Friday, 24 September 2010

Why is commuting such hell?

CC director Ali Muirden has had a bad day...

I’ve been back on the commuter trail these last few months and it has been a sharp reminder of what irks me so much about commuting into London to work.

I don’t actually mind the earlier starts or the actual train journey… it’s more to do with the weird things people do on trains which drive me insane with irritation.
And I have to admit, it’s mostly men who are the culprits.

First off is the “hacker” and I don’t mean the computer genius type… these are those chaps (now away from their wives, who would no doubt give them short shrift if they caught them at it!) feel it is completely appropriate to hack up the old, unused phlegm from the back of their noses and throats to generously share it with their fellow travellers. What really drives me wild with annoyance is that they do this throughout their journey. Once or twice would be forgivable… we all get the sniffles occasionally but not every two or three seconds, like some kind of nervous tick!

Then there are the “leg spreaders”. You know the type: a guy who seems incapable of keeping his legs within his own seat space, but spreads them over into yours, so that you end up with a minuscule amount of room for your own legs, bags and laptop - and you end up scrunched into the corner of the train, trying to keep your legs from making contact with his! Is this some kind of bizarre male “bragging” tactic which is really saying, “Look! My manhood is so enormous, I’m incapable of closing my legs”?

Next up are the “seat-hoggers“. Those people who choose to sit in the aisle seat and then act as if you’ve committed serial war crimes if you ask them to move so you can sit in the spare window seat. They glare, they huff and then with glacial movements, slowly, begrudgingly, they move their precious bag (clearly they bought TWO tickets when they got to the station that morning) and finally move and let you sit down!

My next whinge is about the “arm swingers” - fairly innocuous you would think, but why do so many people swing their arms with such gusto and abandon? This is particularly dangerous on a rainy day when umbrellas are in abundance!

The “arm swingers” are in the same category as the “serial dawdlers” - those people who are unused to walking as if they are competing in the “Commuter Olympics” of getting to where you’re going as fast as humanly possible. Admittedly, they are mostly tourists or day trippers (for the love of God, stay at home until the cheap tickets kick in!) who don’t understand how the ticket machines work or come to an abrupt halt at either the top or bottom of the escalator, so that the rest of us start piling up as we try to exit and find ourselves wind-milling backwards on the escalator frantically trying to avoid mass collision!

Boris, never mind the bloomin’ bikes… put in “commuter” and “dawdler” walking lanes and you’ll be a shoe-in for the mayoral election!

However, the one mitigating factor is that when the sun is shining and the sky is blue and you find yourself travelling over Waterloo Bridge with the Thames glinting like a rather grubby window-pane in the sunlight, the view up the river of St Paul’s Cathedral and the surrounding skyline is a small salve to the weary commuter’s sanity!

I can‘t be the only one! … what are your top commuting whinges? - AM

photo: Sam Lavi

Friday, 17 September 2010

Slow, Slow, Quick, Quick, Slow...

This week guest blogger, sound editor Al Muirden, talks about the importance of pace in audiobook narration.

I’ve mentioned in previous blogs about the many stages involved in audio book production. This week, I’d like to follow up on one of Lorelei’s earlier blogs and dwell for a few moments on the role of the audio book narrator and in particular how the delivery of the words is important to the finished product and specifically how the PACE of that delivery is crucial…

I’m a drummer and when we record drum tracks we will in the vast majority of cases, use a “click-track” - this is an aid to the drummer/band and is designed to be used to keep the PACE of the tune uniform - that is, avoiding speeding up (or slowing down!). Once the correct tempo has been worked out (during the writing/rehearsal process), that can be set so that the tune is always played at the correct speed during the recording process.

In more complex music, the click-track can be programmed to match time signature changes too, but we generally don’t have to worry about that for audio narration!

My point being that the pace of delivery of the spoken word can be as affected by variation in speed of delivery as that of recorded music.

The most common thing to happen is for a narrator to start at the correct pace and then gradually, without noticing, pick up that pace and finding him or herself rushing. It’s one of the jobs of the producer to pick up on any such increase in speed - very often the narrator won’t even notice that he or she has got a little faster.

Another way that the delivery can speed up is if a recording session is starting to over-run and the narrator is starting to watch the clock - then it’s almost inevitable that the pace of the delivery will speed up. But with very few exceptions, the narrator should start and finish with the same tone AND speed - easier said than done!

The pace of delivery is most likely to pick up when reading non-fiction, as there isn’t much scope for heightening tension or slowing down for a sad section as there might be in a work of fiction - indeed it’s important to say also that (particularly in fiction) there may well be sections of a book which NEED to be faster to build excitement, for instance - or slower and more deliberate in other areas. It’s still the all important PACE of delivery that makes the difference.

One way that the pace of a book can be adjusted AFTER the recording has been done, is by some judicious editing. Gaps can be lengthened or shortened or even inserted to give the pace of the book more of a contiguous feel - it’s surprising how effective this can be.

I recently attended a friend’s wedding and there were three readers as part of the service - whilst none of them were especially bad in any way, it reminded me how easy it is to READ OUT the written word, but how difficult it is to NARRATE the written word and bring it to LIFE. There’s a distinct difference between reading and narrating and pace is everything when narrating.

So when you listen to your next audio book, keep in mind the high level of skill involved in making the original text come to life - definitely a job for the pros! - Al Muirden

Friday, 10 September 2010

Abridge too far....

Continuing our series of interviews with people working in the audiobook business, today we talk to award-winning abridger Kati Nicholl.

Tell us a little bit about yourself and the work you do.

Born in Glasgow, I went to train as a journalist at DC Thomson’s in Dundee at the bright and shiny age of 18, hoping to become a crime reporter, but was told it “wasn’t a job for a lassie,” so went into the fiction department- where, on my very first day, I was handed a book and told to cut it into 13 equal parts for the evening newspaper. Nothing like getting thrown in at the deep end! Oh, and I was also given an enormous pile of books on astrology and told I needed to write 3 weeks of daily horoscopes by the following Friday...
Went from there to the People's Friend, a very cosy Scottish magazine which had been going strong for a hundred years - and still is!

Married, moved to London and IPC Magazines, and became Fiction Editor of Woman’s Own – where, contrary to popular belief, we ran far more crime than romance as serials (that desire to be a crime reporter was still there!).

How did you start in the audio industry?

I went freelance a year after I had my first child, abridging for magazines and newspapers, editing for major publishers, and reviewing – which was how I discovered audiobooks. Rosalie George at HarperCollins asked me to abridge Stephen Fry’s first novel in 1991 and since then I’ve abridged authors as diverse as Margaret Thatcher, Ronnie Corbett, Dan Brown, Agatha Christie, Charles Dickens, Marjorie Allingham, Margaret Atwood, Ruth Rendell, Jostein Gaarder, Patricia Cornwell, Beryl Bainbridge, Val MacDermid, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ian Rankin, Sebastian Faulks, Stuart MacBride, Yann Martel, Peter James, Mark Billingham, Reginald Hill and Peter Mandelson to name but a very few!

How do you go about abridging a book for audio?

I read it purely for enjoyment, to relish the author's words, and while I do so a little bell rings in my head as I come across "clangers". Which I don't make notes of at the time, because it's the feel and essence I'm after, not the particular. These days most scripts come in electronic form, so I format them as scripts, check the word count - most books these days are 120K plus - then subtract the wordage I need to get the script down to. What remains, I divide by the number of pages so that I know how many words need to go from each page, then I roughly divide the script into the 3, 4, 5 or 6 parts required - whatever I'm working on, 11,200 words is the standard number of words that will go onto an 80 minute CD, with a good margin for tolerance, depending how quickly the actor reads. Some actors read quickly - Michael Brandon, Stephen Fry, Simon Callow, Colin Buchanan - and that can mean another 2,000 words on each disc. Oh, I like that! Anyway, then I start cutting scenes that I think are totally non-essential, also characters, and sub-plots. That probably cuts about one-third of what I need to cut, and then it's down to the nitty-gritty of taking out paragraphs, sentences, and finally single words. Greatest delight is when an author says they can't see what I've removed!

What is a typical day like for you?

Usually up by 6.30 and spend an hour, maybe two, reading the newspapers online. Then breakfast, and back at my desk for 9. Write any emails I need to, to clear the decks, then I get on with the job. May have something to eat about 2, but I eat at my desk and surf the net then go straight back to work. If the abridgment isn't urgent, I'll finish work about 7-7.30. That's a typical non-urgent day - but when I have a 220,000 word book to reduce to 44,800 and 6 days to do it, as happened recently, I get up at 6, spend half an hour on the newspapers while I have breakfast, then I start abridging and I will go straight through until 3 before I have lunch at my desk and then a half hour 'power' nap. By 4 I'm back on the abridgment and will work on until 9. An hour's break for dinner and some mindless TV or a movie, an hour's sleep, and then I'll work through until about 4 in the morning. Bed for 2 hours and back to it.

What makes a good audiobook?

A good story! Which means a gripping plot, whatever the genre, well-drawn characters, clear, lyrical writing, edge-of-the-seat tension and excellent narration.

How important is the narrator?

Vital! Without a good narrator, you're dead in the water - because the first audiobook a buyer listens to will be the last it they don't warm to the narrator's voice and delivery.

What, in your view, makes a good narrator?

An actor who subsumes her or himself into the book, so that you don't listen and say "Gosh, that's so-and-so just being himself - I can't identify or connect with the characters". So intelligence is vital - and a richness or depth to the voice.

What is the production of which you are most proud?

Impossible to choose one - but memorable ones include Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, read by Lorelei King; Joseph O'Connor's Redemption Falls read by Kerry Shale; Sebastian Faulks' Birdsong read by Sam West.

And which production was the most challenging?

Again, too many to single out one - but having just 48 hours to read and abridge Richard Leakey's autobiography was definitely challenging... And discovering, just 3 days before he was due to go into studio - his recording dates couldn't be changed - that I had been given the wrong version of John Major's autobiography to abridge was a jaw dropper. But he was wonderful to work with and we made it!

What do you think the future holds for audio publishers?

I think it holds lots of good things, and not just from the entertainment angle, which I believe will always be ongoing - because the spoken word is the oldest form of storytelling there is, from the days before written language was invented, and there is something magical about listening to the perfect actor reading the perfect book - but from an educational one.

One third of the kids leaving school aged 16 haven't even got a C in English. At 11, more than 150,000 children can't read to the required standard. Children who are poor readers at 12 are not going to get satisfaction from books meant for 7 year olds – they need books that address their emotional and age-related needs so that they can engage with their peers.

Audiobooks are the perfect answer. Small children have book and CD sets to educate and entertain them, but there's nothing around like that for the 7-ups. But an audiobook, used in conjunction with an e-reader, could be the perfect answer here. I’m an abridger, so you may think I have a vested interest, but I believe the length of the audio and script is of concern and they must match exactly. A struggling reader generally has poor concentration, initially, so a six hour stretch is too much in the early stages – a three hour audio makes far more sense. The abridged scripts could be sold to schools for use in the classroom, could be downloaded from the internet along with the audio for either home or school use, and then who’s to know what you are reading, something that is often a source of embarrassment to older children and turns them further away from reading. Poor adult readers could benefit from the same approach. 150,000 non-readers a year is a heck of a potential market! And as many as 17.8 million over-18s are reported as having poor levels of literacy; if we only had a take up of 8%, the percentage of people actually aware of audio, you're looking at a million and a half possible customers...

Friday, 3 September 2010

Produce an audio book? - Easy! (yeah right!)

Our favourite sound editor Al Muirden blogs about what audio book producers actually do...

As I continue to work with audio book recordings in my capacity as sound editor and checker, I’ve become increasingly aware that the world of the audio book can be a very nice place to live. However, by the time I get the recording for editing, a massive amount of work has already been done by one key individual - the producer!

Following on from last week’s Q&A blog with producer Ali Muirden (a.k.a. The Missus), I felt it worth a bit of elaboration on some of the tasks of a typical audio book producer.

To recap, for those who may be unaware, the production of audio books is not quite as straightforward as you may think - and the producer is the one person around whom EVERYTHING revolves, so that we, as buyers/consumers/listeners, end up with something that does justice to the original written words…

The producer has to do an INCREDIBLE amount of preparation beforehand, here are some of the things (and this list is by no means exhaustive!):

. Read the book to be recorded, then (if applicable) read the abridgement of the same book - not all audio books are unabridged.

. Research pronunciation before the recording. This could be names of characters, place names, foreign words, medical terms - anything that could trip up the narrator when recording.

. Select a suitable reader/narrator - this can sometimes be the sole responsibility of the producer, or it can be done in conjunction with the author and/or publisher.

. Secure the services of the chosen reader/narrator and get a copy of the script to the reader so that he or she can prepare

. Organise recording studio time to suit everyone.

. Produce and direct! This part can be tricky, especially if the producer hasn’t worked with the narrator before; there is often a period of nervousness before everyone is settled - and the producer has to help the narrator do the best job he or she can – without being too intrusive (quite a balancing act sometimes).

. Finally, when the finished recording has been edited, it needs to be checked (again this is very often done by the producer) and any errors noted - these would then be corrected by a second edit and then - and only then - can the master copies be produced and sent to (you guessed it) the producer for the final OK.

So next time you're listening to an audio book, by all means admire the writing and the narration - but spare a thought for the producer too (he or she will appreciate it!). - AM