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.

★ Audiobooks and DRM

For those of you who don’t know — and there’s no reas­on, per­haps, that you should — DRM stands for Digital Rights Management, and it is a tech­no­logy by which con­tent dis­trib­ut­ors (record com­pan­ies, for the most part) attempt to con­trol how a cus­tom­er exper­i­ences their product.

Now, audiobooks.

The start­ing pis­tol for Internet-dis­trib­uted audiobooks has been fired and is at the ‘b’ of the bang. They have a huge selec­tion of titles read by great act­ors and if you go for one of their monthly plans, like I do, you can enjoy two books per month for very little cash. Top draw­er.

The trouble? Audible’s titles are DRM’d. That is, they are locked down tight. Countless are the times I’ve said to a friend of mine, ‘Oh, you’d love this book I’m listen­ing to…’ and then trail off because I know I won’t be able to lend it. The DRM means only a few machines I’ve nom­in­ated can play­back the audio.

Well, this stinks. That much is obvi­ous. But you’d think that Audible are doing this because of the pres­sures put upon them by pub­lish­ers. It turns out that this is not neces­sar­ily the case. In an art­icle for Publisher’s Weekly art­icle, Cory Doctorow (whose book Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town, I review here) relates the saga of try­ing to get (i) his pub­lish­er, then (ii) Audible, then (iii) the online Apple iTunes store to offer his new book without DRM. Thus far, he’s only man­aged to con­vince the first two.

Audiobooks are fant­ast­ic. They are unabridged, high-qual­ity record­ings of stor­ies that you can enjoy when you’re out walk­ing, doing the dishes, or work­ing out. If Steve Jobs — and there­fore Apple — is ser­i­ous about his atti­tude towards DRM, he should make sure the online Apple store sup­ports pure, unfiddled-with MP3s for both music and the spoken word.

I’m pretty sure this is what read­ers want. It’s what I want.

As a coda, you can down­load an audiobook of the first edi­tion of Déjà Vu here — for £500.

H’only jok­ing! It is, of course, free as in air.