RNIB and the Man Booker Prize - Rocking and rolling

22 September 2015

Thanks to sponsorship from the Booker Prize Foundation, RNIB is able to make the six books shortlisted for their prestigious prize into formats that blind and partially sighted people can read.

Not only that, thanks to the help we receive, we’re also able to make these available by the time the winner is announced in October. In our series of blogs leading up to the big announcement, we tell you a bit more about what goes on behind the scenes!

Rocking and rolling

By Rupert Morgan, RNIB Talking Books – Senior Producer

Here at the RNIB studios in Camden (London), August is a month of plate-spinning. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the shortlist announcement for the Man Booker Prize, so I can get going on producing the titles as Talking Books.

Once Sophie has sent me the scripts from the publishers, it’s time for me to speed-read the 13 books so I can choose the best narrator for each – something which is crucial for the listener’s enjoyment. Several things help me choose: location, the gender and age of the main character, and whether it’s a first or third person narrative - or is it even told from more than one point of view! I mentally assign my preferred narrators from our bank, so that when the shortlist announcement is made on 15 September, I’m ready to go and book in those narrators straight away.

Right now we’re in the midst of the busy recording time. The average book is around 350 pages, which takes about three and a half days of a narrator and producer working in the studio to record a total of 20-21 hours of audio. Once edited, this equates to roughly 12 hours of complete audio running time. So when we get a book of 700 pages or more, that obviously takes much longer!

Our producers edit as they go to make sure there is 100% word accuracy in all our Talking Books. If a narrator makes a mistake or the sound is muffled, we “rock ‘n’ roll”. This means that we pause the live recording, “rock” it back to before the mistake, then “roll” the recording so the narrator can come back in and continue from there. This is a great way of producing a very natural flow of narration.

Once all the audio is recorded, we convert it into a DAISY format Talking Book and other accessible formats. This means that we add in parts and chapter navigation as well as page navigation where possible so that blind and partially sighted people can flick between pages and chapters if they choose – just as a sighted person might do with a hard copy book.

After quality control checks, the book is sent on to the RNIB Library to be loaned out to people with sight loss across the country. Talking Books started as long-playing records in 1935 before progressing to cassettes, and then DAISY CDs. Now, thanks to developments in technology, our members can also ask for their Talking Books on a USB stick, or download them digitally to their smartphone, PC or tablet using our ‘App’.

Check back in after the winner is announced (13 October) to find out how it all comes together, what the authors have to say when they’re interviewed by RNIB Insight Radio, and how you can borrow the books in giant print, braille or as a Talking Book.