An Interview with Proper Job’s Narrator, Dave Bignell

My audiobook, Proper Job, is finally finished! It is somewhat redundant to say that it wouldn’t exist without my producer/actor, Dave Bignell, but without his help, enthusiasm, and perseverance, and creative input, I wouldn’t be as proud of the final product.

Since producing an audiobook is a dark art, I thought I’d interview Dave for my blog.

Can you tell a bit about your background, and how you ended up working as an audio producer and voice actor for Audible?

I’ve worked as an actor for theatre, television, radio and film. I had the amazing opportunity to supply a voice over to a National Geographic programme and host a radio station; I thoroughly enjoyed the process which opened my mind to a whole new dimension of ‘acting’.

I worked as a drama teacher in London and my commute involved walking across Hyde Park. I used to listen to audiobooks on my journey and was captivated by the wonderful stories and narrators. When I heard about the opportunity to produce audiobooks I thought, that sounds great, how difficult can that be….?!? 

What made you audition for Proper Job?

Comedy is an extremely difficult thing to pull off, especially in a book. After reading a few pages of ‘Proper Job’ I knew that Ian Hocking was in full command of a) telling a compelling story and b) making the reader laugh. It would also be fair to say that ‘Proper Job’ appealed to my own sarcastic and surreal sense of humour.

On what basis do you decide on how to deliver a character’s voice? I can remember being very surprised by the character of ‘Madame’! A perfect rendition, but not at all as I’d imagined her speaking…

Often I have a very clear idea of what a character should sound like in my head, but my vocal chords don’t always follow suit! So it is often a compromise of both!

In my opinion, the characters must all sound different in some way so that the audience does not get confused about who is speaking. In order to do this I have to ensure that I can sustain that voice and that it does not change from chapter to chapter. 

How do you maintain what might be termed ‘continuity’ in TV in film, i.e. keeping a consistent performance across multiple takes/sections of an audiobook?

The most difficult thing is to ensure your characters’ voices are consistent throughout; for each character I write a short hand for myself of how they sound – sometimes they are based on people I know (you’ll have to guess which characters are the ones I know!) The great advantage I have however is that I can of course listen back to a previous recording to remind myself of how a character sounds. 

Not to fish for compliments, but what was the best thing about doing the Proper Job audiobook? In other words, what kept you going across all those months?

Haha! Excellent question. For me, although ‘Proper Job’ is a comedy, the story is very honest, very ‘real’ and at times, very touching.

After each recording of a chapter, I would send the recording to Ian for his approval and he would email me back his notes. These notes were essential, ensuring my delivery and timings were enhancing the comedy. I enjoyed this collaboration with Ian, always pushing me and the audiobook and I am extremely happy with the end result.

What was the most difficult aspect?

Sustaining accents and swapping between multiple characters in a conversation! It is very difficult to go from a Welsh accent to a Cornish accent etc without one bleeding into another. Also, sometimes I can sit in front of the microphone and record pages and pages with no errors, other times I will be tripping over every other line and have to keep stopping and starting, there was never any pattern to it, just sometimes my brain didn’t seem to be in full control! 

Which other audiobooks have you produced?

Broken Mirror and the sequel, Broken Mind written by Oliver Rixon. Alternative Dimension written by Bill Kirton and Blood and Silk, written by Jeffrey Love.

Anything else you’d like to plug?

Probably my photography blog.

Thanks again to Dave for making the experience so worthwhile.

It’s Proper Job All Over Again

Proper Job is a book what I wrote based, indirectly, on my experiences of surviving (more or less) my student days when I was an ice-cream man. The book was great fun to write. Finishing it, I thought I’d discovered my natural genre–comedy–and I was probably correct, though most of my published output since then has been science fiction. The book didn’t get unfair treatment from publishers; several said they’d love to publish it but there was no chance of it selling because of the small humour market. To shift sufficient quantities, I’d need to be a famous stand up comedian and, given that my public speaking focuses on cognition, this is not the case.

I have made valiant attempts to start follow-up comedy books, but writing (and sometimes re-writing) the Saskia Brandt series is slow going at the best of times. Comedy has taken a back seat.

Audiobooks! I’ve always loved audiobooks. Ever since getting an iPod Touch back in the day, I’ve thought it a privilege to have someone read to me while doing the dishes, running, or cycling to work. Audiobooks also turned me on to poetry, which, with a few exceptions, I’d never really appreciated; turns out poetry is a phonological business.

Having been down the Kindle self-publishing route with Déjà Vu and gained so much satisfaction from it, I was excited to read a couple of years back that Audible were launching something called ACX, or the Audiobook Creation Exchange, where self-publishers and audiobook producers can get together to make audiobooks. I was frustrated to see that it was US-only, and kept checking month after month to see when it would be launched in the UK. I chanced across ACX again a few weeks back, hunted around once more for the ‘US only’ text, and couldn’t find it.

Bingo, my droogies.

I signed up and posted a description of Proper Job. I had about ten audtions–all of which were very good, though some American efforts at the British accent didn’t quite do it for me–and whittled them down to one.

Once again, my membership of the Society of Authors came in very handy. They checked over the contract and translated some of the more arcane bits into plain English.

This weekend, I finished ‘audio-ising’ the Proper Job manuscript to make it clearer to a listener when the narrator is thinking, speaking, and so on, and I hope to have the finished audiobook by January. The plan is for the book to come out exclusively on Audible, which is really only game in town as far as audiobooks go.

Very, very excited.