Oft-repeated advice to writers is: Write the book you want to read. The only drawback is that as its creator, you’ll never truly be able to be its reader. The book won’t build a world out of nothing in your head. You had to build the world already, before you could write the book.
But there’s one experience that comes close. And that’s hearing the audiobook of your novel. GILDED CAGE’s audiobook has been recorded over the past three days, and I was lucky enough to make it along for two of them.
It was a magical experience, that sometimes sent the hairs along the back of my neck prickling up! So how does it all happen?
The studio work of audiobooks is done between two people: the voice artist, behind the microphone, and – separated by a foot of soundproofing – the producer behind the console. And often, there’s a sofa at the back of the recording suite on which an author can park herself!
I’m used to this set-up from my former day-job in TV, when the presenter will go into the VO booth to record their voice-over, while the producer is at the console and the exec is on the sofa. (I found I rather liked the sofa-eye-view…)
The person who really matters, though, is the one behind the microphone. And for GILDED CAGE I was thrilled that we’d secured Avita Jay, the actor I wanted. Avita combines audiobook narration with work in theatre, film and TV, and I’ve heard her read several of Robin Hobb’s novels. I knew she had the vocal range that could carry her through the diverse cast of GILDED CAGE, from 10-year-old Mancunian Daisy, to 49-year-old aristocrat Winterbourne Zelston, the first black Chancellor of Great Britain, to the ruined voice of ex-soldier Dog, unable to rasp out more than a few words.
For my three protagonists, would she capture Silyen’s sinister airiness, Abi’s intelligence and determination, and Luke’s maturation across the book’s arc, from suburban teenager to a principled young man man forced to grow up too soon?
She did. Triumphantly so.
Each day was four sessions of around 75 minutes, recording two chapters per session. We discussed pronunciations in advance – names and places (Kye-neston, Ga-var). Producer Leo Whetter had a couple of handy apps for any uncertainties (is ‘leonine’ lee-o-nine or lay-o-nine?). I stood happily corrected on the pronunciation of one monstrous character’s name: Lady Hypatia. (I’d always called her High-patty-ah, when it should be Hip-a-tee-ah.)
And very occasionally, I’d have a ‘directorial’ note – that a character should sound angrier, or less tremulous, or that one particular word should be given emphasis. But mostly, for seven glorious hours, I sat on the sofa and took it all in. Thanks to Avita’s incredible talent and Leo’s care, I allowed myself simply to enjoy my book not as its writer, or editor, or cheerleader, but as its listener. It felt like a most wonderful reward for all my hard work, and I really hope that some of you choose to experience GILDED CAGE the same way!
Avita and Leo kindly let me interview them about what they do, and I’ll soon put up Part 2 with some of their thoughts – there are so many more ways of working in publishing than only as authors, editors, or agents.
GILDED CAGE was recorded for Macmillan Digital Audio and Penguin Random House Audio Publishing at Strathmore Publishing in the heart of London, and the same recording will be used worldwide. You can pre-order it now: US or UK.