Reading the voice

15 Jul

Zoe CharpZoë Sharp is the author of the highly acclaimed crime thriller series featuring her ex-Special Forces turned bodyguard heroine, Charlie Fox.

I’ve always loved radio dramas. The dashing strains of ‘Coronation Scot’ by Vivian Ellis heralding another thrilling adventure for the debonair Paul Temple and his wife Steve. Audiobooks were a natural progression for me. Long car journeys pass so much more pleasurably when I have a friendly voice reading to me along the way—not to mention keeping me awake behind the wheel!

As a writer, I find audiobooks fascinating. One of the best pieces of advice I ever received—and one I always pass on—was to read my own work out loud during the editing process. Nothing else shows up awkward construction, clunky sentences, or passages of description just that bit too long, quite like hearing the written word spoken.

Better still is to get someone else to read my work back to me. After all, as the author I know where the pauses and the emphasis should go. I write with a certain rhythm in my head and I try to put the words on the page in such a way that people are coaxed into that same rhythm when they read.

For me, that rhythm is what creates a writer’s unique voice—that instant bond with the reader. When I pick up a book by a new-to-me author, I know by the time I’m halfway down the first page whether I’m going to enjoy reading that author’s work. Something about that first sentence, the shape of the pauses, the way the words roll me into the story. Because for me it’s all down to the writer’s voice.

So, every time I receive a copy of one of my new audiobook recordings I listen to it all the way through, just once. There’s no vanity involved in this. Indeed, most writers will tell you hearing their own work is a form of torture. But it allows me to see if my voice still comes through. And, of course, at the same time I get to hear the wonderful interpretations that the narrator—in my case the talented Claire Corbett—have brought to the story.

Zoë Sharp

Browse Zoë’s audiobooks

The story of Famous Fiction

11 Jul

The second instalment of our Famous Fiction is about to hit the shelves and we have some real goodies in store for you!

Famous Fiction

I have to confess that working on this series has been anything but a chore.  Finding fantastic readers to tackle these brilliant abridged children’s classics is one of the most fun aspects of creating an audiobook: matching the perfect voice to a particular story.

The process always starts with the story or book and working out who is telling the story.  Is the person whose story it is female or male?  Of course there isn’t always a first person narrator and in those cases other things need to be taken into consideration.  What is the story about?  What kind of listener is going to be interested in it?  Usually those questions will tease out an idea of whether the story is best suited to a male or female voice.

The next big question is what type of voice should tell the story.  Some stories need the voice of a young person, while others might need something with a particularly creepy tone of voice, or maybe it needs a narrator with a special accent.  Once all these elements have been identified, then comes the exciting part of creating a wish-list of people to approach and the nerve-wracking part of waiting to hear if they can record the book.  Luckily, with this Famous Fiction range, we didn’t have to wait long to hear from those we approached.

The first voice-to-story ‘marriage’ in this Famous Fiction series was that of Dominic Cooper reading Oliver Twist.  I’d seen Dominic on stage when he was in The History Boys, as well as his more recent performances in The Duchess and Tamara Drewe.  He is fantastic at getting under the skin of the characters he portrays and when I found out he was a Londoner by birth I knew he would be perfect for this urban classic.  I knew he would have some fun in portraying not only Oliver, but also Fagin and his gang.

I was thrilled when Gemma Arterton agreed to read both Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass.  Not only is she a hugely talented actress with great range, but she has captured the precociousness of Alice perfectly as she finds herself surrounded by the most dazzling array of characters.

Well-known for her recent role in Downton Abbey, Elizabeth McGovern was the perfect choice for Little Women.  Her accent works superbly with the North American setting of this story about the March sisters and their domestic adventures as they try to overcome poverty and find friendship and love along the way.

When it came to The Jungle Book, I knew we needed someone who could capture not only the excitement of the story, but also all the light-heartedness of the different animals who appear in the story.  Who better to take this on but impressionist, comedian and actor, Alistair McGowan.  His recording of The Jungle Book brings Rudyard Kipling’s world to life in the most entertaining way.

I hope you enjoyed listening to them as much as we enjoyed recording them!

Alex Arlango, Commissioning Editor

The Brig Society

8 Jul

The Brig Society

As Lord Kitchener famously said, ‘You’re sure this big moustache won’t make me look silly on the poster?’ That, and ‘You. Your country needs you.’  Indeed it does, and in that spirit you can now volunteer to be part of The Brig Society. The first three participants win a hospital (2nd place has to run RBS).

We were asked to step up, volunteer and do more to get the country through these testing times. So I did my bit. If the government want more from us then more is what they will get. If we enjoy it we may decide to take over the whole thing. In the meantime I have taken on 6 voluntary positions allocated to me by Maureen from Volunteer Services down at the local library. I am running a prison, becoming a food czar, being a fashion icon (obviously), opening a hospital, taking over a rail network and I’ve agreed to be the king of Scotland (I’m sure they’ll be thrilled).

A little over 10 years ago I became the ‘Ranter In Chief’ on The Now Show for BBC Radio 4. It’s been fun – for me. Maybe less so for those who have been the subject of my ire. BT Broadband had a tough old time of it. David Blaine left the UK in tears. The three Abrahamic faiths – Judaism, Islam and Christianity – took a fearsome mauling and the Climate Change / Science Dodgers have been slapped around the ring more than once. Not to mention the politicians who so often present themselves for a pasting. The Now Show opened the cage and I leapt forth snarling and cross, but this year I have been allowed to go further and explore why it is that so many of the things I’ve rammed my head against over the years are so difficult to manage. Could it be that running things, taking responsibility and daring to get involved is harder than it looks?

In these recordings I am trying to explore why this stuff is so very difficult to get right and the results are surprising. Funny, outrageous and infuriating but always surprising. I had alongside me some of the best radio writing talent there is, an astonishingly brilliant producer (who I’ve made 5 series of ‘Giles Wemmbley Hogg Goes Off…’ with) and the perfect cast – Margaret Cabourn-Smith, William Andrews and Rufus Jones. If their voices are not ones you recognize then we’ve won. We asked them to come and play precisely because they can go anywhere and do anything with their voices and the recordings were hilarious. What you can hear is just a fraction of what we would have liked to broadcast.

I really hope you enjoy these recordings. I am dead proud of this stuff. It’s been a massive undertaking to create my own show. Anyone who saw one of the 100 or more Brig Society tour dates I did in preparation for this will already know that the material is very funny and the ire is delivered with passion and verve but in these shows we’ve been able to do brilliant sketches alongside my stand-up. Comedy doesn’t always lend itself to nuance and complexity but that’s what I’ve tried to bring to The Brig Society. Enjoy…

Marcus Brigstocke

Buy The Brig Society from AudioGO.

Second Episode Syndrome

5 Jul

Eddie RobsonEddie Robson has written for sketch shows including That Mitchell And Webb Sound, Small Scenes and Look Away Now, and several episodes of Doctor Who for Radio 4 Extra. He has also written comics, short stories and books including Film Noir and The Art Of Sean Phillips.

There’s an old cliché about pop music that says you get ten years to write your first album and ten months to write your second, or something like that. That’s how I felt about Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully, my sitcom about a small Buckinghamshire village being invaded by aliens.

I first pitched the show in February 2010, at a meeting with my producer Ed Morrish in the café at the BBC’s Henry Wood House. (By the time we recorded the first series, the BBC Radio Comedy department had moved offices twice.) I hadn’t had a sitcom commissioned before. I had a document outlining the concept and the characters and the series. Ed zoned in on a particular scene and asked me to write it. In this scene, the main character, Katrina, is getting a lift away from the village where her parents live – she’s been staying with them for the weekend. Driving the car is her ex-boyfriend, Mike. The car has barely got going when it stops for no apparent reason. Then, a local toff wanders over and reveals he’s actually an alien warlord, the village is now under his control, and nobody will be allowed in or out.

Scene 1 - Page 1 Scene 1 - Page 2 Scene 1 - Page 3 Scene 1 - Page 4 Scene 1 - Page 5
(Click the images to see the pages of the script).

Ed wanted to see this particular scene to get a sense of the tone. You won’t find the scene anywhere in the episodes we recorded. I went on to write a script, which was what we call a ‘premise’ episode – an episode which shows the events which created the situation of this particular sitcom. It opened on a village which had not yet been invaded by aliens, and which Katrina was visiting for the weekend. When Katrina tried to leave, we had the scene in Mike’s car. And it ended with Katrina deciding to form a resistance movement against the alien menace. Then, I was asked to write an episode which was more of a normal one, to show how the series would work on a weekly basis.

Finally, I got a script commission, for which they wanted a whole new script. We’d decided by now that we didn’t need a premise episode. Also, there were too many characters – originally, Mike was going to be a regular, but he went. This rendered both the scripts I had redundant. But those two scripts laid much groundwork for the third, which I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote, with notes from Ed, our script editor Arthur Mathews, and our execs. Then it got commissioned as a pilot, and I gave it a few more passes just to make sure. From first pitch to broadcast, I spent almost two and a half years working on that opening episode, what it would be, and what it needed to do.

Welcome To Our Village, Please Invade Carefully Then the series got commissioned, and I had six months to write another four episodes.

But the good thing about sitcoms is that you’re not starting from scratch with every episode. Each one you write uses up ideas and jokes, but it gives you a deeper knowledge of the characters and, hopefully, suggests more ideas and jokes. You reach a point where just putting two characters together in a particular room starts to generate something funny. The show practically writes itself! No, that’s a lie, I had to write it and it was quite hard work actually. But I think the series is definitely better than the pilot. And despite the lengthy journey, and losing poor old Mike along the way, it’s very much the show I wanted to write when I started out.

Buy our Welcome to our Village, Please Invade Carefully.

Great American Audiobooks

4 Jul

Great American AudiobooksAcross the USA, the 4th July brings parades, fireworks, barbeques and a“Star-Spangled Banner” all in celebration, commemorating the United States’ declaration of independence from Great Britain. On this side of the pond, it’s a great chance to appreciate some of the most important American literature, which is also available on audiobook. Here are six, which truly capture their times, the thoughts, struggles and culture of their characters and give us an insight into various parts of US modern history.

The Great Gatsby
Long before Baz Luhrmann’s visually epic remake, F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote this classic, exploring themes of decadence, idealism, resistance to change, social upheaval, and excess in 1925. The focus of the story is the mysterious millionaire, Jay Gatsby, the man who has everything, but one thing will always be out of his reach…

Fitzgerald shows us the garish society of the Roaring Twenties, with obsessions of money, ambition, greed and the promise of new beginnings. But although the era of focus is almost 90 years ago, even to this day, the plot stands the test of time.

Buy The Great Gatsby audiobook

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
A familiar story in schools in the United States, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may be one of those books that, over here, many know of, but not so many have actually read. But there’s no denying the fact that Mark Twain is one of the most fascinating writers of all time. Whether you’ve read his books, seen the adaptations in the cinema, or shared his inspirational quotes on Facebook, you’ll notice that he is, as a writer and humourist, timeless.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is noted for the colourful descriptions of people and places along the Mississippi River as well as the often scathing look at racism.

Buy The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn audiobook

The Grapes of Wrath
Published in 1939, John Steinbeck’s award winning novel is set during the Great Depression and follows a poor family of tenant farmers. The Joad family are driven from their home in Oklahoma by drought, money troubles and changes in the financial and agricultural industries. They head to California for work, land and a future, only to discover thousands like them are also on the move.

By February 1940, 430,000 copies of this, the best-selling book of 1939 had been printed. It has been discussed, criticised and read countless times and is known for Steinbeck’s passionate depiction the struggles this poor family, much like many others went through.

Buy The Grapes of Wrath audiobook

Tales of the City
A little less heavy than the other choices, but no less relevant. Armistead Maupin’s wonderfully written series, set in San Francisco gives us a realistic taste of the city’s culture, people and lifestyles.  The story follows Mary Ann Singleton, a young secretary, fresh out of Cleveland, as she tumbles into a brave new world of laundromat Lotharios, pot-growing landladies, cut-throat debutantes, and Jockey Shorts dance contests.

Buy Tales of the City audiobook

Ethan Frome
This is one of Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edith Wharton’s most powerful stories. It follows Ethan Frome as he scrapes a living from his woodlot and lives in an unhappy marriage with his hypochondriac wife, Zeena. The arrival of his wife’s cousin, Mattie brings a ray of light into his life, leading to him falling in love with her, but stifling conventions of the time determine their fate.

One of the most fascinating elements of this is that themes of this story mirrored real events in the life of the author.

Buy Ethan Frome audiobook

Fahrenheit 451
Written in 1951, Fahrenheit 451 tells a story, set in a dystopian future. The protagonist, Guy Montag is a fireman, whose job is to burn books, which are outlawed, being the source of all discord and unhappiness. Unhappy in his marriage and shocked by a sequence of events, Montag fights back against the status quo, but the Mechanical Hound of the Fire Department, armed with a lethal hypodermic, escorted by helicopters, is ready to track down those dissidents who defy society to preserve and read books.

Written by Ray Bradbury in the 1950s because of his concerns at the time, the classic novel of a post-literate future describes world that he thought might become real decades later.  This stands alongside Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ as a visionary account of Western civilization’s enslavement by conformity.

Buy Fahrenheit 451 audiobook

What is your favourite American novel?

About ‘Undone’

24 Jun

Ben Moor wrote the sci-fi series Undone, which is available to download from AudioGO.

Ben MoorWriters love one thing more than anything in the world. More than the first coffee of the morning (which I have next to me here by the way, and I really like it a lot, mmm coffee), more than finishing a draft and hitting ‘send’, more than receiving a nice payment for royalties in Sweden or Belize, more than reading a mediocre review of a friend’s work; more than any of those things, what they love the most is being asked the question “where do you get your ideas from?”

Undone was sort of my answer to that question.

I’ve always loved sci-fi books about parallel universes and alternate histories – the concept that the world could be a little different somehow is what drives all cool imaginative work. And there’s something very exciting about coming to a new place and making your own discoveries. I didn’t grow up in London, so, like for most of us provincials, a trip to the big city as a kid was like a visit to a new world. But when you choose to make it your home and you have to deal with the odd and extraordinary, the new sounds and possibilities it offers, and the people, and the ideas, well you have to accept it and adapt. Unless your ideas can shape it the way you want it.

Edna Turner arrives to work on a listings magazine, goes out to see bands, art shows and is generally interested in all London offers. At first she doesn’t feel like a superheroine, she hasn’t been chosen for anything, she’s not got a zaggy scar on her forehead. But over the course of three series she discovers how the strangeness of the big city is determined by the ideas of its people. That just to one side of London – the other side of one of those gaps we’re always being told to mind – is its weirder sister, Undone. And her job is to make sure the weirdness is kept in check, too much means bad things.

Her adventures only get more complex though when she asks the question – if the bizarre city of Undone exists in that direction, what’s in the other direction? And that’s when things start to get really weird.

I don’t want to give away too much of the overall plot of the three series of Undone, as I’d hope part of the fun of it is keeping up with Edna’s journey and trying to work out what’s really going on. All the actors did brilliant jobs with their oddly shaped characters, and Colin Anderson and his crew made it sound amazing. There’s also some superneat music in the background.

But as a writer, what I loved most was messing around in the stories. It was fantastic to play with the idea that the adventures of our 20s, when we’re just making our way in this brilliant life, are all about discovering the potential within us and our world. And it gave me the answer to my favourite question.

“Weird ideas come from a version of me in a weirder parallel London,” I now say to people. It’s a strange answer, but strange is good.

Buy ‘Undone’ from AudioGO.

Behind ‘Rock and Doris and Elizabeth’

17 Jun

Guest Blogger: Tracy-Ann Oberman

Tracy-Ann Oberman is an actor, playwright, columnist and broadcaster. Her many theatre credits include the RSC and Royal National Theatre as well as countless appearances in TV drama and comedy. She is widely recognised for murdering her on screen husband Dirty Den in Eastenders and fighting the Cybermen in Dr Who. She has appeared in over 600 BBC radio plays, sketch shows & comedies and has written two radio plays for BBC R4 ‘Bette and Joan and Baby Jane‘ and ‘Rock and Doris and Elizabeth‘. Both are available to download on AudioGO. 

The Liberace biopic tells how a famous Hollywood entertainer went to extraordinary lengths to conceal his sexuality. My play Rock and Doris and Elizabeth shines the light on another world famous performer who could not ‘be himself”.

Rock Hudson was the ultimate Hollywood leading man. Handsome, suave, romantic and macho, he embodied the Dreamboat Hunk. Rock fought tooth and nail to reinvent himself from his humble beginnings as Roy Harold Scherer to become the 1950’s number one box office icon “Rock Hudson” as created by his predatory and manipulative agent Henry Wilson. Wilson controlled every aspect of Rock’s life, including a fake marriage to his own unsuspecting secretary. Wilson kept Hudson’s sexuality out of the papers by trading scandals on other clients. Rock could have gone to his death bed without the public ever knowing his secret.

After the success of my first radio play “Bette and Joan and Baby Jane” (also available on AudioGO) BBC R4 asked me to look for another Hollywood story. I’d always been fascinated by beefcake Hudson and virginal Doris Day and their dominance as America’s Sweethearts. On screen theirs was a magical, wholesome marriage, behind the scenes he was an active homosexual in fear of being caught out, she was trapped in a third hideous marriage mentally and physically abused. Her relationship with her son Terry was complicated and co-dependent, and this also added a piquancy to her hidden history. I then wondered if I added Rock’s great friendship with the sensual Elizabeth Taylor, did I have a ménage à trois with Rock  caught between his pure on-screen “wife” Doris, and his accepting, sensual “mistress”, Elizabeth. But whenever I mentioned Rock to anyone the response has was always: “Rock Hudson. The one who died of Aids?”

I vividly remember that moment in 1985 when Hudson’s Aids “scandal” hit the headlines. But what I didn’t realise was how closely Doris herself was tied up with this event. And subsequently Elizabeth too. Rock had agreed to appear on Day’s anodyne, pet-care show Doris Day’s Best Friends for the Christian Broadcast Network.

In the 1980s, Doris had retreated from Hollywood to devote herself to caring for the hundreds of rescue animals that she kept on her ranch in Carmel, California. She was loathe to go back to showbiz but was persuaded by her son, Terry Melcher, who needed to revitalise his own flagging career, to host a programme about pets. It was thought that a weekly human guest would help and that Hudson would be the perfect person to boost the opening show. Even though they hadn’t seen each other for nearly a decade, Hudson didn’t hesitate to say yes.

Rock and Doris and Elizabeth

Frances Barber, Jonathan Hyde and Tracy-Ann Oberman as Doris,Rock and Elizabeth. c.IanJohnsonPublicity

The press turned up in their droves .When Rock arrived, gaunt, covered in sarcomas and visibly shaking, there was a collective gasp. This was not Rock Hudson. Press speculation went into overdrive. Cancer? Anorexia? Heart disease? What was it?

The play then crystallised itself for me. Why? Why did Hudson, weeks away from death, bother to come on this little cable show when he could have died quietly, away from the public glare, his sexuality and secrets intact? I imagined the  tussle  happening between Elizabeth Taylor – whom I could see calling Hudson, offering him the love and support to come out and give a face to Aids – and Day, whom I imagined desperately trying to keep him back in that closet.

I don’t know if Taylor ever made these phone calls to Hudson but I believe it’s credible that she might have done. My Doris loved her Rock for the glorious romance that they created on screen; her real life was unbearable. In my play she says to him: “You were the greatest love I never had.” Hudson knew that by coming on the show, he was sending a visual message that he was not the myth that Hollywood created.


And Rock’s Aids revelation gave Taylor her future meaning in life as the leading AIDS activist. Rock and Doris unwittingly changed the nature of Hollywood. If it was all truly one big lie then nothing could ever be taken at face value again.

Liberace went to his death bed fiercely guarding his secrets. As a writer and actor who always tries to find truth in characters, I applaud my hero Rock Hudson for having the courage, at the end, to reveal who he really was.

Tracy-Ann Oberman

Buy ‘Rock and Doris and Elizabeth‘ from AudioGO