I’ve been a bookworm ever since I could read, taking books everywhere with me, reading whenever I could beg, borrow or steal the time. However, reading a novel while walking or doing chores was never an option–at least, not without being a danger to myself and those around me! Until I discovered audio books.
Now, I literally take a book everywhere I go, stored in a tiny iPod Shuffle no larger than a postage stamp. I also have a couple of books stored on my phone (for emergencies) but the Shuffle, now almost a dinosaur among devices, is my audio book player of choice.
So it was with particular delight that I listened to the recorded version of my novel, THE WIFE’S TALE, performed by the amazing Jennifer Vuletic. I have had other books of mine recorded on audio but this was the first time I had listened to one of them all the way through. Jennifer’s narration was so good that I was able to forget I wrote the book and settle back to enjoy her performance. And I’m not alone–the audio book has had uniformly rave reviews on Audible.
I was so excited that I tracked Jennifer down in Germany and asked her for an interview.
Q1. Hello, Jennifer, welcome and thank you so much for chatting with me today. Tell me a bit about your background. Did you always want to be an actor? How did you get into recording audio books? I have to mention I saw you play the baroness in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and it was terrific fun.
The baroness! what’s not to love?? a challenged relationship with children resulting in a fully blown floor-level twitching fit, and a flying car!! I had the time of my life, and having the delightful Alan Brough as my Baron-husband was the cherry on the cake.
I’m not sure whether I chose acting or it chose me. I’ve always welcomed the opportunity to run the emotional gamut, as it were, and love drama as much as I do comedy. The excitement – and terror – is always about how far you can go with a character, and how deeply (and successfully) you can inhabit it. I started in professional theatre over 30 years ago through a piece of great generosity on behalf of the wonderful & indomitable Coralie Condon, who was instrumental in getting me into my first main-stage play. I then studied at NIDA – a truly extraordinary three years with extraordinary people, and a time I’ll treasure – and embarked on the crazy ride that is live theatre (and occasionally TV & film) from there. I’ve been recording Audio Books now for over 30 years, and it’s something I absolutely love. Vision Australia was where it all began.
Q2. Your performance of “The Wife’s Tale” is magnificent and has received rave reviews. What sort of preparation do you do before recording an audio book?
Thank you so much, that’s very kind of you. I read the book first – don’t laugh, not everyone does, or so I hear! – and try to get a feel for the world, and the aural landscape, in my head. I make character notes & pronunciation notes as I go. If there are accents, or words and phrases in other languages, I turn to my sources for assistance and annoy the hell out of my Greek/Russian/Swahili speaking/Afghani/etc etc etc friends until they present me with recordings that I can then go away and get into my body.
Q3. You have a wonderful ear for accents and an ability to convey each character in a distinctive way. Do you consciously decide on and develop each character voice or is it more of an instinctive choice?
It’s a little of both, I think. Sometimes the character’s voice just presents itself to you – it’s obvious how that person sounds! I usually have a picture in my head of that character’s physicality also, and that dictates a little the range, pitch, timbre… In a book with many multiples of characters, the notes become copious because gradations are required to subtly differentiate each and every persona.
I confess, I LOVE doing accents and am unashamed to say that I’ve frequently tried to pass myself off as someone from (fill in the missing country!! whatever accent presents itself to me at the time). It’s a source of great joy to me, and a challenge when I come across an accent that really requires work. I thoroughly enjoy the physical sensation of those different sound-making processes, and the evocation of place and character that this brings with it.
Q4. How does the process of recording the audio book work?
The producer and I usually discuss briefly the kind of book we’re recording, from the point of view of approach and context… and then it’s just, settle into the recording studio, headset on, to enter the world of the book. I think that’s why I love it so much – I love to get into that space that the author has created, and frequently enjoy the emotional rollercoaster ride a great piece of work can offer. I hate being interrupted when I’m on an emotional roll!! I think any actor will tell you that! A good producer – and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some really terrific producers – will be sensitive enough in approach to know when to stop you in order to re-record if necessary.
Q5. As a huge fan of audio books, I’ve noticed some things that read well on the page become clunky when the novel is narrated. Do you have any advice for authors to avoid awkwardness in the audio book version? Are there times when you wish you could suggest a rewrite?
I don’t know that I have any advice for authors on this score! I just know that I love it when there’s a deep and thorough understanding of a character and a great representation in style, tone, language and rhythm of that character’s inner monologue (or indeed, the authorial voice, when the author is speaking for or about the character and events).
Q6. What’s next for you?
The six million dollar question! I’m actually currently in Germany on study exchange completing a Bachelor degree, having decided three years ago to return to full-time university study as an International Relations student. Quite where that’s going to lead, I have no idea! But I’m not done with performing. I’ll certainly still be recording audio books in between writing term papers! and whatever life offers to me on whatever stage, this is all part of the rich picture I’ve been lucky enough to have been painting!
I’m thrilled to hear Jennifer will still be recording audiobooks and hoping very hard that she will perform THE TRAITOR’S GIRL as well.