by Hannah Dennison
The saying ‘ask a busy person’ never held truer for me than these past few weeks. I was on a deadline – the kind where you cannot be late because the publisher works to a tight schedule – I visit my mum almost daily in a nursing home, I have a demanding job to pay the bills, and I have energetic dogs to walk – but despite all that, I happily agreed to feed my daughter’s cats adding another 1 ½ hours of commitments to my day. It’s only a 25-mile round trip but those are country miles along narrow twisty roads and if you get stuck behind a tractor …
Miraculously, it all turned out to be a wonderful gift. The weather has been fabulous (ask Jackie – she knows!) so each morning I would take my coffee and breakfast and sit in Sarah’s beautiful garden with Taz and Tilly and listen to the birds and remember to breathe – to literally ‘stop and smell the roses.’
I also rediscovered audiobooks.
When I’m in serious writing mode – I can’t read any fiction. I just don’t have the bandwidth. Not only that, when I do pick up a book, I find it hard to switch off my writer or editing hat, unintentionally critiquing instead of just going on the journey. There are exceptions of course. I just finished Lucy Worsley’s excellent biography Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman and I can’t say enough good things about it. But I digress.
I’d checked out a CD of ‘Outlander’ by Diana Gabaldon from my local library initially for my mother who – at 93 – is a great audio fan. I’d always loved Diana’s time travel series. I’d heard her talk many times, especially at The Poisoned Pen in Scottsdale, AZ where she is their local author.
On a whim, I thought I’d listen to Outlander en route to kitty duty. Usually, I listen to podcasts but I’d forgotten all about audiobooks despite having devoured them on my daily freeway commute when I worked in Los Angeles another lifetime ago. I’d even got stopped by Highway Patrol once for speeding. When I explained that I’d been listening to ‘Shutter Island’ by Dennis Lehane and just hadn’t been paying attention, they still gave me a ticket – clearly not amused.
An article in Wordsrated (January 2023) stated that globally, audiobook revenue for 2022 is projected to be worth over $5.38 billion. Over the last five years, audiobook revenue in the USA has increased by 113.3% making it the fastest-growing book format in the USA. Nielsen reported that in 2022, 27 million audiobooks were sold in the UK alone, an increase of more than 50 percent since 2018 – and the median just keeps on growing. Revenue from audiobooks is expected to grow 26.4% every year from 2022 to 2030 and reach $35.05 billion in 2030. It’s mindboggling stuff so if you haven’t explored this option for your work, now is the time!
Happily, my books are available on audio but full disclosure, I don’t think I can bear to listen to them. I’d hear all the discrepancies or things that in hindsight, I may have written differently. It would be too cringeworthy.
The narrator is critical. Davina Porter has narrated the entire series of Outlander. Deemed a Golden Voice narrator with AudioFile, it’s easy to see why. AudioFile’s founder, Robin Whitten said ‘Golden Voice narrators have superb performance skills, are keenly attuned to their authors, and are practiced in many genres and styles.’
Voice acting is a unique skill that includes accurate articulation, the ability to control emotions, instinctive pausing, being aware of when to use an accent (Davina Porter’s Scottish accent in Outlander is flawless) but most of all, the narrator must be able to differentiate each character to enable listeners to audibly ‘see’ that character and bring it to life.
I know some folks record their own books – and I say good for you! An author friend of mine uses his car as a sound booth – seriously. He stuffs the interior with pillows and duvets and does everything on his phone. It works for him but I wouldn’t have the patience to fiddle with all the editing software.
Audio books are not for everyone. In ‘The Author’ – the UK’s quarterly publication from the Society of Authors, Laura Hackette, Deputy Literary Editor at The Sunday Times, says she ‘doesn’t have the attention span for the format’ and either she drifts off or gets distracted by other things or gets ‘frustrated by the slow-paced narration.’ She even tried listening on 1.5x speed but it just sounded weird.
My cat feeding duty is over now and, to my surprise, I turned the manuscript in three days early – the first time in years. Perhaps it was just taking that enforced time out that made a difference. Who knows? But what I do know is that I have another 8 volumes of Outlander to listen to. I think I’ll just spend more time in my car – even if it is just parked outside my house.