Readers are at the heart of RNIB’s Library, but Talking Books couldn’t exist without narrators to bring the books to life.
We hear from some of our narrators on how they bring great stories from the page to your ears.
Gordon Griffin received an MBE from the Queen for services to people with sight loss. He shares his thoughts on narrating:
“When I first started recording audiobooks in the mid-1980s I would imagine a visually impaired listener at home sitting by their cassette-machine enjoying (I hoped) the story I was telling. As the years went on, the industry grew so that now everyone listens to audiobooks on many different devices. As a narrator I have to keep up with all the new technologies. So my audience is everyone but when I am recording I still imagine that blind person listening.
“There is something special about recording books at the RNIB studios in Camden Town. I enjoy the huge variety of books I get to read. One minute it’s the autobiography of the great Bobby Robson, the next a clever thriller by Graham Greene.
"My work at RNIB and the fact that I have recorded over 900 audiobooks [for commercial publishers] led to a visit to Buckingham Palace in November 2017 where the Queen gave me the MBE. It was (if you’ll pardon the pun) a crowning achievement. I was thrilled of course. I accepted it on behalf of the audiobook industry but in particular for all those blind and partially sighted listeners.”
American actress Stephanie Ellyne, narrated Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann for the Talking Book library.
“I was excited to be asked to narrate Lucy Ellmann’s novel Ducks, Newburyport. I was also more than a little intimidated. Shortlisted for both the 2019 Booker Prize and the Goldsmith Prize 2019 (for fiction that extends the possibilities of the novel form), Ducks, Newburyport is 1,030 pages long, 998 of which is a stream of consciousness monologue composed of a single sentence.
“Forty-five recorded hours later, I feel I’ve been yanked from a dizzying and delicious dream (which I wouldn’t mind drifting back to), enriched by a greatly enhanced vocabulary, a sobering glimpse of the roots of a nation’s violence, and a new appreciation of the mouth-watering intricacies required in whipping up a perfect tarte tatin.”
Claire Morgan narrated Home by Amanda Berriman for the library.
"When RNIB asked me if I would narrate the remarkable debut novel Home by Amanda Berriman, I was thrilled and terrified at the same time. From the moment I opened the first page, the challenges were clear. The book is narrated in the first person… this happens to be four-year-old Jesika. Her language is very authentic, meaning she mispronounces some of her words, for example ‘supposed’ becomes ‘apposed’ and some of her sentences are a paragraph long. The story also highlights some very sensitive issues therefore making a few of the passages hard to read. The book, however, was too special an opportunity to pass up and I felt I had to narrate it. I had to tell Jesika’s story.
“I knew I was in the safe hands of the talented producers at the RNIB. Not only do they engineer, which is absolutely a skill in itself, but they also direct the reader and are incredibly knowledgeable. Between us we made some decisions on Jesika’s voice. I have a naturally young voice but there was no way on earth I was going to emulate a four-year-old’s voice for this. Instead, we decided to apply the phrasing and intonations that a young child might use. My eldest daughter was clearly my muse for this task.
"I prepared to read this audio book by using a fine toothcomb. I thoroughly annotate any book I’m going to narrate, if time allows, but this one was in a different league. The long sentences were a logistical nightmare (where does one breathe?!) so I set about diligently highlighting, scribbling and underlining for days on end, to not only save time in the booth while recording but also to save on editing time in post-production.
"The audiobook is about seven hours long, but of course takes longer to record. One recording session is three hours long with a break in the middle and a morning session is generally fuelled by a croissant, water and a bucket of caffeine."