Five months is much too long. It must be. But that’s what it took me to edit my second audiobook, A Fatal Verdict, beautifully read (in my opinion) by Susan Edmonds. Why did it take so long?
Part of it’s the fear of getting something wrong, I suppose. I’m not a professional sound engineer, and when we recorded the first book in the series, A Game of Proof, I had to learn everything from scratch. I made all sorts of beginner’s of mistakes, which I wrote about in a blog post afterwards. Second time up, I felt sure it would go quicker. But it didn’t much. I avoided some of the original mistakes but made new ones, and became obsessed with getting everything right. Listeners will have to judge if I succeeded.
Anyway while I was doing this I had plenty of time to wonder about things. Why am I doing this? What’s the point of audiobooks? Why would anyone want to listen when they can just read?
Well, there are several situations where you can’t read, and audiobooks are very useful. I live in Yorkshire while the rest of my family live in Devon, which is at least 6 hours away by car. (8 hours on a bank holiday – don’t try it) Listening to the car radio is ok, but not all programs are equally interesting. Listening to music, the sort of music I like anyway, tends to shorten the journey but in the wrong way – it gets my adrenalin going so I drive way above the speed limit, risking my life and everyone else’s. After one such journey ended up in the ditch, I decided this has got to stop. So I bought an audiobook, and lo! – the journey seemed shorter, even though I drove more slowly. Magic! I was content to pootle along in the inside lane, letting my mind follow the story.
So audiobooks improve road safety! Whether on a long journey or the daily commute, they’re the perfect solution.
The other situation in which I listen to audiobooks is walking the dog. This isn’t a safety thing, it just encourages me to walk further. I guess you could do it jogging too, but my hip is bad, so I haven’t tried. It’s less good for gardening, I find, because if you suddenly focus on some detailed task you can miss part of the plot. The key thing is for the task to be routine, so that one part of your mind can do it perfectly while the other part listens to the story – left and right brain hemispheres, perhaps.
But what makes a good audiobook? And how is it different to film or TV? Well, obviously, there are no pictures, you have to make those up in your mind. I’ve heard people say that radio has the best pictures, but I think that’s nonsense, at least my mind doesn’t work that way. When I’m listening to an audiobook, what I concentrate on is – guess what? – the sound! Every reader’s voice has different qualities, and if you’re going to listen to that voice for ten or fifteen hours, you really have to like that voice quite a lot!
But you don’t want the voice to stay the same all the time, not if there are a lot of characters, dramatic scenes and emotion in the story. You need a reader who can bring those scenes to life, give each character a distinctive accent and tone, and make you feel emotion when appropriate. You need someone who can act as well as read.
That’s where I think I’m lucky. My beloved wife, Susan Edmonds, can do all of those things – at least I think so. And having listened to her voice through headphones for endless hours as we recorded A Game of Proof and A Fatal Verdict, I’m still not tired of listening to it. So I hope listeners will feel the same.
(I don’t like listening to my own voice though – I can’t imagine how she puts up with it.)
The other thing I’ve noticed is that the audiobook version brings the story to life in new ways. I wrote these books, after all, so you might imagine that I knew everything about them. But it isn’t quite so. I find myself thinking ‘ah, yes – that’s how she felt’ or ‘that’s why he said it that way’ – so I see the scene a bit differently. Maybe it’s like that for people who write plays and then see them acted on stage – I don’t know, I’ve never written a play.
So I guess audiobooks are a bit like TV or film adaptations (without the pictures) except that film and TV adaptations are always much shorter. All the description goes into the filming, and the dialogue is drastically cut. That works fine on the screen, but a normal experience after watching the film of a book (for me at least) is to think ‘Yes, that was fine but a lot of subtle details were lost.’ When you go back to the book you find much, much more.
Well, a good audiobook has the full unabridged text, read from start to finish by a good actor or actress. So all the original text is there, and the dramatic interpretation. Better than a film then, in that way!
Audiobooks are also a boon, of course, for people whose eyesight is poor or failing; for people ill in bed who find holding a kindle or book too tiring; for anyone whose partner is asleep beside them and doesn’t want to wake them; and indeed for anyone whose parents once read to them when they were young, and wants to recreate some of that comfortable feeling – there are endless uses, really.
So maybe Sue and I didn’t waste all those months after all – I hope not. If you’re looking for something to listen to why not give us a try? You could start with A Game of Proof or go straight onto A Fatal Verdict. You can be sure one thing – a lot of time and effort went into making each book, hopefully for your enjoyment!