The audiobook of Great North Road is just out and, as I was the narrator for this wonderful book, Tor UK thought their audience would be interested in a behind-the-scenes perspective ... You can listen to a clip from the book here (click on this, then again on the link after the click-through) and I answer their probing questions below! Also, Tor UK are giving away some great Peter F. Hamilton prizes on their Facebook page today, and details are here.

toby-longworth-in-the-studioWhat are the greatest challenges in reading an audiobook?

Most, if not all audiobooks are essentially the published book, in audio form. However, once in a while a problem peculiar to the audio form crops up. For instance, I have on occasion recorded 'murder mysteries' in which the murderer has pages of dialogue before he is unmasked. However, his identity would be quite obvious were he to have the same voice as that old Scottish character who seemed so helpful in chapter two ... so to avoid this, it's sometimes possible to record the murderer's scenes in a 'dreamy' or 'unreal' style, unlike the rest of the book, so the mystery isn't ruined from the first time we hear the suspects.

What’s your favourite part of the audiobook recording process?

I'd love to lie and say 'When it's finally over', but to be perfectly honest, I have to say I love the whole process; there's something particularly satisfying about the relationship between you (the reader), the producer and the listener. In a way, your producer is your first listener; one who, if they disagree with your interpretation, can make you do again and again, until you get it right.

Do you have a process for creating the character’s voices?

Now, actually, I think this is my favourite part of the process. Sometimes, depending on the project, I like to 'cast' the voices from hybrids of familiar personalities. For instance '60% Alec Guinness, 40% James Mason, but with a Lancastrian accent'. In a very long book, which might have hundreds of characters, this kind of aide memoire is invaluable.

How did you get into the business of reading for audiobooks?

great-north-road-audio-coverI have absolutely no idea. I remember really wanting to do them, I remember finding out they did them in Bath when I lived there, but I think it wasn't until I'd moved back up to London that anyone asked me to any ... or is that right? I think the first ones I ever did was with Jennifer Howard when she was at BBC audiobooks, so if I have any one to thank for getting me into the business, it's her. She also got me into hot air balloons, but that's another story ...

Are there any interesting facts about recording audiobooks that might be new to the uninitiated?

It makes me smile imagining what the listeners might think, were they to hear the incredibly creative swearing that goes on when a long sentence just won't agree to be said out loud. Sometimes the smallest breath, lip-smack or body movement can render a line unusable, cueing another tirade of complicated cursing. These 'Swear tapes' should be available on the audio black market and for all I know, they are.

Are there any particular or unexpected mispronunciations that come up time and time again?

Well. I once recorded a report on 'Papyrus' for a short documentary. Throughout it I had pronounced Papyrus wrongly (you'll just have to guess how, I don't quite know how to demonstrate it on paper) It's just one of those words I never got right, a word I was familiar with written down before I ever heard pronounced, so my first (wrong) impression remained; as it does with the words 'Epitome' or 'Hyperbole' for many people (alright, myself included, but I'm over it now, just). When I finished the recording and realised my mistake, I asked the producer why he hadn't stopped me and he said, ‘well, your voice had such authority, I thought I must have been pronouncing it wrong!’ Curses! Foiled by my own plausibility.

Of course, reading science fiction offers its own particular challenges, in as much as the difficulty isn't just in the pronunciations, but in trying to normalise them, as if you are perfectly used to saying 'Bioil' or 'Iris Smartcell grid'. The names in science fiction are consistently baffling (No-one is ever called something sensible like, 'Norman Baker', they all look like a set of scrabble tiles that've been thrown downstairs). So much so, that one time I was forced to ring up a science fiction author (who shall remain nameless), whose characters' names, in his new thousand page epic, I was struggling to pronounce. ‘Goodness’ he said, ‘I honestly never though anyone would ever say them out loud.’

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For those who want more information, the audio book of Great North Road can be found here (available unabridged and in Parts One and Two). And details on the actual book are here, with a link to the collector's limited edition here. And to discover more posts on Great North Road, follow this link.