The Red Pen’s Revenge

The excitement builds. The whisky is poured. Draft two is complete. It is a relief. The first run, you see, doesn’t feel real, it doesn’t feel like the end product. It’s almost as if the first copy is a grainy image of what is to come. It can be lax. It can be unstructured. Things don’t necessarily need to follow or make sense. Great slabs of story are missing. Other flabby bits are hanging off the sides, waiting to be cut out.

What a mess! What a disaster! How can we clean this thing up and get it into something readable? Well that’s where the second draft comes in. Still on the machine, I read through it all, start to finish, and cut out what needs to be cut out and put in what needs to be put in. I correct obvious errors or grammar and spelling and correctness. I think whether the timing makes sense, the locations, the people and the settings.

Is that what this character would do? Is that really the best way to describe that? Bit by bit I massage the story out from its amorphous shape and, with a pinch here and a cut there, it becomes a story with a purpose. Great. That’s the point I’m at now. That’s the moment of ‘woot’ where I can take a breather and fix up the garage or fly a kite with Joey.

That’s not the end of it, though. For now comes the nasty part – the Red Pen.

The Red Pen is ruthless. The Red Pen cares not for fancy constructs, nor for passive tense. The Red Pen spots that naughty comma and herds it into the right spot. It scrawls its thoughts down in haste, it draws arrows and brackets and, when it gets really steamed, it draws thick lines through words, sentences, even whole paragraphs!

That’s what happens when you leave a Red Pen in a cup for half a year. It gives it time to plot and scheme. I only hope there’s something left after it has had its fill.

What week is it?

Is it Wear your Best to Work week? I’m all for that kind of thing. I mean, we live in a fantastic age where we have incredible choice for what to wear, so why not bust that suit out and wear it with pride? But no, no, it’s not that week.

Is it Stay in Bed week? Unfortunately no. While I would welcome the change of pace, I’m sure the economy wouldn’t enjoy workers dropping tools, wheels, keyboards and pens to take a kip.

Is it Put your Phone Away Week? I wish, I wish, I wish it was. You know how much fun it is when you can talk to someone without a black rectangle covering their face?

Alright, alright. I’ll let you in on the gag. It is, in fact –

Read an Ebook Week - Banner sized for Facebook
Smashwords Read An E-Book Week!

And to celebrate, they’ve got a bazillion titles up on discounts. 25%? Yup. 50%? You bet. 75%? Even so.

100%??? There sure are! In fact, if you head to my profile page:

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JeremyTyrrell

You’ll find all of my books for… free. That’s right, gratis. Go nuts. Get the entire set of Adaptation (Just get the compendium, it’s easier). Go on. What’s that? You want an octopus detective? OK, go get Tedrick Gritswell of Borobo Reef and, while you’re there, get Tedrick Gritswell Makes Waves.

Not your thing? Grab Atlas, Broken or the Bullet. Or if you’re into Paranormology, grab all five books and shove them in your cart. Electrons come free, baby, so go nuts.

Then, when you’re done, go and visit some other authors and give them some love. And then… and then… and then read them! That’s part of the whole ‘Read an E-Book’ week deal. If you enjoy them, great! If not, that’s fine too. Oh, and if you don’t mind, please come back and leave a review when you’re done.

If reading really ain’t your thing, might I suggest you listen to the audiobook versions? It’s kinda sorta still almost and E-book, right? It still counts. It’s just that you’re reading with your ears. Yeah. Let’s run with that.

What are you still doing here? Go and read a book!

Read an E-Book week goes until March 7, so get in while you can.

Portsmouth Avenue Ghost Audiobook

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.

Madam

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.

She’s actually a Texan, apparently, but you get the idea.

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

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.

Salvatore Lo Leggio: Il suono di un violino. Una poesia di ...
Like this dude

I backed off on the accent some, sang the ‘Franco Cozzo’ song to get in the mood and left him a little wheezy.

Zindello

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:

In my mind, Zindello is somewhat more youthful, with a more sculpted moustache and beard.

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.

Google Play
Apple iTunes
Kobo / Rakuten
Chirp

Cooper Alley Ghost Cover – Pt 4

I’ve used the same general layout for the Paranormology series – Two thirds picture at the top, one third writing at the bottom. The top is of the haunted building. The bottom contains the title and author upon a close up of some of the material making up the structure.

The Smashwords guidelines specify a minimum width of 1400 pixels, with a height greater than the width. I use 1400 x 2278. For the lower section, I’ve chosen a piece of wall with some cracks and flaking paint:

The two sections of the book – house and brickwork

After that, I’ll add in the title and the author, along with a flourish to separate the two. I used the font Augustus because it was narrow and crisp. I’ve made a duplicate of the writing layer to have a slight coloured rim around the lettering.

Title and author, with a flourish to separate them

Now that’s alright by itself, but the brickwork needed to be contrasted a tad more with the writing, so I added a glow to it, reduced the contrast and added in a purple and yellow wash. I then put a shroud on the outside and bordering the two images, to give it a slightly darker look.

Shroud around the outside, purple haze and yellow wash

I threw in some faint plasma for a swirling, mystic look and finally added some snow at the bottom panel to tie it all in. The result:

Add the series number caption at the top, too

Tada! And we’re good to go!

The Bullet Audiobook

I started the audiobooks off with The Bullet. Why? It’s short. It’s slow. It’s silent.

Short

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.

Slow

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.

Silent

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.

Beaumaris Road Ghost – AudioBook

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:

Significant Scots - Professor Alexander Melville Bell
Actually one Professor Alexander Melville Bell, but he’s a decent Felix.

Whereas Pinkerton is a dark-haired, straight-laced gent who looks at his peers over his nose.

Related image

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:

And he’s got that grumpy look about him too.

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.

You can find Beaumaris Road Ghost at:

Publishing That Audio Book

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.

More on the Whole Voice Business

When it comes to doing the voicework for the audiobook, I’ve found that there are definitely some dos and don’ts. If you’re thinking about doing the same, be sure to see if these pointers apply to you.

Clothing. Wear soft, natural fibres. It’s cold here, so I had on some heavy cargo pants and a polyester vest, and the mic picked up every little microscopic movement I made. Noisy clothing will quickly ruin your take, so ditch them. Do it in undies. Go naked if you need to, just steer clear of corduroy, nylon or any other noisy clothes. You’ll naturally shuffle in your seat from time to time, so don’t rely on just sitting still. That said:

Sit Still. No, really. If you’re fidgety from sitting down for a long take, pause, take a break, walk around, have lunch, go to the toilet, clear your head. Not necessarily in that order. Your body wants to move, but while you’re doing a take, keep still. On that note, keep your head at a constant angle to the microphone. The pickup for the mic will vary as the angle, so if you’re overly animated while talking, you’ll hear a change in volume.

Check your settings. Check and double check and check it again, before and after you record, and check it in between chapters. Want to waste a day? Don’t check it. It only takes a few seconds and it will save you time. Record in Mono at or above 44.1 kHz, at a rate of 192kbps or above. If your gear doesn’t support this, get new gear.

Have water handy. Stay hydrated. You think you can talk for an hour straight? Two? Five? How long before your throat gives out. Take regular breaks to drink, rest your mouth, stretch your lungs. Use lip balm (I had to after the third time around). I’ve read about not eating cheese or having milk, since this produces phlegm. I can’t say much about that, but I can attest to avoid eating spicy or oniony foods. I was burping so much, I had to stop every other sentence.

Mark your mistakes. Muck up? Say a short, sharp ‘Beep’ and start again. Speak too fast? ‘Beep’. Mispronounce a word? ‘Beep’. Want to say that sentence again, but with difference emphasis? ‘Beep’. Let out an unexpected belch? ‘Beep’. The Beeps might sound like you’re polluting your sound track, but actually you’re providing markers to yourself to draw attention to a portion of audio. Like underscoring a word, a beep shows up after to let you know that whatever just happened was probably wrong.

Go slow. If you need to pause between sentences, go right ahead. If you need to pause after a comma, feel free. If you need to swear, shake out the jumbles and flibble your lips back into shape, do so. The software editing part at the end of it all allows you to crop out the pauses quickly. Yes, it’s more work, but it’s even more work if you happen to stuff up a sentence because you didn’t take the time to read ahead or get your enunciation right.

Read ahead. It’s your work, right, and you know what you wrote, right, word for word, right? Nah. Not at all. You’ll be reading sentences that you’re only just rediscovering. Like reading a book, sometimes the clue to the character or situation happens after the significant fact. “Go away,” she mumbled. Oh, right, mumbling. “Go away,” she huffed. Hmm, huffing. “Go away,” she laughed. Mirth, got it. ‘Beep’, go back, do it again.

Breathe. Sounds obvious, but I reckon breathing was one of the hardest parts to overcome. There’s a natural tendency when talking naturally to take breaths whenever. It can be while talking, halfway through a sentence, halfway though a word. Do your best to overcome your desire for a breath by pausing, breathing a little more and resuming your speech.

I’m sure with plenty of practice, this will all become second nature. Nah, I don’t believe that for a second. More like, ‘with plenty of practice, your get better at spotting where you’re going wrong, and have the maturity and discipline to take active measures’.

Slow the Heck Down

I’ve been in the booth, doing my audiobook recording, and I’ve learnt so much already. It can all be summarised in two words, “Slow Down”. Just take some time and slow right down.

I was keen to get started, to just hammer this thing out and get going. Yeah, well that may work for writer’s block or when I’ve got a story in my head and I know what all the bits are. That’s typing. Typing doesn’t care about speed. If I make a mistake while typing, great, I’ll go back and correct it and move on. That’s not possible when it comes to recording audio.

In the booth, milliseconds count. I can’t stop and have a scratch midway through a sentence. Once I start speaking, I must continue until it’s time to stop. If my mouth is gummy and I choke and cough and mutter profanities, all of that is recorded. To cope, I’ve developed a mechanism and it involves, you guessed it, slowing down.

But first, a horror story: I gave the story my full attention. I put aside the day to do the recording of all the chapters (surely, it won’t take all day!) and locked myself in the booth. After chapter 3, my mouth was dry. OK, lunch, water, have a rest, get back to it. Maybe I’ll have a listen to see how it’s sounding. Hmm, no good. I’m mumbling and not speaking clearly, and talking too fast. Bother. OK, that just means I start again, and this time pay attention to how I sound as I’m talking (the headphones come in real handy at this point).

I’m guilty, you see, of mumbling, of speaking (way) too fast, of dropping consonants and flattening vowels. Thing is, I’m not conscious that I do it, not until you play a video with me talking. I’ve been told many times, by many people, in many ways, “Jez, slow down.”

Start again. No probs, got three chapters done again by Joey o’clock, went to pick him up, came home and had a listen. Still no good. I’m still talking too fast and not clearly. Fine, I get it. Slow the heck down.

I worked into the night, persisting, cracking through the first couple of chapters (again). The next morning I came at it, ready to go, ready to speak clearly and slowly. I started early and got used to listening to myself as I spoke, correcting mistakes as I went, keeping a pace. By the afternoon, I had all chapters done. Perfect. Late lunch, but who cares? I clicked on the play button and died. Ba-bow. Bad news, Jez. The little microphone drop down in Audacity hadn’t been set to the studio mic, rather the internal computer mic.

I had been recording my voice, muffled and indistinct, from within the booth while the microphone on the laptop was outside the booth. There was nothing for it.

The entire day’s recording was utterly, unspeakably, useless.

If I had slowed down, taken the time to check the settings before and replay the clip after each chapter, I would have spotted it in the first hour and only lost a portion of my day. As it was, I was in a royally gloomy funk for the rest of the evening. I had lost a day’s worth of work, had a sore voice, a massive headache and nothing to show for it.

All this means I’ve gotten into a process when it comes to recording – turn on my computer outside the booth, plug in the mic, load up Audacity, make sure it’s on the right bloody microphone, sit down, lock the booth, get thirty seconds of silence and sip some water.

Then I breathe. I use my hand as a metronome. I listen as I speak and, if something doesn’t sound right, I correct myself and try again. Then I check on the chapter as soon as I’ve finished it. It’s slower, but it’s a whole lot better.

The NT-USB Microphone

I should say a few words about my choice of microphone for recording the audiobook. The site says that the NT-USB has a JFET impedance converter with bipolar output buffer. To tell you the honest truth, I have no idea what means in terms of audio quality or pickup or fidelity. I’m sure there’s an audiophile out there who knows and you’d be doing me a solid by explaining what it means.

What I can say, just from using the microphone in the booth, is that I absolutely love it.

When I was a little tacker, I discovered the joy of recording my voice on an old cassette player. You’d press the record and play button down, talk into the little mic bit and then hit stop, rewind, play again and, hey! that’s me! Joy! Wow! Ew, is that what I sound like? Really?

The scratchiness of the recording was evident. The hiss and hum, and the clunk of the buttons as you fumbled about to press them, it all meant that recording on a cassette player was a novelty at best.

Then came the microphone. Wow, this is one of those things they use on TV during the sports, right? Yeah, same thing. Kinda. It wasn’t much to look at, just a beaten up, battery powered pencil mic that you clicked onto the cassette player and fed in the vocals. The quality that came from using it was noticeably better, to the point where you could almost believe you were recording sound like the professionals. At least, that’s what I thought when I was six.

Fast-forward to now, and I’ve got this Rode beasty looking at me in the sound booth. It’s nothing too complicated to look at – there’s a stand, a pop-shield, a USB cord dangling from the bottom and a little knob on the side. Plug it in and a little light appears from behind the grill, letting me know it’s time to get to work.

One of the things I really, really like about it, apart from the simplicity of it all, is the headphone jack on the side. My first thoughts were, “Why? Why do I need a headphone jack if I’m talking? Is that for listening to the music to do karaoke? Is it to push in white noise?” It turns out, among other things, the headphone jack is so I can monitor what I’m saying in real-time.

Sounds silly? I thought so, too, until I tried it. I talk, and I hear myself in the headphones. Wait, you say, if you talk, you can hear yourself, anyway. Yeah, but not the same as if you were talking to yourself outside of yourself. That sounds wrong, but it goes back to that time where you record your voice and play it back and think, “Is that what I sound like?” For whatever reason (audiophiles, step up) the voice that you have inside your head when you talk is not the voice that others hear.

Bizarre, I know, but it’s true.

So while I’m speaking, I can hear exactly as I sound, while I’m speaking. And let me tell you, it’s an eye-opener and a time-saver. No longer do I need to play back what I’ve recorded to hear how it sounds, I can hear it straight away and correct myself before moving on.

I’m sure the headphones can be used for karaoke or voice-overs, since there’s a little dial above the jack to adjust how much sound comes from the computer and how much comes from the microphone itself, so you can mix in and hear just how you’re sounding. Pretty neat, it you ask me.

The best thing about the mic, though, is the quality of the sound. I’ve experimented a bit, leaning forward and back, speaking loudly and whispering, and the mic happily grabs all the sounds, all of them, from the loudest yell to the tiniest nose-whistle. It gets the rain on the roof outside the booth, the hammering of the guy next door. That’s ok, though, because I can trim out background noise with software afterwards, and adjust the floor to remove unwanted fluff.

All things considered, I’m well chuffed with my choice of mic, and I’m looking forward to punishing it over the next few weeks.