September 04th, 2020
NARRATING THE PURPLE THREAD by MATTHEW SYKES
When I first got started with The Purple Thread, my primary concern was getting a recording sound that matched with Audible’s specifications. There are certain restrictions around room noise, recording level and several others in technical jargon I still barely understand. A tricky prospect, but after research and building myself a booth in a cupboard surrounded by thick blankets, I was ready. As I read through the book, I was struck by the range of characters and the amount of words I had never seen before. A host of Christian terms as well as the names of people and places from the eighth century. John was a marvellous help, responding to my pleas for assistance with pronunciation tips and feedback.
The quantity of work before was more than a little overwhelming, especially after I had edited the first couple of chapters and realised the amount of time that goes into tidying up audio and pacing the narration. My confidence grew after I had finished a few chapters, with John approving each one, but eleven and a half hours of recorded audio is quite the marathon. Pacing myself became almost as important as recording and reading ahead. I found hours disappearing as I edited, sometimes only removing the smallest little mouth sounds. So, I decided to map the process out, chapter by chapter, giving myself regular breaks and spending more time rerecording rather than endlessly editing small clips of audio unnecessarily.
Recording is the best part of narrating an audiobook. It is a time to play around and a time to enjoy the story as well. Finding a good quiet space can be difficult, especially in a city. Planes and trains were a persistent bother, often causing me to have to rerecord long sections. On top of that listening to your own voice takes a while to get used to. Despite that, recording was where I felt the characters come to life and the story breathe. Editing takes patience and time. It took me a while to realise its limits. You cannot fix some things and its important in a project of this scale to not get caught in tiny battles. Still, as the chapters progressed, I felt that the quality of my work did the same and my confidence grew, spurred on by John’s kind encouragement and assistance. I would not want to work on a book without the author’s support, it made the whole project some much better
From the first words, Begiloc swiftly became my keystone for this book. I chose a broad west-country accent to mark him out as a man from Dumnonia and became so used to it that it began to slip into conversations. Meryn, his friend, came easily but it took me some time to come up with an idea of how to conjure up the large saxon, Caena. As someone who loves accents, I wanted to try to show the path of the story in the ways that people spoke. We can never know what the Franks, the Lombards or the Saxons sounded like, so I endeavoured to use regional accents of today, careful to stray away from parody. This became particularly difficult with some of the middle eastern accents, and it took me some time to be comfortable with them. As a man, the female characters were also a challenge but again I wanted to avoid caricatures. After listening to my first attempt at Abbess Cuniburg and realising she sounded like something out of Blackadder, I tried softening my voice and raising the pitch a little. After that I found that she, Leoba and Aedre all came more swiftly to life.
Some parts of the book took me a little off guard. A rather intimate section, the solemn and harsh attitudes of the powerful figures in the story and a heavy religious emphasis took me some time to get to grips with. Not being a religious man myself, I struggled to put myself in their shoes, feeling sorry for those who were treated badly by those of the church. I found Boniface and Leoba’s fervour uncomfortable at first, and at first, I almost laughed at myself speaking such grand words into my microphone in my little cupboard. With time and more understanding of the characters and the overall story, I found myself settling into their shoes and relishing moments with them.
I imagine I would still be working on the Purple Thread audiobook now if I could, wanting every second of it to be perfect. On this side of it, there is plenty I would still like to improve, but I find that is the case for any creative endeavour. I learned a lot throughout the process and working with John was a real pleasure. It was certainly a marathon, but I am proud of it all and I hope you will enjoy listening to it. It’s a great book and I hope that I have managed to do it justice.
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