The making of an audiobook
My first audiobook – The Last of the Bonegilla Girls – was released in 2018 to coincide with the print release of that book. I had thought it would be strange listening to someone else telling “my” story but in truth, I loved it. And I put that down to – in huge part – the wonderful narrator chosen to record the book.
How lucky was I to have Jennifer Vuletic perform my words? She’s an acclaimed stage actress, with multiple roles to her credit since graduating from NIDA in 1984. She’s worked for the Sydney Theatre Company, Queensland Theatre Company, Belvoir Street, South Australian Opera Company, Western Australian Opera Company, South Australian Theatre Company, Griffin Theatre Company, Riverina Theatre Company, Malthouse and Darwin Theatre Company.
You might have seen her in the international and national tours (2003-2005, 2009-2010) of Mamma Mia, Barrie Kosky’s The Women Of Troy or Gale Edwards’ Jerry Springer – The Opera. As Baroness Bomburst in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang she won a Sydney Theatre Critics Award, and recently won a 2017 Green Room Award for her multiple roles in Little Ones Theatre’s Merciless Gods.
I got in touch with Jennifer last year to thank her for her beautiful work on The Last of the Bonegilla Girls, and to tell her I’d requested she narrate my new book, The Land Girls, as well. My wish was granted! Jennifer was kind enough recently to answer some questions about her process.
When did you first begin narrating audiobooks?
I think in the late 1800s…!! in actuality, I started narrating with Vision Australia when they were then the Royal Blind Society, so I’ve been narrating around thirty-five years.
How do you prepare to record an audiobook? I’m wondering if you read the book multiple times to familiarise yourself with the work?
It’s rare that one has the time to read a book multiple times in preparation – given that I’m often reading and recording several back to back, as is the case right now. But they are thoroughly researched for pronunciations, accents, different languages, character voices etc.
You’re a stage actress with an impressive resume – what’s it like leaving that ensemble atmosphere to stand alone in a studio for days on end?
I generally sit! I like to record for long days, eight hours per session generally – I enjoy the world you enter when you can fluently and completely inhabit the world and its characters in that sequestered, hermetically sealed studio environment. What I like most about it is the freedom of choice you have over interpretation, within the parameters of author specifications and the demands of audio techniques. That’s a rare thing in theatre, where there are a number of other players and interpretive influences, so I treasure it.
It must be an immense feat of concentration to keep focussed for sometimes twelve hours of narrating. How do you get yourself in that zone?
I actually love those long, fluid days! particularly when a book is well-written and the characters engaging (as is the case in the Victoria Purman books I’ve had the pleasure of recording!)
It’s an intimate space, isn’t it, the one between you and a listener?
It is indeed, and storytelling is a process of drawing in the listener, rather than proclaiming to. You really want to create those pictures as vividly for the listener as you envisage them for yourself.
How do you prepare for different voices and accents? In The Last of the Bonegilla Girls, for instance, there were Australian, German, Greek and Italian and you so skillfully and subtly changed the women’s accents as they grew older. I was full of admiration for your work on that. How did you do it?!
That’s so lovely of you! I love the sound of different accents so much, and welcome the challenge of faithfully representing them, it’s a point of honour to me. Particularly in a time when we are endeavouring to recognize and celebrate cultural diversity, nothing is more satisfying than to have, for instance, an Italian speaker say they think I’m Italian, or a Scot compliment me on my Glaswegian accent. I want to serve these accents, not mimic them, to accord them the respect they deserve.
What about male characters’ voices? Is it just a deep voice, or is it more than that?
I’m lucky to have a big vocal range that allows me to portray characters of all ages, genders and gender orientations. With regard to male voices, no, it’s not just the depth, it’s the timbre, the texture, the edge, the “shape” that you give each voice that distinguishes one from the other and creates “character”.
The audiobook market has grown in recent years – how many books are you working on this year?
So far I’ll have recorded about eight books (in between doing several plays and a thesis!) It’s been a crazy year so far!
Have you had feedback from listeners on your work?
I get so much feedback from listeners and authors, and it’s always so lovely to have it. If you’ve engaged someone with your storytelling, it’s the highest compliment to have them tell you that they were spellbound or enchanted, and it also means that you’re serving the author’s vision.
When you’re recording an audiobook, does it help to think about where people will be listening to you? In your mind’s eye, where do you see them?
I have a dear friend who travels a lot and listens to my books in her car. I also picture my beautiful Mum and Dad listening to my books in their lounge room – it’s a way of me being there when I can’t be there. I suspect there are a myriad of ways and places for hearing audiobooks and there’s something nice about accompanying people on their journeys or sharing their familiar spaces of comfort with them.