May 1988: Why would Craig Adler OD? That was what music journalist
Laura Benton wanted to know. He’d been clean for months, everybody swore
it. And with his band, he was about to sign a major label record deal,
the first of the new Seattle wave to break out of the Northwest. But as
she digs into the story the pieces don’t quite add up – and then the
threats begin. Just a phone call at first, then a bullet and more until
dreams turn to nightmares in the Emerald City and Laura finds herself
desperately fighting for her reputation - and her life.
the first of an occasional series of interviews between writers and the actors
who record their books, crime writer Maureen Carter sits down with Frances
Barber (who recently recorded the first in her Bev Morriss series, “Working
Girls”) to ask about the art of audiobook narration...
Frances Barber is an Olivier
Award-nominated actress with a long and distinguished stage career. She is also
a well-known face on British television, having been seen most recently in Dr
Who, Silk, and Great Expectations.
has worked extensively in both print and broadcast journalism. As well as being
a reporter, Maureen co-presented BBC’s flagship Newsnight programme and went on
to become one of the first women news producers outside London when she edited
Midlands Today. She is now a freelance writer and narrator.
Maureen Carter: How much preparation do you do for an audio book, Frances?
Frances Barber: I always read the book at least twice. First time just to read it as a punter would
getting lost in the story and I tend to read quite quickly, so it's usually a
pleasure (with your books it's always a pleasure, Maureen).
For the second reading, I use different coloured
pens to delineate the main characters and as I'm marking the script I also
highlight any characteristics they might have - i.e. speech impediments,
accents, tone of voice, what age they are, what sex they are. Are they angry,
depressed, stupid, smart, slow, quick witted, etc.
MC: Do you visualise the characters?
FB: I totally
visualise the characters. Hair colour, size, thin faced, fat faced, pinched,
pretty, weather beaten... I try sometimes to imagine voices I know, people I
have met whose voices are distinctive, that might work for the characters on
MC: How do you
find the right ‘voice’ for the main players?
FB: With the above in mind, I then practice a few voices on my iPod for the
main players so I can get a handle on them before recording and I attempt to
make them sound different from one another.
When there is just one main accent (as in Working
Girls) it's important to find the little differences in each character to help
the listener know exactly who is talking to whom, particularly in long dialogue
passages, and especially if there are more than 2 people involved in the
conversation and the author doesn't necessarily say who it is talking each
MC: What do you think of lead detective, Bev?
FB: I love Bev. She's a great creation. Flawed, human, difficult, tetchy - but
ultimately a heroine of sorts. A prosaic crusader for the rights of the
underdog and in this story such a champion of women whose circumstances, but by
grace of god and good luck, she could have ended up in herself. A great
Do you have a favourite character in the book?
FB: I think Bev
is my favourite character for the reasons I’ve just said, but I also had a soft
spot for the older prostitute, who's been there, done it, seen it – and looks
after the younger ones as best she can, but is ultimately powerless in that
industry to have much sway. She is more than the tart with a heart, more
complex, deeper, more rounded. She looks after number one herself, and despite
her best intentions can only do so much out of fear.
MC: Do you warm to characters as you get to know them?
FB:Yes, I totally warm to them and begin to feel very
protective. Each time one of the girls appears at risk, I want to whisk her
away from danger, rather like wishing a lone woman would not walk down a dark
corridor in a horror film !
MC: Do you ever want to change the words?
FB: I never
want to change the words. One legacy of starting my career in new plays with
the authors in the rehearsal room is utmost respect for the writer. I am a new writer’s dream, really, as I never even
change a comma. I know how much thought and effort has been employed to get the
rhythm of a sentence right and wouldn't dream of altering it without the writer’s
What’s the most challenging aspect of narrating a book?
FB: I guess the
most challenging aspect of narrating is tiredness. I have done enough now to
know that I always work best in the mornings. I like to get as much done as
possible in the morning shift and have a shorter lunch, as by 3/4pm I start to
see double on the page and begin tripping up over simple sentences. However, it's all worth it if you can bring something you have loved reading yourself to life for an audio audience...
Our thanks to Frances and Maureen for spending some
time with us! “Working Girls” by Maureen Carter, narrated by Frances Barber, is
available at Audible.com and Audible.co.uk.