Actor Graham Elwell talked to whitefox about his experience of recording ‘talking books’ for the blind.
Tell us a little about yourself and how your work as an actor last year led you into a new area: recording audiobooks.
I trained at the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art with a conventional acting career in mind and, for the past 16 years, I’ve worked mainly in theatre and commercials. However, most recently I filmed a mini-series for the BBC called The Miniaturist (pictured above in costume), which is to be screened over Christmas. As in most areas of acting, my break into recording audiobooks came through a combination of availability, good fortune and something relatively rare that I had to offer – I received an email from my agent saying that the Royal National Institute for the Blind was looking for London-based actors with native Liverpool accents. As I originate from Merseyside, I fit the bill and the rest, as the cliché has it, is history.
How is an audiobook recorded? Can you explain the process, from the audition onwards?
I auditioned by going into the studio and doing a test recording, although nowadays more often than not, an actor will email a recording of him or herself reading an excerpt of the script that has been sent to them. Once you have a body of work and your voice ‘type’ has been established, you can be called in to do a recording without an audition – the ideal situation! If I’m recording an audiobook, I’ll be sent a copy of the text in advance, which I’ll read to familiarise myself with the tone and content, marking up any complex passages or words that I might stumble over. Once in the studio, you sit alone in a soundproof booth while a technician records you reading the work chapter by chapter over a couple of days, or longer, depending on the length of the book. Any mistakes you make are dealt with instantaneously, and the technician simply cues you in by playing your voice back through the headphones, allowing you to smoothly pick up where you left off.
You’ve worked on a range of books across several genres – how does the experience of working on them differ?
Just like plays, audiobooks vary enormously. So, just as a theatre actor needs to employ different skills and techniques in a Restoration comedy from those required for a Harold Pinter drama, so a voice actor will use a range of vocal abilities and styles depending on the piece. A weighty, more serious book will usually require a tone that matches the gravitas of the work, whereas a comedy may lend itself to a lighter, more frivolous read. For example, I narrated a fun audiobook in the voice of a faithful dog, which was in complete contrast to my reading of the story of James Bulger, as told by his father, which was extremely emotional and had both me and the technician in tears in places, requiring several re-takes.
Finally, do you listen to audiobooks yourself? If so, which genre do you enjoy?
I have to say, I do like listening to ghost stories. There’s just something about turning off the lights and listening to a voice in the darkness that’s so much more atmospheric and scary than simply reading the words on the page.
If you’d like to get in contact with Graham, please do so via his management agency: www.roseberymanagement.com