I go through hell for the art. Tolstoy or Henry James could learn a thing or two | Audiobooks


MI have a headache, I have a sore throat, I have a sore back. I cannot think, read or speak. I recorded my audiobook, you see. It was murder. If it’s as painful to listen to as it is to record, I’ll send refunds.

People who do these things well deserve the highest praise. Baftas should be awarded. I particularly venerate Michael Jayston for his work in reading Le Carré. I could listen to Jayston – who was in the seminal TV adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy alongside Sir Alec Guinness – read anything from Le Carré. In fact, I’d happily listen to Michael Jayston read anything: iTunes terms and conditions, last year’s race results, my detailed phone bill – he’s so good.

His reading of Tinker Tailor, for example, lasts almost 13 hours. It’s up to him, like almost all audiobook narrators, to do every voice, every accent, and obviously deliver the author’s voice. It amounts to what is essentially a very long solo piece. Jayston could deliver a performance for the ages as King Lear in Stratford and couldn’t impress me more than he does with his audiobook recordings. And that’s how I felt before I had to record one myself. Now I’m even more impressed.

I thought reading my own words would make it easier, but it didn’t. My book is about alcohol – part memory, part self-help. Every time I re-read something I’ve written, I think I could have written it better. You may well feel the same about my work; Don’t worry, I share your pain. Having to read your words out loud takes this to a new level, putting your prose to the toughest and most unforgiving test. Every writer should make it his business. Maybe they do? I can think of a few who could have learned a thing or two.

If Henry James had to make an audiobook of The Golden Bowl, I can’t believe he wouldn’t have gone back and cut a few of those endless sentences a bit. And I imagine old Leo Tolstoy losing his mind as he read War and Peace aloud by candlelight, stopping every now and then to toss the odd chapter on the fire, giving that classic doorstop a topping. well deserved.

As for me, assisted by a brilliant producer and a formidable listener, Chris Barstow, I got off to a pretty good start. His instructions were wonderful – he suggested leaning a little more to this word or that. And he was always right. But the longer it lasted, the more confused I became, and his soothing interjections became denser and faster. “Let’s try that one again, shall we, Adrian?” “Little stuffed animal there, Adrian.” Or a simple request like, “Do you mean ‘could’ here, Adrian?” It says “would” on the page. ” Etc.

He didn’t miss anything. Sometimes I thought I had run away with a bit of suboptimal emphasis, but no, within a second or two he was on top of me. The whole thing sounded like a very long version of Just a Minute, with my producer as Paul Merton, nitpicking from the other side of the glass, buzzing with every hesitation, repetition or deviation.

After five hours of this, I couldn’t take it anymore. Every word, sentence and paragraph had become a mountain to climb. Also, it was very uncomfortable to sit cross-legged as I constantly needed to go to the bathroom. My consumption of tea and water to lubricate my throat had been prodigious. We requested a stopover for the day.

On the bus home, I was completely unable to read, speak or even think. But, my God, I’ve never felt so hydrated. My skin is glowing – glowing, I tell you.

Adrian Chiles is a broadcaster, writer and columnist for The Guardian


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