I spent a few days this summer doing something I have never done before.  It was great fun and a lot of REALLY hard work.  I recorded an audiobook. 

It all started a few months ago, when my agent emailed to say that she was pleased to tell me she had sold the audiobook rights to ‘His Last Duchess’  – to a company called Oakhill Publishing;  Oakhill produce audiobooks largely for libraries.  Little, Brown was, she said, also planning to release the book as an Amazon Audible Download.

 I immediately emailed back to say, ‘Hurrah!  And can I do the recording myself please?’  My lovely agent said I could of course ask Little, Brown what they thought of this idea, but that it was unlikely, as authors don’t normally read their own work on recorded audiobook tracks.  I think she was trying to let me down gently.  But, being a determined sort, (and horribly possessive about my books), I emailed Little Brown and asked them.  ‘Well,’ came the reply, ‘we don’t normally tend to have authors read their own books, but you can do a demo if you like, and we’ll send it on to Oakhill.’

So I spent this year’s parental birthday money on two hours in a local recording studio, and laid down (I think that’s the term) twenty minutes or so’s worth of extracts – scenes with lots of characters, and heightened emotions etc so that the company could get an idea of what I can do.

Sarah, the audiobook person at Little, Brown, liked my demo and sent it on to Oakhill.  And then Oakhill said yes.  I was so chuffed, I can’t tell you!

So, now picture me on my way up to the company’s studio in Chiswick, which in fact turns out to be a room in Douglas the producer’s very pretty terraced house.   Douglas is friendly and welcoming, and he makes me feel much more confident than I thought I would be.  He shows me into where we will be doing the recording.  Imagine a smallish room, in one corner of which has been built a little cubicle, about five feet square and seven feet tall.  A slightly larger telephone box – that sort of size.  It is completely lined, walls and ceiling, in the sort of bobbly egg-box-type foam rubber that lines posh aluminium computer cases, and it has in it a small table, a chair, an anglepoise lamp, the (rather scary-looking) microphone – and a cushion.  There is one small window, looking out into the rest of the room.  It’s like a cross between a sauna and a padded cell.

We do the level-checks:   I read little extracts and Doug listens and fiddles with the settings on his computer, asking me to re-read bits and pieces from time to time.

And then I start reading for real.  It takes a couple of pages to settle down to it, and to stop stumbling, but it gets easier as the day progresses – and I’m astonished to find that at the end of day one, we have completed A THIRD of the book!  More than a hundred and thirty pages.

That evening, my throat feels very strange – not sore, like it can be with a cold or tonsillitis or something, but more as though it has been quilted.  It feels fat and hot and padded and as if it has shrunk in the wash and is now a couple of sizes too small for me.  I suck spoonfuls of Manuka Honey, drink lots of water (and a couple of glasses of wine …) and avoid speaking.  I just do a lot of nodding and ‘mmm-ing’. 

It doesn’t feel too bad in the morning, so, crossing my fingers, back I go to Chiswick, and we start again, on the next third of the book.

Douglas makes me re-do a number of sentences over the three days it takes us to complete the book – not all because I fall over my words, but a fair few because my tummy keeps rumbling and the microphone picks it up!  I squash the cushion over it in an attempt at smothering the noise.   I have to smother my embarrassment, too, in a couple of places, too, when reading the steamier scenes – luckily I can’t see Doug from where I’m reading, because, believe me, it’s a trifle embarrassing to stumble over a sentence and have him say cheerfully, ‘mmm … OK, shall we just pick it up again after ‘buttocks’…  .    

I quaff my way through mug after mug of warm water with yet more Manuka Honey and lemon juice in it, which seems to be an effective way of placating my still-protesting throat:  the poor thing has never had to do anything like repeated seven-hour reading stints before. 

But in the event, thanks to Doug’s skills, my determination and a fair bit of luck, we manage to complete the whole book in three days, and I am so into the whole process by that point that I’d willingly have started on the next novel straight away!

The audiobook of ‘His Last Duchess’ is being released as a physical audiobook for libraries by Oakhill on 15th October, and as an Amazon Audible Audiobook on 22nd October.


  • By D.J. Kirkby, October 14, 2012 @ 4:03 pm

    This was a very interesting post. I am looking forward to listening to you read His Last Duchess and knowing how wonderful you are at performing I think Oakhill made a very sensible choice!

  • By Joanna (Lazuli Portals Trilogy), November 9, 2012 @ 1:19 pm

    Congrats for rising to the challenge, Gabrielle – I’ve read our short stories at Writers’ Circle, but I’m certain I could never read the novels aloud. Well done!! That’s a huge achievement. :)

    My husband is in fits of laughter after I read out your “buttocks” line. Thanks for the grins. :)

  • By Yasmin Selena Butt, November 9, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

    I honestly found that fascinating reading! I am so glad you blogged about the experience. I guess I’d better stock up on Manuka honey. As a teen I loved singing and was always losing my voice. Singing Kate Bush songs was always my undoing lol.

    Gabrielle, like you, I’d find it really hard to let anyone speak in the voice of the characters I’ve heard in my head. Good luck with the audio!

  • By Gaby, November 9, 2012 @ 5:02 pm

    Ha ha – glad I amused your husband, Joanna!

  • By Gaby, November 9, 2012 @ 5:03 pm

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Yasmin! Kate Bush’s songs are pitched so high, aren’t they? Not surprised you lost your voice!

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