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.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell: An Audiobook

For the past month, my chores, com­mutes — and those sleepy minutes before nightly uncon­scious­ness — have been filled by the voice of Simon Prebble read­ing Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, a nov­el pub­lished in spoken form by Audible. It is 32 hours in length, unabridged, and costs £52For the sake of pity, don’t pay this price. Sign up for one of Audible’s monthly plans and get your audiobook more cheaply..

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is an altern­at­ive his­tor­ic­al fantasy set in the early nine­teenth cen­tury. It fea­tures two magi­cians — the eponym­ous — as they struggle to return the craft of magic to England, a coun­try that has become dis­con­nec­ted from its magic­al her­it­age.

At root, the nov­el focuses on the rela­tion­ship between the two magi­cians. It encom­passes the war with Napoleon (fought and won with no little help from magic) and fea­tures sev­er­al his­tor­ic­al char­ac­ters, includ­ing Lord Wellington, Byron and prime min­is­ter Lord Liverpool.

Darkness per­vades this book, from the names of char­ac­ters — Childermass, Greysteel, Drawlight — to the descrip­tions of smoggy London, foggy moors and moon­lit Italy. It is self-con­sciously drawn, how­ever, and I found the foot­notes and gen­er­al tone of irony to run counter to the sin­cer­ity needed for an iden­ti­fic­a­tion with the char­ac­ters.

Some things are lost in the trans­la­tion from page to voice. For example, Clarke uses archa­ic spellings for choose/chuse, show/shew. But more is gained. Pebble is an accom­plished nar­rat­or and has no dif­fi­culty in recre­at­ing myri­ad accents and tones.

Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell is noth­ing less than impress­ive. I can’t help feel, though, that there is rather too much head about the book and too little heart. Clarke avoids cliché, but she does con­tinu­ally make safe choices in her story, and there is a sense of orches­tra­tion.