dry like an octopus on a clothesline, wondering if I’d just blown all that work for nothing. All the building of the booth and the microphone and the mistakes and blunders, was it all for nought?
“No,” I think, “That’s ridiculous. There has to be another way.” Another way… Can I find another way?
Funnily enough, I did. And it’s called ‘Findaway‘.