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.