There is a niche market that enjoys having their books read to them. Meet Ms Michelle Babb, one such audiobook storyteller.
In an era where the war is between print and electronic books, there is a niche market that enjoys having stories read to them. I am one such person. To be honest, as a reader, I enjoy all platforms but print is still my favourite as nothing beats the smell and feel of books. With all that being said, you must be wondering, why audiobooks?
For me, it is simple. I drive to work and get stuck in traffic most days. As much as I would love to read a book, I love my driving licence as well so that is not feasible. If it is a book that I absolutely love, I would be so tempted to continue reading it. The best way would be to get someone to read it to me, in other words, audiobooks. For books I really love, I try to get all three versions of them. However, with audiobooks, it really boils down to the interpretations done by the narrator.
Some audiobooks I have listened to, despite the fact that the book itself was tough to put down, nearly put me to sleep. However, there are many whom I have chanced upon who engage their readers and made stories come alive. One such audiobook storyteller is Ms Michelle Babb.
I chanced upon Ms Babb when I was looking for an audiobook version of Ms Patricia Wood’s Cupidity. I enjoyed Ms Wood’s first book Lottery and when I found out that she had another book out, I wanted to get my hands on it as soon as I could. I enjoyed Ms Babb’s narration of the story and decided to contact her to let her know. I continued with a few more audiobooks narrated by Ms Babb and have not been disappointed with each different tale she has been a part of.
How does one become part of this niche world? I decided to interview Ms Babb to find out how she got into audiobook storytelling and why she is so passionate about it. She has done about 30 books to date and does not seem to be slowing down anytime soon.
Sadie-Jane Nunis (SJN): How did you get into narrating audiobooks?
Michelle Babb (MB): A few years ago I was considering a career change, and a co-worker mentioned that she was listening to an audiobook and that her interest was very dependent on the skill of the narrator, and just out of the blue she said: “You’d be good at that.” And I thought: “Yes, I would!”
I’ve always loved reading aloud, and particularly felt that reading fiction, and giving a voice to each character on the written page, would be really fun. And you know what? I was right!
I use a site called ACX.com, which is Audible production platform. Authors will post blurbs about their book, and a sample audition script, and from there I can click to Amazon.com, read reviews of the print book, check the author’s Web site, Twitter account, and decide what to audition for. It is very egalitarian, because a newbie like me can walk in (well, log-in) and start posting auditions,
which will be heard directly by the author (or rights holder).
SJN: What is your process?
MB: I narrate in a closet at my house. I have clothes hanging in the closet, a sleeping bag over the door, and the microphone cord runs under the door to my laptop, which is outside. I sit on a Swiss ball, because the chair I had squeaked too much, and I have a jumbo-sized cup of water, which I sip every paragraph or so.
It’s very glamorous, as you might imagine. I have the manuscript on a screen in front of me, so I can scroll silently. I learnt this through experience as I did my first six or eight books by printing out the entire script on paper—what a pain that was!
Then I edit the audio, which means taking out clicks and breaths, and sometimes cutting and re-dubbing a section because a particularly loud truck drove by while I was narrating. It takes about six hours to edit one hour of finished audio.
SJN: How closely do you work with the author to get the right voices?
MB: My first question to every author is: If your book is made into a movie, who will play each of these characters? I love it when an author has a ready answer for that. This is especially important for all the major characters at least because it is a sign of a well-written book. This definitely makes my job easier as well as more fun. Sometimes the author will name an actress I might not be familiar with but being the ever resourceful one, I will go to Youtube or Netflix to find it
Sometimes I could just get a vibe from the character and what his/her voice should be. In The Coma Monologues by Mr Mario Milosevic, I read the part of the centaur (an imaginary character who is profane, sarcastic, and quite full of himself) and I just thought of Mr Simon Cowell. I asked the author if he had any objection to a British accent. He said that was fine with him, and I think it worked well.
In the same book, the character of the crow is gossipy and fussy, and I asked if it would be acceptable to do an extremely prissy, stereotypical “gay-sounding” voice. That was a really fun book to record. Each chapter is a monologue of one character and given that many of them are imaginary, this makes the whole book kind of surreal, so I was chewing the scenery.
But the character of Melanie (the distraught wife of the character who is in a coma) had to be very real and believable. That was actually my own voice.
SJN: Can you comment on the difference in the experience, reading vs listening? Are audiobooks “cheating”?
MB: I hope that my listeners can relax and experience the characters. People may consider it less effort compared to flipping the pages of a book but honestly, I do not feel it is cheating. Don’t we all love being read to? Doesn’t it free us to experience the story, to “meet” that characters, rather than invent and embody them ourselves?
My job is to bring the characters to life. I read somewhere, when I was getting started, that when you listen to a good narrator, you should not be conscious of the narrating per sé. Instead, you should be caught up in loving, hating, or being fascinated (or all the above) with the character itself.
One of my greatest thrills is when someone I know (in real life) listens to one of my books and says: “I forgot it was YOU reading! I was so absorbed in the conflict between the characters.” Then I remind them that the characters were all me and that blows their mind again. This thrills me to bits each time.
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