Moreover, after the first round of audio auditions, I got to choose the narrators for Puck and Sean. I thought Sean, understated and repressed, would be the most difficult to cast, but out of the pool of voice talent, Steve West's voice jumped out immediately. I wanted it to be even, restrained and mature, something the reader could imagine calming water horses and embodying the island, and Steve's narration pulled all that off. Puck turned out to be more difficult. She's effusive but not bubbly, childlike but not childish, humorous but with great depth of feeling. It took three times as long to find Fiona Hardingham — someone who fit that bill and sounded good paired with Steve West's voice. Because most of all, I wanted the narrators to eventually become invisible, for the reader to forget they were listening and just be in the story.
So. Here they are to answer a few questions about audiobook narration, and at the end I've posted the sampler (that some of you have heard before) I put together so you can hear what their voices sound like in action.
MAGGIE: First of all, Steve, thank you for agreeing to answer a few questions for the blog. Before I do an interview, I always like to do a bit of research online about my subject. Imagine my excitement when I googled your name and discovered that there is a Steve West who is a world champion darts player. Not only is he a world champion darts player, but apparently he wins a lot. My first question was going to be: are you him — but then I saw a photo and you are very, very clearly not him. So my new question is do you at least play darts? if you don’t play darts, what do you do to kick back when you’re not voice acting?
STEVE: Did you also know there is a Steve West Reno radio vet? Yes, that was the first choice I got years ago when I tried stevewest.com.
I do not play darts often! But I did have a game last Feb in NYC and discovered I was not half bad at it after all these years (we played as kids).
As for 'kick back time' these days, well, I keep it quite simple. I guess half the reason I moved to LA was for the sunshine and outdoor lifestyle, so often when I'm not working, I enjoy the weather, being outdoors, having bbqs and sitting on my porch. I have a great view all the way to downtown LA so I have a sofa outside on the deck and love it — sitting there with a cup of tea (my Brit side coming through) and afternoon naps are the best! Santa Barbara is also a favourite of mine for an easy getaway visit as well as San Diego. And of course in contrast I also love my trips back to London for some time with the family, friends and a bit of city life.
MAGGIE: I’m now watching some commercials you did. Some of them are in German. Some of them are not. I particularly am enjoying this one involving you holding a drill in a Mischievous Way. As someone who does loads of acting — voice, film, commercial — is there one you find the most rewarding?
STEVE: Hmmm. I don't know, each has it's own particular stress, strain and joy. Movies and commercials and TV you can hang around a-lot. VO can be intense — especially narrating in the booth for hours. Of course some jobs we do for the love and some to pay the bills!
However I do love those actors that can do a play, then a movie, then a radio play, then narrate something, then back to the theatre and continue onto whatever else comes up. So, all in all I think I'm very much a variety is the spice of life type person. Nowadays the most important thing for me is doing things that interest me and give me a sense of accomplishment when all is said and done, which I have to say is what I love about audiobooks. When you reach that final page there's a real sense of having breathed life into something, and ultimately, bringing things to life is what being an actor is all about.
MAGGIE: I can’t help but notice a sense of humor in a lot of your projects. There are parts of The Scorpio Races, in fact, that you’ve rendered laugh-out-loud funny to me (they may or may not involve George Holly). Do you hunt for ways to incorporate humor, or is something that you have to tamp down?
STEVE: It is funny you should say that because I've often been perceived as the serious type, work wise anyway. Therefore I do love to get a chance to play around with things. Whether I actively hunt out the comedy I'm not sure but I'd definitely say if I perceive it on the page I can't resist bringing it out and that can be especially enjoyable in audiobooks where you get free rein to create a character's voice and delivery and timing from scratch.
MAGGIE: You know I have to ask: were there any parts of The Scorpio Races that you found more challenging or interesting than others? (this is where I recommend that if the answer is “no,” you make something up. I will never know.)
STEVE: The biggest challenge in Scorpio was having to consider another actor (and a female one at that)[Fiona Hardingham] and the characters she had created when telling parts of the story that involved those same characters but told from my side of the book. It was actually the first time I'd ever had to do that. Previously all the other books I've done have been solo works or else the little bits read by other people had no big impact on what I was doing. It was quite a challenge at first to listen to Fiona (she came in and recorded before me) and then incorporate what she had done - accent wise, tone, feel etc. into what I then had to do and especially as Fiona's voice is fairly high and mine pretty low! The main concern was that the listener would still understand who these characters were, whether it was I or Fiona performing them. Hopefully I got it right!
MAGGIE: And finally, please, tell me, because I can’t ever seem to pull it off. Do professional voice actors not make distracting spit noises when they narrate? Is it practice? Is it genetics? Is it editing? Because I’ve had to read several times now, and every time, it sounds as if I have just eaten a pudding cup. Tricks?
STEVE: It is part genetics, part behaviour and part editing. Some people just are noisier than others - I've heard this from editors! But these pointers should help, whether you are one of the noisier bunch or the not so noisy bunch!
1) Don't smoke (that really doesn't help)
2) take sips of water whenever you feel you might be getting a bit dry
3) use a lip balm
4) warm your mouth up before doing a read so you can enunciate easily (I use my old drama school speech class exercises).
And some people like hot lemon or certain other hot drinks and sweets that clear your airways etc. I like my English breakfast tea too much for that. And finally in the end, find a good editor — you'll be amazed what they can pull off when they put on those headphones and go to town.
MAGGIE: I am revoltingly pleased to have the talented and hilarious Fiona Hardingham on the blog to answer a few questions about herself and being the voice of Puck for The Scorpio Races. Thanks, Fiona, for taking the time!
So ordinarily I google my interviewees before I write the questions so that my questions look well-informed and clever, but my days of googling you are long past. We’ve actually met, haven’t we, in Portland, on a rainy day, over giant mugs of coffee. I did pre-coffee googling then and discovered that you are not only a voice actress, but also a comedian. Comedienne? I am particularly a fan of your Russian accent. http://vimeo.com/27021089.
Talk to me. First question: your work or someone else’s? Writing or acting?
FIONA: Both. Not one or the other. Acting and writing feed my passion equally. I feel honored when I get to perform work by a talented writer. When it's my own writing and I'm either seeing it come to fruition through someone else or performing it myself for example in my one woman comedy show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival it's a totally different feeling of course. Writing and performing an hour long show with just you on a stage and hundreds of people watching certainly adds an extra layer of pressure. One that I certainly do not shy away from. I am far more critical of my own writing/performing than of other artists' work. But there is something about writing jokes that I adore. That moment when the audience responds. The good, the bad, and the down right silent. It's fantastic when you get it right and I happily fight for that all the time when writing/performing comedy. But the tough times are fantastic learning curves.
MAGGIE: I know you liked The Scorpio Races (thanks for that!) - did you have a favorite part? Was there a part that was more challenging to read?
FIONA: My favorite part was from the beginning to the end. I simply adored the book. I am very proud to have voiced the role of Puck. Steve West did a stellar job playing Sean. The parts that were the most "challenging" were the emotional bits. I tend to get choked up pretty easily. My imagination gets ahead of itself. Even when I'm in a booth speaking into a microphone. I really get immersed in the story, for example when Gabe said he was leaving, as Puck I really felt hurt. If it I were reading the final chapter as Puck it may have taken a few takes.
MAGGIE :Describe a day in the life of a Fiona. What is it that Fiona Hardingham does with herself when she’s not doing strange voices into a microphone?
FIONA: To be honest, I am always doing strange voices whether there is a microphone or not. As well as a Voice Over Artist I am a professional Actress and Film Producer. When I am not on set or in the booth I am running around Los Angeles for Commercial, Film and Television auditions. As a Film Producer I am on my phone and in front of my computer, in constant contact with Writers, Directors, and other Producers. There is always something to do, something to read, and someone to talk to. But after all the work is put in nothing compares to the sense of accomplishment and achievement in a completed film. I love it.
MAGGIE: And I asked Steve, but I’ll ask you again. Every time I do any sort of voice work at all, I become aware that I have more spit than anyone in the human race. I’m a sort of human St. Bernard, with saliva dripping from my maw. I can tell it’s there, because I can hear it in the microphone. Is it an actor thing that professional voice actors don’t make these sounds? Genetic? Practice? Editing?
FIONA: Much like any of the arts, voice acting is a skill in which you train your instrument (in this case the voice/mouth) over time to behave as you need it to in your work. However, all voice artists make unwanted sounds at times, and that's what editing is for. Our wonderful editing team have the joy of getting rid of the odd gurgle or saliva overload. I wish me telling a story poured out of my mouth like honey but, it does not. You learn techniques that help your voice and decrease the chances of making unwanted sounds. For me, herbal tea does the trick. Certain foods I would avoid as well. Granola bars full of nuts and gooey, sticky oats really don't work in the mouth when you are trying to read a story . . . let alone a story that's being recorded. Believe me, I tried.