Bringing words to life: The Girl Who Came Home author Hazel Gaynor talks to actress Alana Kerr, about what it takes to record an audio book…
When a tweet popped up in my timeline a few months ago, from Alana Kerr, an actress in LA, saying how much she’d enjoyed recording the audiobook of The Girl Who Came Home, I squealed, fell on the floor and then I wondered … how? How did my written words get recorded? So, I contacted Alana and she very kindly offered to explain all. Here’s what she told me (and yes, I feel very guilty about intruding on her family Christmas)!
I first asked Alana how she had got involved with recording The Girl Who Came Home?
As with acting, it usually starts with an audition. I was sent an email by Deyan Audio, an audiobook production house here in LA, asking if I could come in to audition for a new title. I actually missed this email due to my email account crashing and going offline for a week. Thankfully they followed up, but by then I was back home at my parents’ house in Belfast. I recorded the audition (on Christmas Eve!) using my laptop and a mic I borrowed from my musician brother, Neil. When I found out I was selected to narrate the novel I had to arrange recording dates with the production house.
How do you prepare for the recording?
This involves reading the novel in its entirety and making notes on specific characters, such as accent and tone. Once I had decided on a particular accent and had an understanding of each character, recording could begin. Sometimes due to time restraints it’s not possible to read the entire book prior to recording but it’s certainly advised. Oftentimes, critical features of a character may only be revealed later in the novel and it could trip a reader up badly. For example, a character may be said to have uttered something in their “smooth Southern drawl” which is a pretty important note to take as a narrator. You wouldn’t want to have started recording this particular character’s dialogue in your best Brooklyn accent by the time you reached this section of the book! Aside from obvious pitfalls like this, I find it’s always better to get a sense of the novel as a whole before delving in. I like to know the characters well so that I can bring them to life in the fullest way possible.
How long does it take to record a book like The Girl Who Came Home?
Each session typically lasts for six or seven hours with time for lunch and breaks in between. The usual rule of thumb is that for every hour of finished audio it should take two hours in the studio. This is then judged by the word count and a rough estimate is drawn up. It took three days to record The Girl Who Came Home. This came down largely to the fact that, although there were two narrators used for the audiobook, I read more of the text than Connor Kelly-Eiding and as such had more to do than was first thought. There’s also the added challenge of performing in a range of accents, some of which come more naturally to me than others and as such call for added time and attention. If it’s a straightforward piece of narration it is possible to read it in real time without too many hiccups along the way. What becomes difficult are sections of dialogue in which multiple characters are speaking. This may mean shifting from portraying a young man from Southampton to an upper class lady from New York with who knows what else thrown in between. This requires a lot more focus and can slow the pace down quite considerably.
What do you most and least enjoy about the process?
I love making a story come to life using only my voice – it is great fun and very rewarding. This is how stories were traditionally passed down through the generations and I believe there’s an added level of engagement that exists when listening to a story as opposed to reading it alone. I work hard to make sure an intimacy exists between the narrator and listener and it’s one of the elements I enjoy most. There’s very little about the process I don’t actually like although it can be pretty exhausting. It requires an immense amount of attention and I can be pretty wiped out after even just one session.
Did you voice all the female characters in The Girl Who Came Home and also narrate, or are others involved?
This novel is a little unusual in that it spans two different time periods. As such, I covered all the sections set in 1912 and Connor narrated the more modern sections. Within that, we each narrated as well as performed the dialogue of the individual characters. That can be everything from a girl our own age, to a little boy from London or old woman from New York. We try to lend as much of a sense of character to each voice but must remember to remain clear at all times. It’s all very well being able to do a great Cockney accent but if the average listener can’t understand what you’re saying then it becomes problematic. As narrator, it is our job to convey the story as clearly as possible whilst breathing life into the individual characters.
What is the studio set up like?
Once in the studio it’s just me, the engineer and my trusty mascot Mario the mouse! It’s a cosy set up and actually lends itself very well to the intimacy of the work. I can hear the engineer on the other side of the wall through my cans but am otherwise alone with the script which I read in digital format. This not only saves on paper but also stops any swishing noises as I turn pages interrupting the recording.
What else are you working on at the moment?
I have just finished shooting a commercial for fashion brand BCBG Max Azria which will go live within the next few weeks and am busy auditioning for LA’s busy pilot season. Watch this space!
(c) Hazel Gaynor
About Alana Kerr
Originally from Belfast, Alana graduated from Trinity College, Dublin with a joint 2:1 in Drama/English. Trained in Meisner technique at the Impulse Company, London and an alumnus of the National Youth Theatre (NYT) and the National Youth Music Theatre (NYMT), she is an accomplished actress, singer and voiceover artist. Credits include the UK/Ireland tour of Dancing Shoes: The George Best Story (GBL Productions), BBC’s Christopher and His Kind, UTV’s Live at the Limelight and Sesame Workshop/BBC’s Sesame Tree. As a voiceover artist credits include narrator of Hazel Gaynor’s The Girl Who Came Home – A novel of the Titanic (Harper Audio audiobook) and Samantha Shannon’s The Bone Season (Audible audiobook, #1 Download) and the lead role of Eleanor in Lucy Caldwell’s award winning Radio Play Girl From Mars (BBC Radio 4). Alana was Heather Graham’s stand-in/double in the feature film, Miss Conception (BBS Productions)! She currently lives and works in Los Angeles, California. For more, see www.alanakerr.com or http://www.imdb.me/alanakerr
About The Girl Who Came Home
A voyage across the ocean becomes the odyssey of a lifetime for a young Irish woman. . . .Ireland, 1912 . . .
Fourteen members of a small village set sail on RMS Titanic, hoping to find a better life in America. For seventeen-year-old Maggie Murphy, the journey is bittersweet. Though her future lies in an unknown new place, her heart remains in Ireland with Séamus, the sweetheart she left behind. When disaster strikes, Maggie is one of the few passengers in steerage to survive. Waking up alone in a New York hospital, she vows never to speak of the terror and panic of that fateful night again.
Chicago, 1982 . . . Adrift after the death of her father, Grace Butler struggles to decide what comes next. When her great-grandmother Maggie shares the painful secret about Titanic that she’s harbored for almost a lifetime, the revelation gives Grace new direction—and leads both her and Maggie to unexpected reunions with those they thought lost long ago.
Inspired by true events, The Girl Who Came Home poignantly blends fact and fiction to explore the Titanic tragedy’s impact and its lasting repercussions on survivors and their descendants.
THE GIRL WHO CAME HOME – A Novel of the Titanic was released in the US earlier this month and will be coming to Ireland and the UK on 1st May. available in paperback and ebook from William Morrow (HarperCollins) and as an audiobook from HarperAudio.