Tall Story , the Audio Book!

I have been so busy writing my next novel that I've neglected to do a big HURRAH for the amazing Listening Library audiobook of Tall Story, which was released in February this year. Yup, bad author, me! I should have blogged earlier but I really wanted to do something exciting. Well, I've finally done it! Here's my trailer for Tall Story ... the Audio Book!

As anyone who's been vaguely following this blog may know, I love making YouTube videos. Making this one, I learned all sorts of new things - like, where to get film clips that are in the public domain and even how to use a green screen! Having said that, I totally forgot to remove the bottle of hand cream perched on the shelf behind my head.

The first I heard that Tall Story was getting an audiobook was an email last year from Executive Producer Janet Stark.

She sent me sound clips of a Filipino actor reading Tall Story. It was very strange listening to my words being performed by someone else. I had been telling myself the story in my head for so long, in my voice, with my accent, and here was someone else's interpretation!

When the 5 CD case arrived, I went for several long drives in the car (it goes on for more than five hours), listening. It was wonderful - but it didn't feel like the story belonged totally to me anymore but to the voices on the CDs. It felt like my characters had become flesh and blood and were speaking in my ear!

Ramon de Ocampo, who reads Bernardo, acts out all the different characters. His normal environment is the stage - having appeared in many off-Broadway and regional theatre productions, including the Joseph Papp Public Theatre, the New York Shakespeare Festival, the Signature and the Kennedy Centre. He has received multiple AudioFile Earphones Awards, the Princess Grace Award for Excellence in Acting and an OBIE award for his work in The Romance of Magno Rubio.

Ramon de Ocampo

Jayne Entwistle, who read Andi, has this girlish cheeky voice, perfect! She's a native of the UK but lives in Los Angeles where the audiobook was recorded. She has narrated many books for Random House and Books on Tape, including the delightful Flavia de Luce series. She has also won many AudioFile Earphone awards for her brilliant performances.

Jayne Entwistle

I invited producer  Janet Stark to do a little Q&A and tell us a little bit about the business of creating an audiobook.

Janet Stark is a California native who has worked in audio production more than 25 years. Her background includes multitrack mixing and production, music, author-read audiobooks, and print book editing. She’s been with Random House Audio Group for 10 years as Senior Producer and lives in Los Angeles.

Q When I heard that Tall Story was going to be made into an audiobook I was so excited. I immediately thought, ohmigod, they're going to have to do it in two voices because of the dual points of view. Was casting two voice talents always in the mix?

A While it’s true that most audiobooks are read by a single narrator, multiple readers aren’t that uncommon. In Tall Story you’ve written for two very different voices in first-person narrative, a girl from England and a Filipino boy..

Looking through any new book, I’m on the hunt for POVs. Casting depends on whose and how many lenses to the world we look through in any particular chapter or section.

Q How do you cast an audiobook? Are Ramon de Ocampo and Jayne Entwistle regulars in the Listening Library stable?

A  Methods of casting an audiobook are as diverse as individual producers. Because of Jayne’s and Ramon’s particular backgrounds and ancestries, I consider them specialty readers. As I read Bernardo’s sections I began hearing Ramon’s voice in my head. He’s a native Fillipino with a youngish sound and was perfect for the role. Andi’s narrative led me straight to Jayne. Sometimes you know immediately – the book just speaks to you.

Q Are there certain books that lend themselves to audio? You've made many audiobooks - do you have any favourites? Which of your audiobooks are you most proud of and why?

A  An audiobook’s quality depends upon the pairing of the book with the narrator, so it’s really all about casting.

The best audiobooks are read by someone involved and connected with the material, even passionate. Many listeners will choose those audiobooks read by their favorite narrator as their first criteria. Delivery, pace, and tone are everything, and people become attached to a particular voice speaking almost intimately to them like an old friend.

The audiobook is a present-day manifestation of storytelling traditions rooted in ancient cultures, and I suspect it’s encoded in our DNA.. I’d have to say A Game of Thrones read by Roy Dotrice (who holds the Guinness record for 224 character voices) became a dream-like world of its own during recording.

We’d take a session break and almost couldn’t speak to flesh-and-blood people outside. It’s like you need a few minutes to reorient with what we call reality. Total immersion.

Q I once presented and wrote a radio documentary for the BBC (Motherless Nation, 2005). It was just my producer and me marching around doing interviews - my producer was effectively the director as well, listening and catching all the nuances, making sure the sound was okay, asking me to repeat things when something was humming too loudly in the background. What is it like directing/ producing an audiobook?

A  With audio production there’s never a dull moment. At Random House, producers and directors have different jobs. Once the readers are cast, a director is chosen.

 I tend to take into account the personalities involved as the reader and director work one-on-one for days at a stretch. Prior to sessions, the director researches pronunciations of names and places in the text, even phoning a small town no one’s ever heard of to hear the locals speak. Nothing’s taken for granted and we work with the author on the fine points.

Once recording begins, the focus becomes pace, tone and consistent character voices, if any. In the end, if our listener becomes absolutely lost in the story, or while commuting and learning a new subject forgets she’s on the road, we’ve done our jobs well.

Well, I owe Janet and the cast and crew a huge thank you for their wonderful work. You guys are just WOW. Early this year, Booklist gave the Tall Story audiobook this starred review:

"The use of two narrators, both with distinctive voices and different accents (British and Spanish), to bring the dual stories of half-siblings Andi and Bernardo to life, works beautifully in this exceptional audio.

Entwistle’s Andi, a pint-size, basketball-crazy English girl, is by turns tender and tough. Her anxious hopes and fears about meeting her half brother, who grew up in the Philippines and is coming to London, come through as an undercurrent beneath her sometimes impatient, occasionally sarcastic voice.

Bernardo, who has a condition known as gigantism, comes across in de Ocampo’s interpretation as deliberate and grounded, a product of his provincial upbringing. He also often sounds perpetually astounded, both because he is finally coming to the UK to be with his mother and family and his status as a reincarnated folk-hero giant in San Andres, where ancient myths and beliefs about witches, curses, giants, and earthquakes surround him.

As the story bounces back and forth between Andi and Bernardo, their wishes about their changed circumstances become more focused. For Andi, it’s no longer all about her desire to be the point guard on the school basketball team. Bernardo’s escape from a disastrous earthquake in his native land softens her outlook.

A lovely story for those who treasure realistic fiction with heart.”—Booklist, starred review