Saturday, 31 December 2011

My year in audio books 2011....

It seems like only a few weeks since I did my last audiobook roundup! 2011 has whizzed by.

In terms of audiobook narration, it’s been a busy year, with a lot of variety.

I started the year with River Marked, latest in the Patricia Briggs urban fantasy series. I found this one particularly interesting, as we learned a lot more about Mercy’s American Indian heritage. 

Then it was down to AudioGO in Bath for Mortal Remains by Kathy Reichs. Her protagonist, Dr Temperance Brennan, is a forensic anthropologist – I always learn something about the human body from her!

I followed that with another meditation title for Heavy Entertainment. I love recording these! So relaxing. 

Then it was Tony and Susan for Audible. This story within a story was a two-reader book, and I shared the microphone with the lovely Peter Marinker. The novella within the novel was really chilling!

It wasn’t long before I was back in Bath again to record more in the Kathy Reichs series – Bones to Ashes.

I was thrilled to be asked to record Second Grave on the Right for Macmillan Audio – second in the fantastic Charley Davidson ‘Grim Reaper’ series. Author Darynda Jones goes from strength to strength.

Then I scuttled back to Bath to do Devil Bones by Kathy Reichs.

One of the most interesting and beautifully written books I recorded in 2011 was The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai by Ruiyan Xu. There was quite a bit of Mandarin, which was challenging, but luckily it’s my niece Kathy’s first language, so help was at hand.

In April it was the eagerly awaited Smokin’ Seventeen by Janet Evanovich – recording this series is like a wild vacation with a crazy bunch of friends. Love it.

Then it was dem bones again as I ping-ponged up to Bath for another Kathy Reichs - 206 Bones.

And of course I did some work for the digital publishing company I own with Ali Muirden, Creative Content Ltd., presenting The Lowdown: A Short History of the Originsof the Vietnam War by David L. Anderson. We debated having a female narrator for this title, as history is usually done with a male voice – but I’m pleased we took the plunge and did something a little bit different! 

One of the cleverest books I recorded this year was the fictional memoir of Wallis Simpson, Wallis: My War by Kate Auspitz. It’s a fascinating and witty imagining, supported by meticulous historical evidence. 

I was really happy to be part of the ensemble recording Gods Without Men – it was a privilege to be included among some fantastic narrators, like Kerry Shale and Rupert Degas. The book is a multi-layered, following several stories and several timelines. Eerie and gripping. One of my favourites.

Then it was Janet Evanovich with a twist – she paired up with Dorien Kelly to write Love in a Nutshell. If you like humour, romance – or beer-making! – this is a really fun romp.

I’m always eagerly anticipating the next Stephanie Plum adventure, so it was a real thrill that busy Janet Evanovich wrote TWO this year - Explosive Eighteen published in November. I was glad to see lots of Lula in this one, as she’s one of my favourite characters to play.

Then back up to see AudioGO for the chilling Red Mist by Patricia Cornwell.  Rumours abound that we may see Scarpetta on the big screen soon. Big sterile-shoe-covers to fill! :o)

Janet Evanovich isn’t the only one to produce two books this year – Darynda Jones also wrote Third Grave Dead Ahead, which I recorded in November. It publishes on January 31. Rebellious son-of-Satan Reyes is one of my favourite romantic heroes ever.

I’ve just rounded off the year with a recording of What Katy Did for AudioGO, produced by the lovely Neil Gardner. Hope to work with him more in 2012!

One of loveliest surprises and biggest thrills of 2011 was being named Narrator of the Year on Audible. I’m so very grateful to Audible listeners.

And I'm grateful to you! I’d especially like to thank those of you who’ve taken the trouble to write, tweet, Facebook message and email to tell me when you’ve enjoyed a title. It means a lot.

I wish you everything wonderful for the coming year!

Photo by flattop341

Monday, 19 December 2011

All I want for Christmas....

Are you looking for a last minute present for a voice-over artist in your life? Here’s a few suggestions:

If you want to push the boat out, get a piece of amber – particularly a necklace. Amber has long been connected to the health of the throat and the voice. On an ‘it can’t hurt’ basis, I often wear an amber necklace when I’m working. There’s obviously a wide selection for women, but guys can wear it too – just choose a plain design and thread it on a bit of leather if you want it extra-macho. Do a little research on the meaning of amber and write up a paragraph to include in the package.

There are some cute charms out there; headphones or a microphone would be great. Put on a necklace, or attach to a bracelet.

For something more practical, you could buy some accent or voice production cds or download a selection to a little mp3 player. There are tons of them out there, but (as co-owner of the company) obviously I’d be remiss if I didn’t plug "The Lowdown: Improve Your Speech” series.

If your VO is an audiobook narrator, what about a gift subscription to Audiofile Magazine?

If money is tight, why not make up a ‘studio kit’ for your VO to have in the booth? You could include some of these: a tiny bottle of Tabasco (the late, great Bill Hootkins swore by two drops in a glass of water – he’d sip it throughout the session), a small jar of good honey, a packet of throat lozenges like Fisherman’s Friend or Vocalzones, some enlivening essential oil to sniff when energy starts to flag, an energy bar or two for that afternoon slump (but nothing with dairy or chocolate, which can make the voice ‘claggy’ – something like Kendal Mint Cake is perfect!), and maybe a refillable water bottle – hydration is important, and you’re helping  your VO to be ‘green’ at the same time.

If you’re really skint, you could provide a list of useful, clickable links: blogs about voice over (like mine, or the excellent Dog Eared Copy’s ‘pink chair’ blogs) and educational YouTube videos (like Amy Walker’s terrific series on accent production), for example. You could send these in an email, or – if you want a little something to put under the tree - put them in a Word document and load them onto a memory stick. If you want something extra, you could download Creative Content’s free vocalwarm up and add that too!
I hope that's been helpful! Let me know if you can add to the list...

Monday, 21 November 2011

Remembering Mark Hall...

This weekend we received the sad news that Mark Hall, animator and co-founder of Cosgrove Hall, had died.

There are many articles that have been written about him in the past couple of days (Guardian, Telegraph and BBC among others) and about the wonderful series he made. 

He’ll be remembered for shows such as Danger Mouse, Count Duckula and Wind in the Willows, of course – but I’ll always remember him as a gentleman and a mentor.

Back in the 90s, I had done a lot of radio drama and commercial voiceover, but hadn’t quite cracked the animation thing. Then I got a play in Manchester at the Royal Exchange. I knew Cosgrove Hall was based up there, and on the off chance I sent a letter and a demo tape (Tape! Positively Jurassic!) to them.

I was amazed to get a personal letter back from Mark Hall himself, full of warmth and encouragement, inviting me to come and meet them when I was up there – which I did. That meeting led to many happy years working for Cosgrove Hall and so many fun times in Manchester recording with Mike McShane, Jimmy Hibbert, Rob Rackstraw in Avenger Penguins, and later on – also with Robert Powell - ‘Fantomcat’.

Being the only girl in the team, I had the chance to play a wide range of characters. Here are few clips:

I will always be grateful to Mark for giving me my start in an industry that I love, both as a cartoon voiceover and a writer (I sold my first script to Cosgrove Hall). I am so very privileged to have known him.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

If it ain't broke... don't break it!

For a voice over artist, especially a beginner, the studio can be a minefield. All those wires, cords and boxes! Don't worry. You'll soon learn your way around. To help you on your way, here are some tips from the late, great voice artist Brad Lavelle on studio equipment etiquette....

“Don’t play with the studio’s costly equipment. Sound booths can be cluttered with cables. If some technical equipment is in your way, ask the engineer to move it, don’t do it yourself unless asked and never, ever touch the mic without being asked. 

Don’t spill stuff. Just about everything in the sound booth has a current running through it. Always be extra cautious of any liquids; you might be a great voice but you won’t work for the client again if you fry a couple of grand’s worth of equipment by knocking over your water glass. 

Don't blow your nose/cough/sneeze into the microphone. A good mic can cost over 2 grand and a well-aimed shot from your schnozzle can kill it. Tell the engineer first or just turn away from the mic.

Don’t wander away from the mic between takes, unless you know how to get back to exactly the same mic position. If you need to leave the sound booth, mark your space in front of the mic and when you return close all the doors tightly. Check with the engineer if they need to do another level check before you start again." – Brad Lavelle

photo by Razor512

Sunday, 11 September 2011


Like most people, I’ve been remembering this day ten years ago. My memories of that day are in no way important or significant to anyone but me, but I’m compelled to put them down...

I was home in London getting ready to go to work at a studio that afternoon, when the news flashed up on TV that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. 

The news was shocking, but I left my husband watching unfolding events while I went to work – ironically, for a company that produces in-flight content for the airlines.

I arrived at the studio to find lots of people clustered around a tiny, retro-style TV. The first tower had just fallen. I have seen that particular bit of film over and over, and am used to it now, but at the time it was shocking beyond belief. 

Maybe it’s because I’m American, but my colleagues made way for me and let me get closer to the screen. I don’t quite remember the order in which things happened, but I do remember the great kindness they showed me – when we heard that a plane had come down in Pittsburgh, my home town, they hugged and patted me and immediately provided a phone so that I could call my family and make sure everyone was okay. 

I think it was then that we saw the second tower fall. There was stunned silence after that. Eventually someone said, in a small voice, that maybe we should get on with our work.

Suddenly our light-hearted little in-flight entertainment program felt weighted with emotion. It seems a bit silly now, but at the time I thought, ‘What if my voice is the last thing someone hears?’ It seemed terribly important to inject as much warmth and life into it as I could. I’m embarrassed to admit that now - but all of us in the studio that day felt a special kind of connection with those who died on the planes.

As I walked home from the studio, thinking about things, my observations were: 1. that the kindness of others means everything, 2. that it’s important to carry on no matter what and 3. that a job isn’t just a job – it can be infused with meaning. 

As I said at the start of this post, these are just impressions of my tiny, insignificant corner of an immense tragedy. My heart goes out to those who lost loved ones on that day. I can only imagine what they’ve suffered these past ten years. They are in my thoughts and prayers – especially today.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Get your teeth into it!

This week I’ve been spending a lot of time at the dentist with my husband (poor baby!), and it’s got me thinking about – teeth!

When we think of voiceover, we often think of talent, ability, characterisation and so on – but how often do we think of our gnashers? 

So a few quick teeth-related DOs and DON'Ts for voice artists!

If you’re thinking about a career in voiceover and if your teeth impact on your speech in some way, DO consider dealing with that before you get started. I had a friend who wanted to voiceovers, but bad orthodontia when she was young had left her with gaps that gave her an unfortunate ‘shushiness’ – that is, slushy Ss. This was charming in her everyday speech, but it didn’t work so well for her professionally. Vocal ‘quirks’ can limit you - a clean sound is best - and most versatile! You can always add ‘slushiness’ or other vocal effects if you need it for a character.

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, but DO avoid tongue and lip piercings if you want a career in voiceover – why risk it?

If you’re already working as a voiceover and need orthodontia, DO consider looking into removable devices like Invisalign – it can be difficult to compensate for a fixed brace. Talk to your orthodontist to see what’s available.

If you opt for veneers, DO give yourself time to get used to them. I know a voice director who swears she can ‘hear’ new veneers!

DON'T schedule dental work before a session – sounds obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people do it. Don’t! It’s unprofessional. Schedule dental work for days you’re not in studio.

DO wear a mouthguard if you play rough sports or if you’re a teeth-grinder (like me!).

DO look after your instrument! Besides being good for your general health, taking care of your teeth is good for your career as a voice artist. Healthy teeth and gums mean less down time. Floss, brush and have regular checkups. 

Photo by Didby Graham.