I’m very pleased to have Julian G. Simmons, the amazing narrator for the audiobook version of Widdershins with us on the blog today! Since I know very little nothing about voice work, I thought an interview would be a great way to learn more.
How did you get into audiobook narration?
Actually, I had been doing some voiceover work here and there, most recently as the voice of Roman Polanski for a film by the Scottish director, Mick Davis. Friends in the business kept telling me I should think about narrating audiobooks. Then I got an invite to a members’ workshop that the Screen Actors Guild was holding on narrating audiobooks and it just kind of fell into place. The idea excited me, but I knew I didn’t have the typical “narrator” voice that had been already established, so finding my place in that world might take some time. I also see it as a natural extension of acting, because that’s what I do mostly.
How do you choose a project? And what drew you to audition for Widdershins?
Good writing is what first draws me to any written material whether that’s a book or a screenplay or a play. If I don’t like the writing I find it difficult to make whatever character I’m playing authentic. I know this might sound funny coming from an actor, but if the character(s) doesn’t feel real in the first place, it becomes a complicated issue making them real and still respecting what the writter has put on the page, even with a good imagination. A tree can’t grow and leaf if the roots aren’t firmly planted in the ground.
It was an easy decision to audition with Widdershins because I immediately liked the writing. And I got an intuitive sense about it that I would like where the story was going, without having read it. I trust those instincts. I also immediately liked the character of Whyborne, I could tell he had hero in him. I’m also drawn to mysteries and books that fall into the Victorian era.
What do you find the biggest challenge in audiobook narration? The most fun part?
There are so many challenges in audiobook narration and the narration itself is only part of it. It’s essential that you are working with a good team and that includes a professional audio producer and mixer, an author or publisher who is available to answer questions should there be any during the recording of the book, and if at all possible someone who can direct the narrator while reading. The focus of the narrator should always be on their performance, whether that performance be subtle or more bold, that each character has their own life, and that the narrator’s pace is not too fast or too slow. There is a lot for the narrator to think about, so having a second set of ears can help to catch when things need to be adjusted. The biggest challenge though, is in interpreting and giving a voice to each character that genuinely echoes what is written on the page. And the most fun for me is in creating a voice for each character that complements and doesn’t distract from the story.
After reading the book I basically let him (Whyborne) live inside me for a while. Amazingly I personally related to him a lot. He is someone who is much stronger and braver than he might appear on the outside and he’s also very happy to stay within his small space because it feels manageable. It’s not so much about being safe, it may appear that way at first, but it isn’t. Whyborne is recovering from a tragedy that has plagued him for some years and he has kind of resigned himself to things not changing for the better, though he’s not a fatalist either. He just doesn’t see himself as exceptional, even though he is quite extraordinary. As the story progresses we begin to see how strong and brave and exceptional he really is and how love, and pain, are the things that reveal those characteristics. In creating Whyborne in the first person I trusted my own inner voice to guide me. So that the changes in his voice are subtle but consistent, from someone with not a lot of self confidence who is compelled to act because his conscience tells him he needs to do so. The other thing about Whyborne is he’s really quite witty and often what he is saying is not what he’s thinking. He’s complex and I love that.
I really, really loved your take on Theron Blackbyrne, the wicked resurrected sorcerer. My skin crawled listening to you read his lines—which it didn’t do when I was actually writing them! How do you decide the manner in which to portray a character, whether villain or hero?
Theron Blackbyrne is a delicious character because he’s ghoulish on one hand and yet exudes an erotic aura on the other. And there are clues in the writing that gave me ideas, like the fact he had some type of indiscernible accent. It was obviously very important to bring to life what was written on the page and that is, how can I make a moldering dead person into someone who is seductive and sexually attractive? It was a fun challenge and I’m thrilled you are happy with it!
Can you tell us a little about the recording process?
It’s a lengthy process, but I can’t really say too much about it because the actual recording is not what I do, but what the sound engineer does. For me, the first step is having read the book and as I’m doing that I make a list of the characters and the personality traits that stand out about each of them. On the days we’re recording I try not to start too early in the day, if at all possible, because my voice tends to be a little scratchy first thing. I also like to record on consistent days because it helps keep the integrity of the characters I created without having to go back and listen to what was recorded earlier. And there are obvious things like making sure the room you’re recording in is soundproof and absolutely quiet except for the sound of your voice.
What advice do you have for authors seeking narration for their books?
It’s a good idea to have some idea of what type of voice or voices you want for your book, but to be open to a voice you haven’t heard in your head before. Remember that you may find a narrator’s voice appealing that you have heard somewhere before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he or she is the best voice for your story. As I did with you, get a sample read from the narrator(s) to make sure you think they “get” your story. Once you have chosen your narrator, put your trust in that person and give them the freedom to create the characters as they see them.
Anything else you would like to add?
Just a big thank you to you, Jordan, for giving me the opportunity to narrate what I consider to be a very well-crafted tale of love and suspense!
Pimp yourself out and let us know where else we can find you on the internet, other projects, etc!
The biggest news would be my participation in a project produced by Kevin Spacey, “Shakespeare High,” which recently played on Showtime. I’ve also been busy doing some commercial acting work for Samsung Asia, Pepsi and AMP Australia.
My website is: www.juliangsimmons.com