Each June, audiophiles from around the country celebrate all things audiobook. Since we love to listen and review audiobooks here at That’s What I’m Talking About, we are participating in our own Audiobook celebration.
What would an audiobook be without a narrator? As part of Audiobook Month, we are interviewing some of our favorite narrators so you can learn a bit more about who they are and what they do.
How long have you been narrating audiobooks and how did you get started?
I’ve been narrating audiobooks since 2009, when Dick Hill (one of the best narrators out there) saw a TV movie in which I played an English-speaking German woman. I was living in Chicago at the time, but had grown up in Lansing, Michigan, where Dick lives, and we’d known each other through the theater scene there, so when he saw the movie, he got in touch with me and said, “You know, audiobooks often require narrators who can do accents; have you ever thought about getting into narration?” I had been bartending and waiting tables for a number of years while doing theater and comedy, and I was more than ready to hang up my apron. Audiobook narration sounded like a dream job, so with the help of Dick and his wife, Susie Breck (also a fantastic narrator), I put together a demo and sent it to a couple of publishers. Lucky for me, they liked what I did enough to take a chance on me, and I’ve been narrating ever since.
What genres do you cover? Do you have a favorite?
I narrate in any and all genres, but most of the time I’m tapped to read fiction as opposed to non-fiction or memoir. It’s hard to pick a favorite genre! When I think back on favorite titles I’ve narrated, they span a wide range – action, historical fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, young adult… So I guess the answer to the question of whether I have a favorite genre is: no! To me, a good book is a good book, no matter the genre.
You have worked on multiple-book series. Do you maintain the same voice for each character from book to book? If so, how do you keep track of dozen or so different voices?
I do try hard to maintain the same voice for each character from book to book. In shorter series, like trilogies, I just go back and listen to snippets from the previous book when it comes time to record the next one. But for longer series, like Nalini Singh’s Psy-Changeling-Trinity series (which I adore narrating), I keep a folder on my computer that has clips of each character’s voice. That way when it comes time to record the next book, I can refer to those files. But usually I only have to listen once, and then I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is that guy!”
Do you enjoy being associated with a series/author? Does it seem to open doors and conversations, or keep you boxed into a certain genre?
I think it’s fun to be associated with a series and/or an author! It’s a privilege to get to bring listeners the stories that these authors have given so much of their time and energy and creativity to, and that’s true for all books, but for series it’s even more profound. I’m not sure that it really helps or hinders me, to be honest – you’d have to ask the casting people at the publishers I work for about that. (And if you do, please let me know what they say, ha!)
Do you consult the author of a title on how a certain character should sound?
Most of the time, authors do a fantastic job of either describing a character’s voice outright, or else painting such a vivid picture that I feel like I know what the character sounds like without having to ask. Occasionally I hear from an author before the recording process begins, and sometimes they’ll mention that a certain character should have this or that type of accent or vocal quality, but in general, I get to interpret the character and create the voice myself, which is really fun.
I read the book! Of course, it’s not quite that simple. I pay close attention to the tone of the prose and the mood the author has created in each scene or chapter. I also note any pronunciations I need to look up, and I make a list of all the characters (the ones who speak, anyway) and anything the author has included in the text about how they sound. If there are accents involved, I may spend some time researching them if they’re ones I’m not super familiar with. Different people learn accents different ways; some folks like to learn about mouth placement and pitch patterns, while others like to listen to native speakers and immerse themselves in the accent that way. In general, I fall into the latter category, but I find the former approach to be a really helpful supplement a lot of the time.
Do you enjoy listening to audiobooks? If so, what is your favorite genre and/or narrator?
I do enjoy listening to audiobooks, but I’m sad to say I don’t have the opportunity to do so very often. When your commute is literally ten steps (I have a home studio, which is where I do almost all of my recording), listening on the way to and from work isn’t really an option. But I always get a few audiobooks when I’m taking a road trip or a long plane ride. I don’t have a favorite genre or narrator, but I will say I recently listened to The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas, read by Bahni Turpin, and it was outstanding. I also loved hearing Trevor Noah narrate his memoir, Born A Crime – for one thing, I could listen to his beautiful accent all day long, but it was also really interesting and cool to hear him speak so many of the various languages spoken in South Africa. That’s a book that I always recommend people listen to the audio version of, as opposed to just reading the print version – it adds so much!
If you could work with any author (living or deceased) and/or narrate any title, which would you select and why?
Oh my gosh, this is the HARDEST QUESTION EVER. I don’t know if my brain can handle the infinite possibilities contained in this theoretical question, but I can tell you this: I got to work with Meg Elison on her incredible Philip K. Dick Award-winning novel The Book of the Unnamed Midwife, and getting to narrate such an amazing book and getting to know Meg (who is a remarkable, stunningly talented, hard-working, interesting, thoughtful, funny, and very cool person) as part of the deal was one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me as a narrator.
Is there anything more you’d like to share with my readers?
I’d just like to thank your readers for listening, and for appreciating audiobooks! Also, if you really love something a narrator has done, most of us are pretty easy to find online or on social media – drop us a line! Or leave a comment on Audible or whatever platform you use to get your audiobooks! We typically do our work all alone in a dark, tiny room, and then we send it out into the ether with no idea where it will go or who, if anyone, will listen to it, so it’s always great to hear that someone out there heard what we did and got something positive out of it. Anytime I hear from a listener, it totally makes my day!
Thank you so much for participating in JIAM at That’s What I’m Talking About!
About Angela Dawe:
Angela Dawe is a performer and writer based in the Midwest. In addition to audiobook narration, Angela has worked in film, television, theater, and sketch and improv comedy, and is a published writer of fiction. In her spare time, Angela studies Krav Maga and enjoys swimming, yoga, cooking, and trying to make her family laugh.
You can also find her under the pseudonym of Claire Kilpatrick.