Thursday 29 November 2018

Narrating audio books

One of the best ways to get a child really engaged in a story is to let them hear it read out loud. Even older, usually non-reader children can become engrossed in a story when it is shared with lots of expression and meaning.
When my own children were small we always made sure to take “stories for listening to” on long car journeys. My youngest in particular loved story tapes with a passion and one year asked Santa for his very own cassette player. It must have got hundreds, possibly thousands, of hours of use and was carted into school for show and tell numerous times. There was the phase when after reading him bedtime stories he still wasn’t ready for sleep until he’d listened to one side of Stories for Five year olds .
There can be something magically calming and soothing about stories read by a skilled narrator who can bring out humour, personalities of the characters or, of course, the excitement and conflict, with expert timing and tone. When a story is read well children appreciate language, develop concentration and listening skills and even discover stories that might be beyond their current reading ability.
For children with sight loss, audio books might be the only way they can discover stories independently. They can offer children with dyslexia a good way into books too. And they’re great for youngsters whose first language isn’t English.
I’ve often wondered what it’s like to be the narrator whose job it is to bring those stories so wonderfully to life.

So I’d like to introduce you to Sharon Hoyland who has been narrating books, including children’s books, for many years. I discovered Sharon and her wonderful narrating skills when looking for someone to narrate a cd for the children's groups who use our family business/project resources.  Sharon kindly agreed to let me “interview” her for ABBA. So here are the questions I asked and her informative answers:

 Me: First of all, how did you begin your career as a narrator and what was the first book you recorded?

Sharon: I deliberately looked for work that was quiet, dry and passive; as a contrast to my noisy, wet and active job as a swimming teacher!  My first audiobook was Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.

Me: When you receive a script and read it through, what things do you look for? How do you prepare a script for narrating?

Sharon: Firstly, I think, will I enjoy reading this? Secondly, can I convey the author’s meaning in a natural, tension-free way? In a nutshell, preparing a script focuses on understanding the overall ‘feel’/the target audience/any character analysis/being prepared to deliver different styles for your client to choose from. Plus useful markings on pauses, intonation and emphasis etc.

Me:  How long does a novel take to prepare, narrate and edit?

Sharon:  Ages! The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett was very long with over 80,000 words. Voiceover work is part time for me, so this book took nearly ten months. I’d practice reading out loud each chapter many times (after I’d got the character voices fixed), then record that chapter, begin editing and proofreading the following morning. Selecting the best takes, embedding any sound effects and adjusting sound levels takes time, but is very satisfying when it’s all done. It’s also quite usual to re-record the first few chapters, as you’re so much more relaxed by the end of the book that you can hear the difference in your voice.

Me:  How do you ensure you look after your voice?

Sharon: I sing with a choir so have a range of favourite warm-ups before recording and I try not to really shout or scream at all. Sips of water and small bites of apple are great for long sessions. Also timing meals is important with nothing too rich or heavy as mics are so powerful they’ll pick up everything!

Me:  Are you a book fan yourself and do you prefer reading physical books or listening to audio?

Sharon:  Love books. The feel, smell, touch of a real book can’t be beaten. Non-fiction and Fiction audiobooks are great whilst doing quiet uncomplicated tasks and I’m less tempted to read ahead. Often, well produced audio can be better than my imagination, is great for emergent readers and wonderful for anybody with sight problems.

Me: Any plans for the future?

Sharon:  I’ve now completed my final narration, ‘Edwin and the Climbing Boys’ – this children’s book is an exciting adventure, based on fact, and packed with hazards and humour. Written by my mother last year, it creates an intriguing insight into chimney sweeping in 18th century London. I currently enjoy working as a freelance audiobook editor and now produce for other narrators, with a profile on

Thank you so much, Sharon.

Follow these links to  a couple of Sharon Hoyland’s favourites, narrated and produced by herself, and then click "sample" to hear parts of the stories.

Our audio and cd Imagine! Eight nurturing, fun, interactive narratives. Calming relaxation for children with music was also narrated by Sharon Hoyland and is part of our Story Therapy® series of resources.

Hilary Hawkes


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Rowena House said...

What an insight! I'd not realised how much work went into narration for an audio book. My whole family are avid audio book listeners, with the discovery of new genres and authors shared on holidays & long road trips. Thank you for the interview & all that hard work!

Rebecca said...

Interesting. We're all fans of talking books (as we call them). My mother lost her sight two years ago and has a massive collection of narrated books. They're a lifeline to many and yes, can get kids not so keen on reading into books aswell.

Hilary Hawkes said...

My mother was the same, Rebecca. Having loved reading her whole life she regularly received books from a talking library after she started to lose her eye sight.

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Gosh... this was fascinating! I'm not sure any of us realised how long an audio book of 80,000 words takes to make. Although I did try once to put one of my son's setwork books on tape (so he could listen while he practised tennis!) "Please don't put any expression in Mum!" was his instruction. I can tell you I soon gave up because it took up so much time. Thank you for this really fascinating insight!

Hilary Hawkes said...

Thanks, Dianne. Yes, it's a real skill to get right isn't it? :)