CC director Ali Muirden has been producing the wonderful Ruth Galloway series of audio books for Quercus Books. Here are some highlights from their fantastic interview with the narrator, Clare Corbett. (You can see the whole interview here).
Clare Corbett is the reader for three Quercus Audiobooks in the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Rose Tomaszewska met her at Strathmore recording studios to find out more about an actor’s role in the creation of audiobooks.
Rose Tomaszewska: Not many people know what your job is like. Would you tell us how you came to be a reader?
Clare Corbett: I won the Carlton Hobbs audition in 2001 after studying at the Welsh College of Music and Drama, and was chosen to be on the BBC Radio Rep. At first, I was asked to do various smaller readings, and then I got my first chance to do ‘A Book at Bedtime’. That got me into the flow of reading and being a part of that world.
After I left I got a voiceover agent who introduced me to new companies like the BBC audio books, Chivers, who got me into reading children’s books, and now I’ve progressed to reading adult books.
Rose Tomaszewska: We’ve just finished doing ‘A Room Full of Bones’, the fourth title in the Ruth Galloway series by Elly Griffiths. Have you enjoyed reading her books?
Clare Corbett: This is the third one I’ve done, and they’re really exciting books. It’s all about a forensic archaeologist, Ruth, she’s always digging up bones and of course her findings lead to further investigations.
Then there’s a guy called Harry Nelson, who’s the police detective inspector, with whom she’s having a kind of relationship, and it’s a really lovely relationship. It’s nice to do a series of books, because you get to explore those characters.
Rose Tomaszewska: There are a lot of different characters, how do you bring across their personalities in their voices, where do you get your inspiration?
Clare Corbett: You find it from the text, which will explain what the characters are like, and then you’ve got license to go anywhere you want – the producer guides you in that. So Harry Nelson is quite a brusque guy, forthright and thinks that men should be in control, and because of those descriptions you know what to do, naturally. As anyone would, I imagine, when reading a book; because when you read a book in your head, you’re kind of playing the characters.
Rose Tomaszewska: There are a lot of accents in the series, from Norfolk to Australia to the Philippines! How do you get the hang of them?
Clare Corbett: Norfolk I had never done before I came to these books, which was a bit scary! I thought it was going to be in first person with a Norfolk accent. I’m from Bristol originally, and the accent is very similar to Norfolk, so I had to work on it quite a lot.
I go on a website which has people talking in different accents, and I listen and make notes phonetically on the page. In the book there are often Northern and Norfolk characters speaking to each other, and I find I have to switch accents quickly, which is quite difficult! But it’s just a matter of working hard, and listening, and having a good ear for accents, which I now have because of all the work I’ve done.
Rose Tomaszewska: Is that one of the hardest things about reading audio books?
Clare Corbett: No, the hardest thing is the long time spent in a studio. Normally with a voiceover, you only do an hour and sustain just one character. But with a book there are so many characters, and you’ve got to sustain the through-line of the story – you can make a book very bland if you just read it, deadpan – you’ve got to hook the reader in.
That’s where a producer and a sound engineer come in handy, they can say, “can you make this a little quicker,” or “bring up the intensity of the situation.” But you naturally have an instinct for that if you’re a good reader, and I hope I have.
It’s sustaining that concentration when you’re in the studio from 10am – 6pm with 3 breaks that can be hard. With a good producer, and with enough preparation- which is the key to doing audio books, you’re ok. And with enough cups of tea and coffee!
Rose Tomaszewska: Would you ever want to do something really difficult like Virginia Woolf?
Clare Corbett: I’d love to! I’d love to give it a go. I did a book called Poppy Shakespeare, by Clare Allen, which is in the first person. There were so many different characters, and she was in a mental home, it was brilliant to play.
Because I’m an actor, the first person sits more happily with me than narration, because it allows you to be completely in the book: not flicking between characters. You’re in someone else’s head and their way of speaking, so you naturally start to physicalise it as well.
Rose Tomaszewska: Do you ever do that, gesticulate?
Clare Corbett: Yes. Too much! And get told by the engineer to stop moving, because as soon as you move, your face in moving towards or further away from the microphone, which is not conducive to a good reading, and you can bang the table as well, which is not good for a reader!
Rose Tomaszewska: Do you have any tips for someone wanting to be a voice actor?
Clare Corbett: Everyone wants to be a voice actor! What I always say is practise reading out loud, even record yourself, because you may think you can read, but you have to have a lot of support and breath- and as an actor you have to train in that- and you need to sustain a lot of characters. So practise practise practise!
Find out more about Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series at www.quercusbooks.com