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

Hampton Court Ghost Audiobook

It wasn’t too long coming, I hope.

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.

2781 Best images about 19th C. Photography - Women on ...
Oh, don’t be so dramatic! It is a small thing.

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:

President Nixon refuses to hand over tapes in 1974 - NY ...
“I’m Richard Nixon, and I wholly endorse this product or service!”

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!

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!

Cooper Alley Cover – Pt 2

I really needed a picture of this house for the front cover. But taking the photo is only the first part of the job. Next was turning this rather old looking piece into something one might consider haunted.

The image of the house, without cyclist or Joey (although he would have been a cute addition)

The house, captured in broad daylight, was not exactly ‘creepy’ looking. Not only that, as you can see there are artefacts within that would not belong in a Victorian era story. Anachronisms, perhaps? Either way, they had to go:

First things first, get rid of the bits what don’t belong in there.

We can see the walker, the plastic bins, the electrical junctions and the wires. The letterbox looks fine and the number on the door is too small to make out, so that’s good, too. Oh, right, and the compact fluorescent lamp as well. Another little ditty is the reflection in the glass – there’s a ute in there. Aaaand that building over to the right.

To get rid of these things, I used the good old ‘clone’ tool in Gimp. The technique is to carefully clone parts of the surrounding background and surface over the top of the unwanted anomalies.

This works best with consistent (like the grey bricks) or noisy (like the mulch on the ground) backgrounds. It’s a pain in the bum with distinct, contrasting objects like the fence rods and the window. For these, I had to match up the cloning very carefully indeed to avoid a glaring inconsistency with the straight lines.

Not that anyone is looking that closely, but still. It’s also a heck of a lot easier when you don’t have a Joey jostling your arm every few seconds.

Tada! Purple and red shades bring the house a mouldy feel.

I then removed the sky, twiddled with it, darkened it and kept it for later. The colour of the house and the leaves needed to be duller and more dreary. For this I adjusted the grey bricks to be more purple, and the green leaves to be more yellow. The top windows needed dulling (because we can’t reflect a blue sky at night, right?) which was a matter of using the magic selector and reducing the lightness.

With all that done, it was time to add some layering in there.

The story is set in winter, and while it is not full-blown midwinter, it’s still cold and there is a smattering of snow about. Well, that means I needed to add snow. Where and how the heck could I do that? It took some doing, but I think I got there. More on that in a tick.

Cooper Alley Ghost Cover – Pt 3

In the story, it is winter. It is cold. It is snowing. The problem I faced is that this photograph is in Melbourne, in Summer, when it’s hot and definitely does not snow. I could think about, say, grabbing a can of shaving cream and spraying it about, but I doubt the owner would be impressed and the result wouldn’t cut it. The only thing for it is to add fake snow over the top of the image:

Manually added some snow

The snow was done in three passes. I use Gimp to do the dirty work, mostly because I’m comfortable with it, and also because there are a lot of little tools and filters that can help out.

First, I used the chalk shaped brush, with a white to grey gradient, and passed it over the ‘top’ surfaces of things, so the window sills, the fence posts, the railings. It’s not a heavy coating, more a smattering, because it’s early winter. I was going to do more on the footpath, but it turned out, when I did a quick check, that the image on the book wouldn’t be able to include the lower quarter. Ah, well.

The thing is, the image above is still too sunny and happy, so I wanted to add in some more, falling, snow. So be it:

Falling snow

So there’s snow on the ground, some falling snow, and I’ve gloomified the setting. It’s looking a bit more like what I had in mind, but there’s still more to go. I need the sky back, for starters, and I want some highlights on the house so that it’s not one grey, amorphous blob.

Duplicating, blending and putting the sky back in

I duplicated the house layer and blended it together with the underlying house to bring up more of the detail. The clouds in the sky looked about right with a dark filter on there, so I left that alone.

Right, all that’s left is to add it into the general template for the Paranormology series.

Cooper Alley Cover – Pt 1

It’s getting harder and harder to find houses that fit the front covers for my stories. The latest, Cooper Alley Ghost, needed to be old, craggy, two storey and squishy. Why? Because it’s in an alley, not a street or avenue. Trolling the haunts of Moonee Ponds and Essendon, hunting about for the right one, I came up with a whole lot of not much. This one is single storey. This one is too grand. This one is way too modern. The houses in that area, you see, tend to be sitting on large blocks. There’s a nice, comfortable feel about them and those that have be squishified into apartments and the like tend to have been built only within the past decade or two. Not at all suitable.

So I gave up on that and scratched my head some and thought and thought and thought. If only I had a jet-pack, I could fly about the suburbs and rapidly cull from my list the houses and buildings that weren’t suitable, and narrow in on those that were. I don’t have a jet-pack. And even if I did, I doubt that it would be the most practical way to… and I struck upon an idea. Google Street View, of course! Why bother driving around, slowly crawling the backstreets and looking creepy, when some gigantic tech company has done that already? No, really, have you seen the cars? It’s a little creepy the way they putter up and down, and even more creepy when they go into the back-alleys of Carlton and show you the insides of people’s backyards.

Anyway, after comparing the tomato gardens of the people of Fitzroy and Carlton, I got back to my task and hunted about for a house that would fit the bill. After twenty minutes, boom, there it was – the ideal house. Two storey, slightly creepy and crumbled, squished between two other houses. A tiny front yard and a smattering of plants. Perfect. Now I just had to get there and take a photograph.

Well, it’s school holidays, and that means I’m taking care of Joey, dragging him about, taking him to the pool, to work, to boxing, to the shops. None of those places are anywhere near Carlton. Bum. OK, so we had to make a special trip. On the hottest day of the year. And we were in Port Melbourne, had to fight through the city traffic to reach the other side. That, or go on a long, sweep around. Either way would be unpleasant. The city, at that time in the morning, I reasoned, shouldn’t be so terrible. That’s a relative term. The traffic was lighter than peak-hour, granted, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t have been faster walking. And don’t get me started on the terrible driving. The day was getting hotter, Joey was getting crankier and my patience was getting drier. We finally popped out the other side and reached Nicholson Street.

Parking. Yay, hadn’t thought about that. I normally ride a scooter, so there’s no need to worry about parking. On Nicholson Street was not an option – all the parks were gone. So I hit up Leicester Street and poked about there. Permit parks over here, no standing over there and lots and lots of ticketed parking. Heck, all I wanted to do was jump out, take a happy snap and go home. Not happening. So then it’s around to the next street and the next and, a stroke of luck! There was a two hour spot just waiting for us next to a (much needed) water bubbler.

We got out, headed to the house (just up the road) and, wouldn’t you know it? There was roadworks signs and parked cars all over the place, with no clear shot. I tried from a few angles. No good. I stood closer and further, tried the zoom on the camera. Still no good. Joey was at boiling point. So was I. “Blow it,” I said, “Wasn’t there a 7-Eleven on the way over?” A slurpee took joey off the boil and shut him up for at least thirty seconds while I thought. I didn’t fight all that way to give up, and considering the general feel and age of the suburb, there had to be other samples about. We wandered up and down for a little while. At last! A house! Two floors, old, etc. Sure, there’s a car parked in front but it’s back far enough that with the wide angle on I should be able to…

And just at that moment, the occupant of the house comes home on his bike. No, seriously. I wasn’t doing anything illegal, of course. I was on the sidewalk, taking photographs, but you can appreciate how uncomfortable it got. So there were a few shots with said occupant in the picture, putting his bike inside. Can’t use those:

Oh dear…

Nope. I went to the house next door, but its front was way too close to the street, so that was no good. Nope, it was this one or nothing. I stole back, distracted Joey with something shiny in an alley, flipped the phone to wide-angle and took the shot. Boomshakalaka and thar she blows, a fine specimen of an aged house… complete with treadmill out the front, plastic garbage bins and electricity.

I’ll have to do something about those.

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:

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 Quality of the Merchandise

Forgot to mention yesterday about the quality of the print of the books that arrived.

I’ll start with Tedrick. I got Tedrick Gritswell of Borobo Reef and Tedrick Gritswell Makes Waves delivered so I can give a final check to the quality of the print. I have to say, I’m impressed. The stock used was a cream paper, nice and easy on the eyeballs, with a good sized font and proper looking margins.

I’m always concerned with the gutter, to make sure that when the book is opened, the words don’t get lost somewhere down in the spine. The guidelines of the KDP template help out there a lot and they point out, quite clearly, if words are going to be squished in the gutter.

The margins, too, are spacious and roomy, enough for fingers to hold without getting in the way. Where the print falls down, in my opinion, is on the cover. I’ve noticed a distinct difference with the brightness of the colours on the monitor versus those on print. The books seem to have their colours muted somewhat, like the ‘volume got turned down’.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still the same image, it’s not altered at all, but the realisation into the physical world leaves a little something back in the digital world. I’m sure there’s a term for this.

The Adaptation book is a whopper. It’s printed on white paper with 9.5 point font, 0.5 points below the recommended minimum. That was the absolute largest I could use without blowing the pages out past the maximum of 800. I also used a custom font that squished the words up a fraction more. Each chapter title also uses a custom font to match the title cover.

This was a bit annoying because it means embedding the font into the final PDF. If I didn’t do that, the font would default to something else, and I’d gain an extra few pages and push past the limit. Embedded the font ain’t so bad – it makes the PDF larger, of course, but that makes it longer upload.

The cover came out better than I expected. The charcoal of the carbon-fibre comes up good against the cyan and orange. The back holds a likeness of yours truly in a little circle. The print quality is nice and the matt cover has a definite feel to it.

The only thing that annoys me is the slim margins and small font size. I would have preferred to go to, say, a thousand pages with a thicker margin and 11 point font but, unfortunately, the Laws of Physics only extend so far.