Narrator: Rachel Shirley
Voice Range: Mid range
Accents: Regional British
Fluent Languages: English
Tell us a little about yourself (Your bio).
I have produced 7 audiobooks on Audible, 4 of which are full length thrillers. I have written all the thrillers myself, but I used a pseudonym Charles J Harwood because I also write art instruction books under my real name. I wanted to keep the two markets apart. Of course, I could no longer use this pseudonym for my narration. All my books can easily be found online. I graduated with a BA in Fine Art from Kingston University, Surrey and I used to teach art.
How on earth did you get into narrating audiobooks?
I knew nothing about narrating books 12 months ago and I learned everything from scratch, building my own recording booth and setting up my recording equipment. I also learned vocal techniques the hard way. I have made mistakes along the way, but I am also proud of what I have achieved, even if imperfections remain. I now write a blog about narrating books and editing sound files.
What do you do when you are not narrating?
I am now working on a drawing book, which will be released sometime in 2016. I also plan to add more art instruction videos to my channel and associated blog: Oil Painting Medic. When I am away from my computer, I do what other people do, be a parent, read and go for walks.
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?
As I am a newbie, my work will not be found elsewhere but Audible, Amazon and Itunes.
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 haven’t put myself out for auditions at this time, as my art books take a lot of time to do and this means tremendous time commitments.
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?
I come from the Midlands but my mother comes from London, so I don’t have a strong regional accent. When narrating, my voice has rather a generic British BBC sound. My voice got a little deeper with each audio book with a husky edge. I feel Falling Awake represents my final vocal style.
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? Has there ever been an per finished hour book that you wish was a royalty deal, what book? Or vise versa?
My ACX agreement is exclusive with 40% royalties, as I am the producer and the writer.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
I recorded all my thrillers in one year (2015). All of it was a slog. It was the hardest thing I have ever done. The worst part was the learning progress, for instance, getting to grips with the noise removal and managing sound files. I live near a busy road and beneath air traffic and sounds do sneak into the booth.
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?
I haven’t listened to many audiobooks yet, but I like Stephen Fry and Maya Angelou. Both have a nice, rich sound. I like the narrator to have a level, reasoning tone rather than one that is shrill or whiny.
What is your favorite thing to do? Pastime, hobby, obsession, etc.
My passions have become my job. I enjoy writing, painting and writing about them.
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 accepted commissions from other writers at this time.
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 will print off the script and underline different character dialogue in various colours, so I can see the bigger picture. Male characters will often be underlined with cool colours, for instance, blue, and females will be underlined with warm colours. I will then practice reading the script. If I don’t like the sound of the character, I will do it again and again until I am happy.
How do you flesh out how a specific character will sound?
I know my characters well, so I know how I want them to sound. The difficulty lies in making them sound the way I want. After resting my voice, I can reach deeper tones for male characters. But getting the tone of voice and the accent are other challenges. I will listen to regional accents on YouTube and ‘digest’ over a few days. Some accents are more diffiult than others. Sometimes I have to ‘feel’ the character to make him/her sound convincing. I will often record the dialogue separate to the general narration.
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 booth is set up in the conservatory at the back of the house. I cannot record in there until evening or cloudy days as it gets hot. I never leave my recording equipment in there when I am not recording because of the temperature ranges. I often will have to wait until the family are settled watching the TV or gone to bed before I record. Having a booth at home has lots of time restraints.
What is the atmosphere like in your studio when you record. What’s it like, and are things very serious or not very serious?
It’s quite pleasant in the evenings. I have installed a small lamp inside so I can see the script. Some might describe it as cramped. I see it as cozy.
How long do you record at a time, on average? What is it about a book that will shorten or lengthen this?
I cannot record for more than an hour at a time, as my voice gets croaky after a while. If it starts to rain, it’s time to pack up too!
What is your favorite genre to narrate? Why?
I have only recorded thrillers, but I would love to have a go at other genres. Emotional scenes are my favourite, particularly between characters.
What has been your favorite character? What character has given you the most grief?
Male characters in general are difficult for me, being female. But I enjoyed doing Luke’s voice in Falling Awake, as he has a repressed, British sound, that is tinged with irony. He is not what he first appears. I found Josh in A Hard Lesson hard to do, as he has a husky sound that was taxing on the vocal chords.
How do you stop yourself from laughing or crying at some of the things authors write?
I have to cut that part out during editing.
I have heard that many in the industry dislike the term narrator. What do you prefer and why?
I am OK with the term narrator, but in Audible, the narrator is also the audiobook producer.
How do you view audiobook narration/production: Art or Science?
It is both. An art when it comes to injecting emotion in the voice and orchestrating scenes, but a science when it comes to understanding the recording equipment and getting a clean sound.
Do you have a philosophy of how to create the perfect audiobook experience?
You have to practice and practice. Don’t narrate when you are tired or stressed, for this will come through the audiobook. You have to ‘feel’ what you are narrating, otherwise, you will not connect with the listener. Remember to vary the tone of voice and to alter the pitch of when necessary. Sounding robotic is a peril every narrator should watch out for.
Do you have a preference for reading fiction or nonfiction for pleasure? And is what you read for pleasure what you’d prefer to read for audiobooks?
I love fiction and I love putting emotion into the story (without overdoing it). I enjoy reading most books and therefore would be open to trying anything new or challenging.
Do you have any advice for other aspiring narrators?
Get the best mic you can afford. You don’t need lots of fancy equipment, but stick to recommended brands. I used a Scarlett interface and a Rode mic. Understand your equipment before you begin is important. Always allow more time than you think you need. Prepare properly and don’t rush. Be organized and persistent.
What has been your favorite project and why?
I have enjoyed all my projects in different ways. I loved recording A Hard Lesson because there are many different characters and I enjoyed orchestrating scenes between them.
Do you believe that listening to an audiobook should be considered reading? Why or why not?
Reading and listening to an audiobook is not the same. The reader cannot imagine what a character sounds like in audiobooks. It’s a little like films. In fact, some audiobooks are like listening to films, particularly with the special effects and backing tracks. Locke and Key is one example.
Are you working on any special projects?
I am taking a break from audiobook production for now, but may begin another thriller some time towards the end of 2016
How do you feel about authors that choose to narrate their own audiobooks? Any advice to them?
I think narrating your own book is a great thing as no one can understand the characters like the author. But some authors might not be natural narrators. Perhaps they lack confidence or are unaware of how they sound on the mic. I personally like having control over my audiobooks. But other authors might be wise to employ a professional narrator.
Have you ever gotten a poor review on your narration? What do you do with such reviews?
I have had poor reviews, but I have also had good reviews. Some of the reviews are political, some are ranters with no constructive criticism. I don’t take every bad review seriously and I don’t necessarily act on them. My voice is unique, as is every narrator’s. I know in my heart I have done my best with it. I have differentiated between characters and injected dynamism where necessary. I don’t sound robotic or flat and there is no nasty swallowing sounds or clicks between sentences. That can’t be bad.
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