Narrator: Fiona Thraille
Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a narrator, voice actor and sound editor. I also collaborate on writing and mixing internet audio drama. My latest productions are at Cooperantem Audio, an arena I co-founded to showcase modern, original audio dramas from around the world.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
I discovered the whole concept of recording from a home studio many years ago now. I had just taught a lesson that day on Welles’ War of the Worlds and then I idly wondered whether companies dedicated to radio drama still existed. A googling found Pendant Audio. among other groups, and that led to several years of learning voice acting techniques, mixing and writing through practical experience, mainly as a hobby. I joined Broken Sea Audio Productions to play Sophie, the barmaid in Maudelayne. They then announced that they were teaming up with some publishers to produce audio books. I auditioned and ended up recording four audio books with them.
What do you do when you are not narrating?
When not doing audio-related things I enjoy time with my family, growing vegetables, strumming around on a ukulele and trying to learn Welsh.
Many audiobook narrators do other voice over work, where else could we hear your work? Do you find there to any big hurdles to jump when going from audiobooks to something else or vise versa?
I have done other voice over work, mainly in education. Over the last year I’ve been working with EnlightKS, a global leader in Learning, eAssessment and User Adoption.There are links to commercial video voiceovers, an animation and other publishers on my website at thraille.co.uk, or there are demo voice reels at www.voices.com/demos/
I wouldn’t say that there are hurdles as such, but there are different approaches involved in audiobooks and shorter projects. I’d probably divide it further into character parts and using a version of your own voice. Books or shorter projects that involve different voices and accents often need extra preparation time to try to get – and most importantly sustain – the right vocal tone. Fiction can often be ‘harder’ work in that sense, but also very rewarding.
Do you have the luxury of picking and choosing the projects that you work on or do you take as many as you have time for?
I am able, to a certain extent, pick and choose projects to audition for or to accept because I am working part-time while looking after my young family, so I can only do a certain number of projects at one time.
For those of us that are unfamiliar with your work. How would you describe your narration style and voice? What would the one audiobook you would suggest for people to listen to your best work?
My natural voice is medium-low, regionally from around the London area of England. I often find myself working with a more traditionally ‘BBC documentary’ style accent, so have to reign in any stray glottal stops! I always feel that my latest work is the best as, like everyone, I’m learning all the time. The very latest book released is Engines of Empathy by Paul Mannering, and available on Audible. Funnily enough, though, I narrated that one in a Northern English accent, as we felt that it suited the narrator and her speech patterns. The book I’m about to start work on next week is narrated by Welsh characters, too, so it’ll be a while before I’m back to my own voice again.
As a narrator, do you get compensated in a set amount or do you also receive royalties from the individual sales? Do you like one more than the other?
It varies. Many of my audio books have been based on royalties.While it is very nice to have those ongoing royalties, set payments do offer more stability of income.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
For the most difficult, please see above! I find finishing any full-length book a bit of an achievement. It’s always an extremely enjoyable job, but with a project that could be continuing for several weeks, it’s a good feeling to have completed it.
Do you have a list of your own favorite narrators, who inspires you? Do you have a list of favorite audiobook that you have listened to?
Too many, so I’ll miss out lots and lots here. Listening is my preferred form of reading – I’ve always got an audiobook or podcast on the go, and so, so many narrators are superb. For actual phrasing and performance where I’ve found myself stopping washing up, for example, and simply listening, I’d have to single out David McCallum, Maya Angelou & Stephen Fry – although, as I say, there are really too many to mention.
Do you ever get specific notes or ideas from the writer about how something should be read? What is a helpful note, and what is, shall we say, less helpful?
I haven’t done so far. While the authors have usually wanted to listen to the chapters as they are done, they seem to have been content. When auditioning, if there’s no set audition text, I usually pick several shortish parts, containing at least one character each, so that the author has a chance to decide and to ask for a different take on the part if they’d prefer.
For helpful criticism in general, though, the clearer it is the better – and of course the earlier the better, to avoid having to redo the entire book! If the writer wants a different accent, or tone, or approach, that’s changeable.
Do you have an initial process or routine by which you get to know the book you’re going to be reading? Do you mark them up, for example?
I read it through once, reasonably quickly, as a first-time reader – but taking a note of every character who appears, and any text describing them or their voice, their home town, etc. and my own notes as a reader. I then create a grid of all chapters (and try to break longer ones into groups of 6-8 pages). I can then read those chapters or parts in one sitting each, and I colour them in in the grid, to have an overview – which is vital with a long book. I usually record chronologically, but sometimes will do several chapters out of sequence if they all relate to one character’s thread, to maintain their energy levels in their story arc.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
I go by the author’s description first, and then try to visualise the character, how they stand or sit, so which part of their body they’re likely to be speaking from.
Is your studio in your home? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this? Do you have something that you would consider unique in your setup? What is it?
My studio is in my home. It works well, as I can record at night-time if necessary as it’s in an old, thick-walled house. There’s a booth of sorts: a folding panel draped with heavy curtains. On walls not covered in acoustic foam tiles, I have hung half a dozen crocheted ‘granny’ blankets. The texture and holes in them do seem to help to dampen echo, and they make the place a bit cheery!
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
I start out serious with warming up and doing some relaxation exercises, but once the microphone’s on I like to enjoy it. As jobs go, it really is one of the most fun – although it is necessarily quite isolating. Fiction is less lonely, because the characters and story are usually absorbing, and you start to feel quite a connection with the writer.
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
I love to listen to mystery, suspense, anything with some action in it – and so most enjoy narrating that, also. There is a wonderful feeling, with good authors, when you are reading their work and the rhythm of their words dictates the pace and the timing. It’s as exciting to get surrounded in and absorbed by that action and dialogue for the narrator as it is for the listener.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
I loved playing Charlotte Pudding in Engines of Empathy. The character narrates the book, so I got to live through her thoughts. She faces great danger and personal grief with humour, cutting sarcasm, great practicality and zero self-pity. In her voice, I still feel I could conquer the world. And then have a cup of tea. The most difficult was a tiny part in a compilation magazine. On an epic journey, the main characters encountered a man who had ‘Aye’ in his vocabulary, and whose background and rhythm of speech seemed to fit a Scottish accent perfectly. I find Scottish accents beautiful but somewhat tricky because of their lyrical nature. I worked hard on his few lines and felt reasonably happy. I then received the next edition of the magazine to narrate, only to discover that the tiny Scottish character played a major part in the story. It was an intimidating time, and a time of many takes – but it worked out in the end!
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I can’t. I just do a retake if necessary! In fact, during Engines of Empathy I took several retakes to get through a particularly moving scene. The character, herself, coping so bravely actually made it more difficult to narrate without a catch in the voice. I’m a firm believer in it being good to be that emotionally involved with the text you’re working on. It would be different, perhaps, in a theatre situation, where you’re performing every night, but this is a one-off live read, so it’s vital to be emotionally open. If an author has you laughing or crying, then it’s a sign that you’re working on a quality piece of writing. Unless the author didn’t intend laughter or tears. Then it’s a sign that you’re really not…
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
Warm up. Relax and enjoy it – I mean, how great is this job? Read the book first and prepare all you can before first. And be as helpful as you can to those around you, as you may well end up working with them again. Plus recording can be a solitary occupation, so having a good relationship with your editor or fellow narrators makes it all a lot more sociable. Also, don’t be afraid to get involved in other audio as a training ground. Anything where you are experimenting with your voice and learning about sound and microphones is excellent. It’s not just a question of reading into a microphone – there’s always so much to learn, and the more technical knowledge you have, the better.
What has been your favorite project and why?
My most recent one, Engines of Empathy, very honestly is one of my favourite books. It’s pure coincidence, but I am the target audience for it: it’s a funny, mystery-action-adventure romp with a sci-fi twist, so I loved the text right from the start and was delighted to work on it.Then I also was teamed up with Chris Barnes, of Dynamic Ram Audio as an editor. We’re friends, have a great working relationship, and I knew and liked the author a great deal, too, so it was a particularly happy environment.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
Absolutely it should! Listening, or feeling it in braille, or reading with eyes are all equally valid: the words are the same, and it’s only the input that’s different. In the modern world, there is so much going on, and audio books allow people to continue reading while commuting, while walking, while doing housework. It another option for people with visual impairments to read as well. It takes me back to being read a bedtime story as a child – it can have a comforting, personal feel, and so it’s a real privilege to be involved in making it.
Are you working on any special projects?
I’ve just this morning started work on a new novel set in Swansea, and also a voiceover for a student film on Glasgow Cathedral. One of the benefits of narration is the wide variety of jobs.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
Your microphone setup and production has to be science to a great extent. Audiobook houses are, rightly, strict with their technical requirements, so if you’re producing your own books, it’s vital to know what might need to be done in post-production. Even if you’re outsourcing the production side, it helps to know as much as possible, so as not to give your editor a headache! So it’s science to get it to a product that people can listen to comfortably, but the magical part of it, the storytelling, is all creative synergy. Yes, there’s craft and technique behind it, but hopefully that becomes invisible once the story begins.
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