The voice of Evelina – guest post with Angèle Masters
I can’t begin to describe how odd it is to hear someone else narrating YOUR story. There is a moment of excitement, territoriality, and extreme suspicion–and then if you are as lucky as I have been, all that quickly transforms into pure enjoyment. I have been extremely lucky to have Angèle Masters giving voice to my characters in the Audible version of The Baskerville Affair trilogy (if you haven’t DO go check these out–there are samples:
I’m even luckier that Angèle agreed to do an interview!
A long and weird journey, actually, and I like to say that I was destined for it from childhood. I was an avid reader as a child, (my mother had to institute a “No books at the meal table” rule), and I especially loved to read aloud, whether it was in class at school, to my siblings or, when lacking a human audience, to my stuffed animals, who were much better listeners than my younger brother and sister. After moving to America and leaving school, I ended up with a job in an audio bookstore. This was about 15 years ago, right around the time that Jim Dale started doing his amazing recordings of the Harry Potter books, and most audiobooks were Abridged versions, which you rarely see these days. The concept of audiobooks was still relatively new at that time – I mean, we still had a majority of books on cassette tape, not even CDs. I think if someone had mentioned the idea of a “digital download” at that point, my head might have exploded. Anyway, I digress. I remember looking at the backs of the cases, at the pictures and bios of the narrators, and wondering how in the hell I was going to get my name on one of those boxes. Fast forward to late 2010, and I decided to take a class on the art of narrating that my voiceover agent was teaching. At the end of the class, we talked a little about how to actually get involved in the work, and Jeffrey mentioned a newish production company here in Atlanta called ListenUp Audiobooks, owned by a guy named Chris Fogg. He gave me Chris’ phone number and e-mail address and told me to get in touch with him. I sent Chris a truly terrible demo that I had recorded on my phone during class one night, and I waited. And waited. This was at the beginning of 2011, and the industry was just on the brink of exploding in popularity, as in it hadn’t yet exploded and projects were scarce. At the time, however, I didn’t realize that part and assumed the worst – that my demo was, in fact, truly terrible, so terrible that it wasn’t even worth getting back to me to tell me how terrible it was. Then, a couple of months later, I got an e-mail telling me that they loved my voice, and would I come in and record a real demo. I said yes, of course, and it went from there. I recorded my first book in April of 2011, and by September of that year was working at ListenUp as the Casting Director, in addition to narrating as much as possible. I have since left my casting position, but continue to narrate for the company.
What are some of the other projects you’ve done?
So many books at this point!! And so many good ones! Some that stick out: The Collegia Magica series and the Bridge of D’Arnath series by Carol Berg; The Book of Night with Moon, and To Visit the Queen by Diane Duane; Silvermeadow by Barry Maitland; The Perfect Royal Mistress by Diane Haeger; The Dragon Chronicles series by Susan Fletcher; The Watchstar Trilogy by Pamela Sargent. I do most of my narrating in my native English accent, but occasionally I get the chance to stretch my vocal chords with an American author – I loved working on Edge of Dark Water by Joe R. Lansdale. And I was thrilled to put an Irish lilt to the character of Keira in Orca – Book Seven in the Vlad Taltos series by Steven Brust; the majority of that series is voiced by the talented Bernard Setaro Clark.
Tell us a little bit about what the experience of doing an audiobook is
like. How do you prepare?
Well, audiobooks are kind of like the marathons of the voiceover world. Physically, they require a great deal of stamina in both the voice and the body, so plenty of sleep the night before a session and plenty of warm water to drink during the session. As for the words themselves, I like to do some prep in terms of familiarizing myself with the characters and any possible accent choices that need to be made or foreign languages that I need to wrap my mouth around, but I will confess that a big part of me really hates losing the element of surprise that comes from prepwork. I don’t mean the “Holy crap, I just read this whole character in an Irish accent and now, here on page 328, it says that she’s French!!” sort of surprise, because that’s REALLY not fun, but the kind of surprise that you get when you’re actually listening to the book or reading it on the page, the kind of surprise where you stop and say “Holy crap, I can’t BELIEVE the author just did that! What the what??” – sometimes, prepping seems like a giant spoiler alert! One great thing that seems to happening more lately is getting to speak with the author BEFORE going into the studio. It’s nice to get some insight into character choices, accents, pronunciations and that sort of thing before I start recording, and it certainly eliminates the anxiety of wondering whether or not the author is going to hate what I’ve done with his or her carefully crafted story. I know that my heart was in my mouth when I got YOUR e-mail, Emma Jane 🙂
What are the challenges?
First, the physical stamina required. The voice can only take so much of a workout before it forces you to stop. I used to do 8- or 9-hour sessions at a time, but I’ve cut myself back to 6 hours a day. Actually, while working on the Baskerville Affair, I got really sick and lost my voice for a few days. When I got it back and got back into the studio, I pushed myself a little too hard and ended up losing it again after only one day! I learned to be better about taking care of myself, especially when reminded that permanent damage to my vocal chords would put me out of a job. There’s also the physical strain of sitting in a small booth for hours at a time; I do a lot of yoga to counteract that cramped-up feeling in my back and legs 🙂
Second, the artistic stamina. It’s tough to create voices for so many different characters and keep them interesting and authentic, especially as a woman doing male voices. You never want the listener to be confused as to which character is speaking at any given time, nor do you want to devolve into the realm of caricature or any kind of cartoonishness – not to mention making sure that each character’s voice stays consistent throughout the story! It’s definitely a team effort with your engineer to make sure that you’re staying true to the life that you’ve given each person. I’d be lost without our amazing crew of engineers at ListenUp.
How long does it take?
Recording time varies from narrator to narrator. I have a very good ratio in the booth because I don’t make many mistakes, which means that I, generally, spend an hour and 15 minutes to an hour and a half in the booth for every hour of finished audio. If a project has lots of foreign words or phrases, it can take longer because I’m very particular about getting my pronunciation perfect. Luckily, I have a good ear for languages and accents. (God, do I sound awfully stuck on myself??) I’ve also been known to decide halfway through a book that I’m unhappy with a character choice and insist on going back and fixing every piece of that character’s dialogue in previous chapters, but I try not to make that a habit!
What is your favourite part of the process?
I love the craft of storytelling; I love feeling the words coming to life in a recording session. Honestly though, my favorite part has to be saying the very first and very last lines of a book. That first line will set you up for the rest of the recording, and I think there’s a particular art to being able to make those last few words come out just so and neatly wrap up the story into a perfect package. And, of course, there’s a huge sense of accomplishment with that last line, especially on a particularly lengthy story. The Baskerville Affair, for example, was a huge project. We spent almost a week on the record for each book, and all of those characters felt like old friends by the time we finished. My engineer, Mallah Corbett, and I were both a little sad after I said the last line of A Study in Ashes. There’s definitely a sense of stepping back into the real world that can be sort of surreal.
How does it compare to other kinds of acting?
Oh, vastly different from anything else I’ve ever done. When I was still casting, I used to tell new narrators that this kindof work would go against a lot of their natural instincts as actors. Usually, we only get to tell the story from one point of view. Film and television work, especially, is very disjointed and can feel very disconnected from an actor standpoint; depending on the project, you may not even have any idea of the rest of the story outside of the scenes that your character is in. Theatre is more connected by virtue of it being live, but again you’re only getting to tell one side of a story. Other voiceover work generally involves a much shorter amount of time in the studio, even if it’s animation for a film or television series. Audiobooks will involve you in a very different way, simply because you have the feelings of an entire world of people running through you all at the same time. It’s intense and completely immersive. At least, it is for me.
What are you working on next?
In my audiobook life? At the moment, I’m working on two books in a series by Liz Carlyle – The Bride Wore Scarlet, and The Bride Wore Pearls – set in mid-1800’s London. After that, I can only hope for a reunion with Evelina Cooper. Please.
What would you say to someone who has never tried audiobooks?
That’s a tough one, because I certainly understand the resistance to hearing someone else’s idea of what things should sound like. I’ve always been completely transported by books, totally moved into a world where I have definite ideas of what people should sound like and the tone and inflection of any given sentence. If you’re a first-time listener of audiobooks, definitely don’t seek out a recording of your favorite book, or even your top 10 favorite books. It’s just like watching the movie adaptation of a book that you love – no matter how good the performances or how beautiful the costumes and locations, it’s never going to be exactly how you pictured it when you read the words for yourself. Oh, and make sure that you listen to the voice samples before you download!! Even if you love the description of a book, the narrator’s voice will completely affect how you feel about the story. Reading listener reviews can be helpful, but it’s completely subjective, and how a narrator sounds to one person may not be how they sound to someone else.
Angèle Masters is an actress, voiceover artist and soon-to-be Biology major based in Atlanta, Georgia. She hails, originally, from England, which is why she narrates so many books in an English accent, but she’s been here in the US for almost 25 years, which is why she also does a few in a totally fake American accent 🙂 In addition to reading books in her outside voice, she’s also quite fond of reading them with only the voices in her head. In her spare time, she likes to travel the world in search of adventure, but she can generally be found in her kitchen either baking, performing cooking experiments or doing weird things like making her own butter and vanilla extract. If she’s not there, check the garden. In fact, if the kitchen could be in the garden, life would be pretty perfect. Currently, she shares her life with her talented tattoo artist husband of 8 years, her almost-18-year-old stepdaughter, 2 dogs, 2 cats, 2 hives of honeybees, and will be welcoming 6 chickens to the family in the very near future.