Writers often talk about hearing their characters’ voices in their heads, but last week I heard Ciaran Bain’s voice in my ears, through headphones, along with his scary uncle Malcolm… because I spent a day in a recording studio, watching (and listening) as the RNIB in Glasgow started the process of making an audio book of Mind Blind.
As part of the Adapt-ability Audiobook project, run by Publishing Scotland and partly funded by Skills Development Scotland, Mind Blind was chosen to be made into a talking book by the experts at the RNIB studios in Glasgow, and part of the project was that the writer and editor were allowed to watch while the audio book was recorded.
And it was a fascinating experience. I was in awe of the skill of Kris Wallace, the producer, and Cameron Mowat, the actor narrating the story. It was also very weird to hear words that I’d written being read, so seriously and dramatically.
It didn’t sound exactly the way I expected. There are scenes – the kidnap scene, the first time Ciaran and Lucy meet – which I read out to classes and book festival audiences quite regularly, and I read them in a rhythm that has become familiar to my ears. So hearing Cameron read those scenes in another way was both weird and refreshing.
And Cameron added something new to each of the scenes and chapters. He often added a drama or a darkness or an emotion or a danger that I wasn’t even aware I’d written! Listening to him read the scene where one of the characters dies was incredible – I actually felt scared hearing my own words. And the first time I heard Cameron’s deeper growlier Glasgow gangster voice for Uncle Malcolm was quite a shock.
In a strange way, hearing someone use their training, skills and talents to tell my story, was like writing picture books (though there are fewer fights in my picture books.) One of the greatest privileges of writing picture books is sending my words away, then seeing the illustrator’s pictures come back. A picture book is not just words with a few pictures stuck on the page to make it pretty. In a picture book the pictures tell the story, the pictures add another layer of creativity, another artist’s view of the story. And watching Kris and listening to Cameron, I realised that their skill and experience, and their interpretation of Mind Blind, was using the sound of the spoken word to add another layer to the story. Just like pictures in a picture book.
But listening to Cameron read my words, and stop and start and test out different stresses and emphases, and watching Kris rewind and rerecord again and again, I realised that I don’t always think about whether what I write can be read out loud easily.
the scarily talented (and scary, when the story requires it…) Cameron Mowat
I frequently read my books out loud as I’m editing them, but mainly to look for clunky phrasing, clichés and repeated words, not to see if it’s possible to read that whole sentence in one breath without tripping over those clashing words.
So as Cameron was reading, I kept saying: “Sorry, I should have cut that sentence in two,” or “Oops, I should have put a few more commas in there,” or “My fault! I should have used italics to make the emphasis clearer… “
I do consider the ‘read-out-loud-ability’ of picture books (because I’m imagining an adult with a child on their knee, reading and rereading and rereading, and I want to make that repetition as fun and easy as possible) but I don’t think the same way about the text of a teen novel (because I’m mostly imagining it being read in messy bedrooms, inside someone’s head…) So I did find myself apologising occasionally for ridiculously long stream of consciousness sentences with no obvious opportunity for a reader to take a break or breath. (But even so, if that’s how the characters need to talk and how the story needs to be told, that’s how I’ll write it next time as well. Though I might consider more commas and fewer inadvertent tongue twisters!)
Apparently the Mind Blind audio book is going to be unusual, because it will be narrated by two people. I wrote the book with chapters from Ciaran’s point of view and in his voice, but also with chapters from Lucy’s point of view and in her voice, so half the audio book will be narrated by Kirsty Eila McIntyre. I wasn’t able to listen to her days in the studio, unfortunately, but I am very keen to hear what she’s added to Lucy!
One final thing that has come out of being in the studio last week – I heard a throwaway comment that the producer made to the actor about one of the minor characters and how that character’s voice should sound, which made me think “aha!” because it confirmed the potential of a direction I’d been considering for a sequel. (Along the lines of ‘oh, if you like that character, it’s probably time I did something horrible to them….’ )
And I’m now absolutely sure that when I’m getting closer to writing the sequel, Cameron and Kirsty’s voices will be the ones I hear in my head!
(You’ll be able to hear them soon too – I’m not sure when the audio book comes out, but I’m sure I’ll mention it when it does. And thanks so much to Publishing Scotland, Skills Development Scotland and the RNIB for this brilliant project!)