Amy and I are both audio book fanatics. We really love many of the audio book narrators, Katherine Kellgren in particular. Kellgren was most famous for her rollicking narration of L.A. Meyer’s Bloody Jack Series. In the back of our minds we have always wanted to do In the Wake of the Willows as an audio book (and mix in nature sounds), but never had the time. However a few weeks ago I decided to start exploring our audio options.
The first step was to find a great narrator. Anyone who has heard my radio bits (https://www.capeandislands.org/post/wake-willows) know that I, like most authors, cannot narrate my own book! We needed a professional actor that could do voice overs. Could we find someone as good or almost as good as Katherine Kellgren? Kellgren was probably the best there ever has been in our genre (rollick, amusing, accented tales), so we set the bar pretty high.
We wanted a local actress that we could work with closely, so I started following some leads, but none of them panned out. One university’s theater arts program said they could not help us at all! I got no response from the Zeiterion Theatre nor did any of the other leads pan out. So I decided to take a flier and contacted Brown University’s Theater Arts Program. I sent a request in and got crickets for about a week; I never even got an acknowledgement of my request. Then last Tuesday, all of a sudden and without warning, I got flooded with young actresses interested in narrating the book. The Brown Theater Arts Department (TAPS) had posted my request that day and wow. I was overwhelmed at the quantity of requests and the ability of these students. I spent a number of sleepless nights trying to decide who to choose; they were all just so talented. It was torturous, and I kept saying to Amy, “I was such a happy person before I started this audio book business.”
Finally we picked four actresses based on these criteria:
1. They had a smooth, melodic, enchanting voice suitable for a nature book such as our book. A voice that could charm adults and put children into a peaceful sleep.
2. They were The Wind in the Willows fanatics.
3. They were highly motivated to do our book.
4. Could do accents such as a Scottish accent for Mrs. Badger and other accents.
With these criteria, we whittled the list down to four actresses. Now what? How did we chose one of them? It was a tough choice, and we were still left with the dilemma of how to say no to three of them when we finally picked our narrator. As far as we could tell, they were all exceptionally talented.
We sent these four actresses segments of the book to read such as some dialogue from Mrs. Badger and a segment of the firefly square dance. Within a few days (like I was saying, they were all highly motivated), we got the samples back. We really enjoyed listening to them. Each of these actresses is so different in their approach but talented in their own way. We had two actresses from the TAPS MFA program and 2 undergrads. The MFA actresses seemed to have more timber in their voices and appeared to have had more voice training. The undergrads had young, delightful, perky voices that would be very appealing to our young listeners, but we were looking for a more mature voice.
We listened to the samples again and again trying to decide, but there was one actress who appeared to have spent a great deal of time carefully examining each sentence to get the emphasis and cadence just right. In addition her Scottish Mrs. Badger was spot on and she chose a nice salty Cockney accent for Mr. Otter. But when she did Rickie and Mr. Rat and sang, yes sang (beautifully) the first two stanzas of the firefly square dance, Amy had tears in her eyes. Our little friends had found their voice.
We are beginning to work with this actress right now. Stay tuned; we will announce her name and may share some samples.