As part of Love Audio Week we talk to Natasha Devon, author of A Beginner's Guide to Being Mental, about her experience of recording her own audiobook as well as her recommendations for the best books to listen to.
Q. When did you start listening to audiobooks?
A. I was fairly late to the audiobook scene - In autumn 2016 I had a particularly hard time with a bout of anxiety. When I’m struggling with my mental health, I don’t want to socialise but also find it difficult to be alone with my thoughts. In the past, I’ve always escaped distressing thoughts through reading the written word, but this time I found I was getting stuck on the same paragraph, my eyes scanning the words but my mind too overwrought to compute their meaning. Audiobooks kept my brain occupied enough that I didn’t spiral into panic because they required a different sort of concentration.
Q. What do you like about audiobooks (compared to traditional books)?
A. If my schedule allows, I like to read a written book first then listen to the audio version. Often, the vocal inflections of the reader will unlock new ways of interpreting the text I hadn’t thought of and unlock a whole new layer of meaning. I also like to hear books in the author’s voice, particularly if it has autobiographical elements. I liked, for example, how Caitlin Moran and Robert Webb did impressions of their younger selves in How to be a Woman & How Not to be a Boy respectively. And I loved how Eddie Izzard kept going off on tangents and making himself laugh in his reading of ‘Believe Me’.
Q. What audiobook are you listening to at the moment?
A. Toast on Toast by Steven Toast. It keeps making me laugh out loud inappropriately in public places.
Q. What was it like recording your own audiobook?
A. The studio became a happy space for me during the recording of my audiobook and I looked forward to going there each time. Cherry, my producer, was a really warm and comforting presence, guiding me from behind the glass. Sometimes it was hard to read chapters where I’d recounted difficult memories because sound reinvigorates the words on the page and renews the emotion. Reading also brought out a little of the performer in me, as I mimicked accents where I could and acted out the scenarios I’d described, which was fun.
Q. How long does it take to record an audiobook?
A. We recorded A Beginners Guide to Being Mental over a period of four and a half days, but they weren’t consecutive. Each day consisted of four sessions of 1.5 hours with a small break in between. That’s a short working day by most people’s standards but it’s amazing how much it takes it out of you. I was always exhausted by the time I left the studio mid afternoon.
Q. Did anything surprise you about the recording process?
A. I am surprised hearing back how inconsistent my accent is! I grew up in Essex in a family with some African elements and went to a fairly posh secondary school and my accent basically changes depending on where I was when I learned the word I’m saying.
Listen to Natasha read an excerpt from A Beginner's Guide to Being Mental