Having heard her latest novel The Temp brought to life in audio, Michelle Frances sat down in conversation with narrator Imogen Church. Here, Imogen shares how she brings characters to life and the joys of losing herself in narration, while Michelle gives us an insight in to where her love of writing began.
Michelle interviews Imogen
Michelle: What do you look for when selecting a book to record?
Imogen: Great characters (particularly female), brilliant storytelling and ideally a lack of racial, gender or class stereotyping. To get all three is not too common, so luckily my other criteria is a pay packet (I have two kids, a house, a dog and an awesome clothing habit to support!)
Michelle: What's your favourite part of the process?
Imogen: The actual narrating, in the studio, where I lose myself entirely in the story, the characters, the joy of the job. I get so lost, in fact, that when the producer chimes in from their booth I have been known to jump three feet off my seat it gives me such a shock!
Michelle: Tell me about creating the different voices for each character - how do you make then what they are?
Imogen: As with any acting job, across any genre, the character should be there in-and-between the writer's words, so you become attuned to reading the hints at character in their speech patterns and their actions. On top of that, in audio specifically, I'll try and add some physical characteristics to distinguish the characters audibly; maybe some heavy jowls, a blocked nose or a cigar habit? Having said that, it is also the case that not all writers are as skilled as Michelle Frances and therefore, sometimes, the character development is (ahem) less apparent. In those instances I go to town and play!
Michelle: Have you ever reached the end of a book that you're narrating and wanted to change the ending?
Imogen: Yes! I get particularly frustrated if there are threads left loose at the end of a story, or if the story just fizzles out and nothing really happens at the end (literary fiction, I'm looking at you!)
Michelle: You're at a dinner party and someone asks you what you do for a living. What's the reaction you get when you tell them?
Imogen: Depends on the dinner party . . . people are always, without fail, excited by it, which is lovely. But if it's a stuffy affair I will regale them with my beginnings in audio, which consisted of narrating audio porn for the blind. That always gets an interesting reaction and usually leads to a discussion about my previous career as a burlesque dancer, which never fails to spark debate whilst simultaneously appalling my mother.
Michelle: Which one book do you wish you'd narrated and why?
Imogen: A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf - I have the title tattooed on my inner left forearm because the notion of a woman having her own space in which to write and her own money on which to survive is so integral to my life.
Can I also ask for Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos, Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons and Vanity Fair by Thackeray? Thanks!
Left, Michelle Frances, right, Imogen Church
Imogen interviews Michelle
Imogen: Right Michelle . . . my turn. My first question is . . . Is Generation Rebel going to be made into an actual TV series and if not, why not? (Quality excuses only, please.)
Michelle: Education . . . the more I become aware of how it works as my children move up the school ladder, the more I become frustrated. The constant pressures and testing, the absurd grammar, punctuation and spelling tests from a very young age, the budgets stretched to diabolical levels, the inability of anyone in power to listen to the teachers themselves, the lack of focus on the children (despite numerous claims to the contrary). I know of several children from well-balanced families who've reacted to the stress they're put under in frightening ways and I see first hand how childhoods are being stolen. The mental health crisis affecting young people is regularly reported in the news and yet the numbers of kids struggling keeps on going up. The idea for Generation Rebel came from all this frustration and I wanted the children to fight back and reclaim ownership of their own lives again. I'd love it if it were made into a TV series -- I feel it would touch on a lot of people's experiences.
Imogen: When did you first realise you wanted to write and can you remember the first fully fledged writing project you attempted?
Michelle: When I was a little girl I always wanted to be a librarian as I loved reading -- no one ever told me (and I hadn't worked it out) that you could actually write the book itself. Then when I was about ten I sent some poems off to Penguin (without telling my mother) and received my very first -- very kind -- rejection letter. As an adult I've always worked around scripts and story (and written various scenes for TV), it just took me a little longer to know that writing books was my thing. The first book I attempted was an adventure novel where a young woman outwitted all the (incompetent MI6) men around her to save the day. It had an element of myth and legend about it which I particularly enjoyed writing.
Imogen: How did you celebrate when your first novel exploded? (Not literally.)
Michelle: Years ago, as a teenager, when I had a Saturday job in a travel agent I would dream about the tropical beach that featured on a large poster in the shop. Decades later I was able to finally get to one -- where I also married my long-term partner.
Imogen: What do you like to read for pleasure and does it bear any relation to your writing?
Michelle: I like to read everything! I have a part-time job working for a TV production company where I look for books to adapt into television and consequently read a lot, both fiction and non-fiction. This means I have very little time to read just for pleasure, except when I go on holiday where I do like to pick some titles that are just for me to enjoy. There's something so blissful about lying on the beach with a paperback . . . I recently read a John Grisham that I haven't before and also Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere and am very excited for the new Kate Atkinson. But there isn't enough time to read all the books I want to so I keep a list for some point in the future when I might have oodles of spare time!
Listen to a clip of Imogen reading The Temp below: