When I was young, living in Manchester, my parents had an old valve radio. It was big, brown, and beige. It sat pride of place on the dresser in the living room of our house, shiny and smelling of furniture polish. The valves would hum and glow when you turned it on. Twisting the dial, the thin red line would slide along the station bandwidths, bringing the world in through the speakers. Everyday our home was filled with music, local news and sport and BBC radio drama.
The 1970’s was also the era of small transistor radios. They were little lumps of Japanese black plastic with a thick white cabled earpiece that never quite fitted. The only station mine could pick up with any degree of clarity was Manchester 261 Radio Piccadilly. At night, my little black lump of plastic played chart music, soccer results and radio comedy muffled through my pillow interspersed with the banter of northern DJs.
It was the era of radio, record players and TV, the era of sound and vision.
As a writer, I tend to think and write in a visual sense. I picture the scene as I plot and write it out, and even if I do find myself speaking the dialogue out loud, I never imagine how the novel sounds.
Up to January this year, books were selling, eBooks were being downloaded and audiobooks like ZOOM were an option, rather than a necessity. (According to a recent article by Deloitte, the audio book and podcast industry will grow through 2020, bring in a forecast revenue stream of $3.5 billion*.)
As lockdowns became a fact of life and bookshops closed, the publishing industry deferred new releases to the tail end of this year. But the surprise out of this crisis was eBooks seemed static and in most cases with indie authors like me, completely at a standstill. And Audible was in the ascendant.
Which brings me to Get Lenin, my first novel. I had a long look at it and decided the first step was to create a new cover. When this was completed and released, I received a notification that it was eligible for Audible. I logged on and set up an ACX account. The Audible ACX platform from which the audiobook is produced is at best, clunky to navigate around and the final project take up to 30 days for approval on their side.
What happens next?, You set your book up as a project. Then you are presented with a list of voice actors to read your book. With Get Lenin I tried to write in the style of that pre-war era, and as the protagonist is a woman, I wanted a female narrator. I ticked that. I wanted a mature voice, a British ‘newsreaders’ voice and I ticked that.
I typed a small two-minute piece up (the back page blurb to the novel) in the audition section of the platform and the following day, an actor contacted me – Madeleine Brolly.
Cliched as it sounds, it was serendipity.
That’s how I felt when I heard Mads for the first time. She ‘got’ what I was trying to do and added a new dimension to the story and the characters. Through a series of email exchanges, I gave her a very rough ‘thumbnail’ of what I wanted, but stressed she had free reign with the interpretation.
We worked on and developed a 15 minute audition piece, based on the opening chapter the Munich Conference of 1938. I wanted her to ‘give it a cinematic sweep and above all, have fun with it’. Mads’ enthusiasm caught both the scale, the elegance of the scene, offset with the menacing undertow of life in Nazi Germany.
I told her the gig was hers if she wanted it.
She was on board with it and now we set out to work.
I sent her the complete book’s Amazon file in a PDF format, and we agreed a feasible timeline for completion (5 weeks from first files sent to her to final production approval). This factored in her work commitments, (someone that good is always busy) and two weeks ahead of schedule, I received the book for final approval. Mads had recorded, proofed, and produced Get Lenin in a thorough and professional manner.
6.5 hours of the book.
I got up at 5am the following morning, loaded up the coffee machine, locked myself in the spare room opened my copy of Get Lenin and played the whole thing. The quality of the performance took me back in time to that big wooden radio with its glowing dials and humming valves and Get Lenin became a vision in sound. It had the high quality of a BBC radio drama. I never thought of an audio version of the book. As an author you are invited from time-to-time to read a passage out, at an event of book club, but you never really feel you give your writing justice. To hear your work performed by a professional, its spine-tingling.
By 11am, I knew we had something truly special. A postcard from the past, a warm and distant echo of sound and vision.
This was in effect in a queue ahead of other audible files being generated, but again, serendipity smiled and ten days later, I received an email with the magic words: “Your book, Get Lenin is available for sale”.
(c) Robert Craven
See here for more info on the voice of Get Lenin: Madeleine Brolly.
Deloitte ref *
About Get Lenin:
For fans of John le Carre, Mick Herron, and Jack Higgins.
1941. Hitler unleashes Operation Barbarossa, taking the German forces to the outskirts of Moscow. Fearful of Lenin’s mausoleum falling into enemy hands, Stalin orders Lenin to be moved a 1,000 miles behind the Urals.
Caught up the web of intrigue is beautiful Allied spy Eva Molenaar. She uncovers a plot involving a Hollywood mogul, Hitler’s propaganda machine, and a Nazi spy ring to bring Lenin’s body out of Russia for a propaganda coup.
In the hostile wilds of the Soviet Union she meets the German unit tasked with bringing Lenin out of the USSR, and a race against the clock ensues.