The Sound Of A Story

A dusting of snow fell here (just north of London) on Tuesday night. Yesterday morning, I was sitting at my desk and decided to include a view (taken a couple of winters ago that is my iPad lock screen wallpaper) from our place in the Catskills as part of a photo glimpsing out from my home office window here. You may have noticed it on Instagram:

[Looking out on a snowy, Hertfordshire, England, morning. Photo by me, 2019.]

Before I snapped the photo, I had also been thinking about this. I have been asked several times recently about audio books (including by a distant cousin), and a good general rule to try to live by in any business is if a few people ask, many more out there who you never hear from probably want the same thing. I had thought: Ugh, it is always what you DON’T have which someone wants.

To sum up where matters stand in the non-paperback realm. My first three novels are available on Kindle and on various other e-readers. (Those others are found under the book’s details reached by clicking its book cover in the sidebar.) Conventions: The Garden At Paris remains a Kindle-exclusive; for Amazon “KDP Select” reasons it may not appear as an e-book elsewhere. (But I may withdraw it from that and like my first three it may be on other e-book platforms at some point in the near future, probably after Tomorrow The Grace is released.)

Now it appears as authors we have to begin to take into account audio books (audiobooks?) as well. (I’m so new to this concept I don’t even know how it is properly spelled.) Amazon has its Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACX) service, which helps authors produce them (such as finding a producer and a narrator); but Amazon is hardly alone in that, of course. As you see below, yesterday I also came across Findaway Voices, which appears to be Apple’s audiobook service:

[Screen shot of Findaway Voices homepage.]

Clearly audiobooks are becoming a big deal. But it is not a bandwagon I feel comfortable jumping on just yet. I am unsure I want to beset you with MY VOICE for an entire novel; nor am I – at least not currently – enthusiastic about employing an outside reader or readers.

I have written here before that I don’t consider audio books (sorry, audiobooks) to be “books.” They are not reading. To me, they are much more like listening to old-fashioned radio plays.

Yet I’m increasingly intrigued by the idea of offering an audiobook for perhaps one title – likely Passports or Conventions.

Usually as I write, I read conversations aloud to try to ascertain if they sound like genuine talk. Knowing also what keeps my own attention as a reader, in writing I try for an overall narrative flow that gently directs a reader forward and in doing so subtly encourages them to stay with the story. Overall my aim for any book I write is for a reader abruptly perhaps to shake their head at a chapter end and think, “Wow, I read that much already? I didn’t even realize it.”

[Excerpt from Passports: Atlantic Lives, 1994-1995, on Kindle for iPhone/iPad. Click to expand.]

But, like film/TV, I feel an audiobook does somewhat undermine imagination. In actually reading a novel, readers “hear” its characters speaking inside of their own readers’ minds. A narrator unintentionally must leave an audio imprint on the characters’ identities in ways that I suspect I (and many another author) did not intend when those characters were invented.

Then again, if an audiobook also opens up what I do to a wider audience that has its obvious benefits too.

We tend in our 21st century to consider reading a silent and private endeavor. Yet for most of history reading was far more social than it is today. Before radios began appearing in family rooms in the 1920s and entertainment began to be “piped” into our homes from outside, authors had written their books assuming they would probably also be read aloud:

[From Pride and Prejudice (1813), by Jane Austen. Photo by me, 2019.]

Some of that punctuation may seem awkward and “Austen-era” as we read it silently. But try this experiment: read those Pride and Prejudice paragraphs aloud. (Naturally only do so if you are alone and not sitting, say, on a train or on a bus, or in your maths class!😂) Those pauses are actually helpful, and therefore much less “clumsy,” when we have to wrap our tongues around the text.

Naturally, most of us don’t do this any longer. Maybe we should now and then? Unable then to sit and passively watch BBC1, HBO, a DVD, or Netflix, or scroll Instagram as we are apt to do, it was the norm (at least in families wealthy enough to own books) in the 1700s and 1800s that for after-dinner home entertainment Mother or Father, or a daughter such as a young Jane Austen, would read from a novel aloud to the family gathered around in the sitting room.

Is an audiobook narrator perhaps to be “heard” as a 21st century version of Mother, Father, or your precocious, literary-oriented sister?

I see other bloggers do this. I don’t often ask questions at the end of a post, but I want to here. If you have an opinion I’d love to hear read any thoughts below that you may have on this subject: Do you have and like “audiobooks”? 🙂


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