Tag Archives: Gareth Davies

Life in plastic is fantastic …

Well, it’s been an interesting week. I’ve managed to do some more writing (woot!) but a little less because I had other stuff I needed to do as well. On the up side, some of that other stuff was proofing Too Good To Be True in audio. Oh. Yeh. It did not disappoint.

Other news, McCat has become rather too enthusiastic at jumping onto the back of my ball – phnark. I sit on a Swiss Ball to work. I do have one of those kneeling seats but I can’t quite bend the replaced knee enough to be comfortable yet so it’s short bursts for that. As a result, I usually sit on a Swiss Ball that’s specially designed for weight lifting so it will take my enormous bulk on a regular basis – plus that of the cat – without exploding.

McCat regularly jumps onto the back of it but that hasn’t caused any trouble until recently when he started reaching up and hanging onto it, with predictable results. As I sat on it yesterday morning, I thought I could hear a hissing noise. Hmm … Vos ist das? I wondered.

I was listening back to the speaky file I had been doing for the pronunciations and twiddly bits that needed changed in the audio, ready to send to Gareth, so naturally, at first, I wondered if the hissing was an unfortunate side effect of the piss-poor quality of my recording. I hit pause and listened. No. The hissing continued. Maybe it was ambient noise from my computer or my headphones. I took the ear buds out of my ears. Still the hissing noise continued.

The penny dropped. Maybe it was my ball.

Tentatively, I put a hand round behind me and felt about. Sure enough, I soon found a drought where air was not so much leaking as gushing out … of the ball, obviously, not my arse. At about the same time, I clocked that the desk seemed to be a bit higher than before. Yes. My ball was ruptured and I was sinking. Fast. Oops.

That’s not how it should look. It’s a Swiss Ball, not a beanbag.

I went into the hall, where the boxes I am supposed to be going through to sort my collection of tat into stuff for my office and stuff to store or sell still sit after about seven months. Somewhere in there, I knew, there was a back up ball. I couldn’t find it but McOther knew where it was instantly, bless him. Brilliant! Panic over. I bore the spare ball back to my office in triumph, where I was confronted with the true extent of the damage to my ball of choice, so to speak. It was looking a bit wrinkly and very, very small. Oh dear.

Dumping the alternative ball on my desk, I went to find a pump. After a bit of a rummage I realised it was in the cupboard in my office – I’ve sorted a couple of things out then – and went back to get it. On opening the door my nose was assailed by a very rubbery scent. The room smelled more like a rubber fetishists room of pain than an office. Hmm … and I was going to sit on this thing. No doubt my trousers would smell of rubber too after I’d been sitting on it a while. Jeepers, people would think I was wearing underwear like Dafyd, off Little Britain.

Mmm. I mean fine if it floats people’s boats jolly dee, but it doesn’t float mine so I don’t really want everyone to think I’m packing latex. I might be into vinyl but that’s records, not um … rubber. And the smell gets really a bit much after a while.

Yeh. Perhaps back up ball was not such a good idea. So I turned to t’interweb. Luckily, I was able to find an exact replacement ball for just over twenty quid. It’s coming next week. Until then, I’m stuck with the stool that’s not 100% comfy. Oh well, I suppose it could be worse, I could be wandering around stinking of rubber.

On the writing front, I have had trouble trying to write the thing I should be writing, which is, of course, another K’Barthan Extra. It’s time the poor Pan of Hamgee had to do another delivery for Big Merv, probably in torrential rain and storms after the weather has broken and with the usual nearly disastrous consequences. Naturally, because this is the one I need to write, my mojo is not playing ball. Instead, the first instalment of Space Dustmen seems to be unfolding merrily and there’s even been a bit of a break through in Traffick which is the sweeping epic one which might be a bit dark unless I’m careful. Never mind. You can’t win ‘em all.

Other news … well … there’s been very little. The weather’s been shit and I’ve been staying in doors and going out as little as possible! Also hay fever. I have vertigo today but luckily it was church and singing high notes does seem to help clear the sinuses so things are a bit less evil in that department. With any luck it’ll be gone by tomorrow, or certainly the end of the week when our wisteria and the lilac over the road will have finished flowering.

While ranting about my stinky spare ball, I mentioned vinyl which reminded me of the other vinyl, which I’ve been meaning to talk about for some time.

Vinyl?

Bizarre Beatles US import ‘juke box only’ coloured vinyls. Preciousssss

Yes, I’m going to talk about records.

McOther and I have always been big fans but over the lock down, we’ve been trying to have a bit of a life laundry moment and sort our stuff out. This hasn’t gone quite as well for me as it has for the others but it did mean I got my record player out. After eleven years in storage. McMini already knows the joy of playing records, we used to have a listening session with him just before bed time when he was small.

However, recently McMini has really taken to his music. He’s in three bands. He also loves records, so there are now three record players in the house. This might, possibly, be an extravagance but I do love having them. All three of us have somewhat eclectic taste. 70s and 80s music is a big plus, but think Ska and Punk, or stuff like the Smiths in the case of the McOthers, but also Talking Heads, stuff like that. It’s mostly alternative or indie. Stock, Aitken and Waterman are not on the agenda. The leaning towards punk is stronger in the case of McMini and I, and McMini ventures, alone, into metal, beyond Slayer, Metallica and the like into the realms of death metal. His father and I can appreciate the skill of the musicians and the musicality of the arrangements but the singing is … to be honest it sounds like someone doing a giant burp. He also listens to the non-Nazi black metal (some black metal isn’t pleasant) where the vocals sound like someone being murdered. Oh well, each to their own. He loves it.

McMini’s favourite singers rejoice in names like, George (Corpse Grinder) Fisher and the lyrics of these songs are hilarious; like a melodramatic fourteen year old boy trying to write about festering gore in the manner of Lovecraft – except totally exaggerated until it’s barking mad. I am pretty certain that, for the most part, it’s meant to be tongue in cheek. Naturally, McMini, micro troll that he is, loves the contrarian nature and general hamminess of it all. The bands are very interesting when interviewed. Some take themselves far too seriously, but a lot tend to be intelligent, amusing misfits. Ideal for McMini I guess. I’d have probably loved it all if I was younger. I do have this old fashioned thing about a catchy tune though.

After years I have unpacked my records and started playing them. I have reverted to my habit of wandering through charity shops buying vinyl albums and 45s. It’s bliss. There is also a record shop in town, which seems extraordinary but is true. Having been somewhat intimidated by its effortless trendiness, I eventually ventured in with McMini to hold my hand (he is a regular, needless to say). I have now managed to pick up a fair few singles I was after, either from there, or from second hand shops in town. I have started searching for the remaining quest songs, stuff I heard blaring out of study-bedrooms growing up in a school but couldn’t name. Things I remember from the John Peel show; heard once, thought were fab but couldn’t buy, on account of that I’d forgotten the name of the band and never heard them again. These days you’d just put some of the lyrics into Google and up they pop. In many cases, it’s a case of working out who is singing, since a lot of them were by groups or people who became famous later on. Electricity by OMD springs to mind, although I picked up the album with that on a few years ago (yes even though my record player was in a box in the garage at the time).

This last week, McOther arrived home from a car boot proudly bearing a copy of Video Killed the Radio Star, by the Buggles. Trevor Horn’s first musical incarnation and the venture that convinced him he wanted to be in a studio behind a mixing desk rather than out front, on stage. I also caved in and bought Size Ten Girlfriend, by The Chairs, from discogs for a whole four British pounds. Do I regret this? Not one jot! I have it on tape somewhere, taped from the John Peel show when I heard the first few bars and thought it sounded interesting. I never heard it again … until now and while it’s not quite as slick as some music – no auto tune in those days, remember – it’s still every bit as good as I remember it. Other delights include Being Boiled, by the Human League, although I haven’t managed to find a copy of Dare yet. I did score the Duran Duran album Rio the other day though.

Meanwhile McMini has started buying coloured vinyls; ELO’s Mr Blue Sky in blue … well … blue (yes, I’m as jealous as fuck) and he also scored a copy of his favourite Slayer album on pink vinyl the other day. To be fair, I’m less jealous of that one. I do envy the colours he’s managed to get though. I have a selection of Beatles singles in various colours but few things the gorgeous bright blue of his ELO single.

What a Waste – my signature song because I graduated in an arts subject during the massive recession of 1990

Indeed, through fluke rather than design, most of my favourites seem to be on red … with the exception of What a Waste, by Ian Dury and the Blockheads, which I have on yellow vinyl and which is my signature song, pretty much. While being worth jack shit in financial terms, it’s pretty much the pride of my collection … along with the photo of Jonathan Lyndon which he sent me, himself, a signed Hugh Cornwall album (lead singer of the Stranglers) and a signed photo of Paul McCartney which I have somewhere … but I’m not sure where. And the multicoloured Beatles singles … probably. Oh yeh and a red vinyl (see what I mean?) lip by the Ting Tings – I can’t remember the name of the album, it’s the one with That’s Not My Name on it.

Next stop, of course, is to rip my records to MP3 so I can listen to them in the car. This isn’t as difficult as it sounds, I have a plug that goes into the earphone socket of my computer one end and the output of my stereo the other which, as far as I recall, allows it to ‘listen’. I also have an ancient programme called LP recorder which should work for recording them all … unless I can get it to work on Audacity and then … yes … we shall be making playlists, or mix tapes as they were called when I was a nipper. Yeh, the name changed but the idea hasn’t.

Too Good To Be True in Audio, coming soon!

Too Good To Be True! In audio! Woot!

Yes because I’m ridiculously excited about this I’m just giving you the heads up here that Too Good To Be True will be available in audio format soon. As I may have mentioned, I am super-stoked about this because not only is it one of the more decent books I’ve written, and not only is it, to be honest, a bit funnier than some of the others, but Gareth has done a ridiculously good job on it.

With Audio, it’s not as easy to know when your books will appear as with ebooks. However, when I have a better clue of a release date you will be the first to know. It will appear on Kobo and in my web store within a couple of weeks, on other retailers it will take a little longer to filter through. Keep your eyes on your in box if you’re subscribed to my Readers’ Group, otherwise, keep checking back here or the K’Barthan Jolly Japery facebook group.

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Filed under audio publishing, General Wittering

Operation ouch …

Ha! No blog so far this week. Bet you were congratulating yourself on escaping the massive ‘my operation’ post weren’t you? Unlucky. I’m an eighth French and what that means, my lovely people, is that if you ask me how I am – or even if you don’t – there’ll be none of that ‘mustn’t grumble’ shit from me. No. You ask how I am and I’m going to tell you. Here, in a departure from the norm … on a Monday is the My Operation post …

I’ve had knee surgery before, so I was, undeniably, nervous about this one. It didn’t help that every single person I encountered who’d had it or knew someone who’d had it came out with a variant of ‘it hurts like fuck but it’s worth it’.  I know it hurts like fuck. It’s a knee. I’ve done labour, not too much, I give you, but enough to know that it has to go on for quite a long time before it passes ripping your ACL ligament on the pain-o-metre. Mmm.

Everything was packed and readied, including crutches because I already have some and, bizarrely, they aren’t covered in the cost of the insurance. We duly got up as sparrow’s fart and drove to London where, with a cheery wave goodbye to the boys, I was absorbed into the bubble. My room was at the back looking out into a light well rather than at the front, overlooking the Thames but hey, you can’t win ’em all. It was comfortable and well laid out.

The NICKERS.

On the bed were the THINGS I must ware; a lovely purple disposable robe, a pair of totes toastie socks – in beige – and a pair of dark green pressure socks.  I was instructed to put them on, with only one green pressure sock on my good leg, so I obeyed orders and waited. Also included were … THE NICKERS.

Suffice it to say, the first time I encountered a pair of these I genuinely believed they were a hair net and put them on my head.

They leave nothing to the imagination but I suppose they stop stray pubes from getting into things, I don’t know. Anyway there they were.

My operation was scheduled for 11.30 which meant I was number three in. I was quite tired, because we’d been up at four in order to get to the hospital for seven am, so I dozed a bit, not that I had time to doze much because a whole host of people popped in to see me, including the surgeon, Mr Davies. He gave me a bit of a look and I confessed that I might have peaked too soon with getting the kit on. See me rocking it here.

We had a brief chat, in which I said I was a bit nervous because he was, basically, going to be sawing the ends off to of my big leg bones. He said, ‘I prefer to call it a light resurfacing procedure on your knee joint’ at least I think that’s what he said but as you can imagine, what I heard was, ‘I’m going to cut up your leg with a big electronic saw.’ Demonic laughter optional. I signed a form to say that I was alright with that, using his extremely swish Mont Blanc pen and handed it back so he could draw a very discreet arrow on my leg. You might just be able to make it out in the picture. There are certain aspects of talking to Mr Davies that remind me of McOther. He’s gloriously understated. He asked me if I had any questions – I didn’t really – ‘splendid, I’ll go and get my pyjamas on now,’ he said and headed off to green up – or at least blue up.

The rest of the morning passed in visits from various people. I had a chat to the anaesthetist, the physiotherapist, I think and a couple of others, all of whom gave me forms to sign saying that I understood what I was doing and that if they accidentally killed me then, short of negligence, I understood it wasn’t their fault. They also took copious quantities of blood. I discovered I couldn’t get the safe to work for my valuables, which stern signs all around the room warned me I must do, so they assured me they’d fix it. When the time came, two cheery porters appeared and put me in a wheelchair.

The lift was a large metal box with two blue circles stuck in opposite corners where people need to stand for appropriate social distancing. They both seemed quite surprised when I said it reminded me of the transporter in StarTrek but they laughed so I chalked it up as a win. Next it was into the anaesthatists’ area. There were two cheery gentlemen with accents I couldn’t place until one of them explained that he was Greek and his name was Adonis. How golden is that? He was a med student and would be asking the questions today, overseen by the actual anaesthesitist. I duly informed him that he had the best name in the world because it would be very churlish not to. His colleague was called something equally fabulously Greek, which might have been Netzahualcoyotl but he’d stuck a cannula and rather a lot of pain med into me by then so I failed to remember it. I’m quite pissed off about that because it was a wonderful word, with a whole stack of syllables beginning with Netza-something.

Greeks at the gates then. My mother spent a lot of time in Greece as a child just after the war while my Grandfather was helping set up the Bank of Greece. It used to take her and my Uncle one and a half days to fly there in a Dakota for the summer holidays. Consequentially, when I was a child, she and Dad took my brother and I back there for a succession of gloriously bizarre holidays. And a special detour to Corinth to see the ten seater loo. Being anaesthetised by Greeks was like being given a little benign blessing.

Introductions made, it was all very business like. I suspect people are often scared so they make it like buying a cup of coffee. Anyway, at that point Netza-not-Adonis (but with the equally fabulous name) told me he was giving me the general anaesthetic and the next thing I knew I could hear voices and the little machine that goes beep. Hoorah, I was awake. I had learned the hard way that no matter how interesting the sounds of the recovery room DO NOT TRY TO WAKE UP QUICKLY AND TAKE A LOOK ROUND. So I just lay there drifting, thinking, ‘I have a new knee.’

The nurse was quite stern and as I drifted in and out of consciousness I heard her saying that I’d been there two hours at one point and that it was probably time somebody came and took me away. There was a slightly strained tone to her voice, as if I was cluttering up the place. Two porters arrived to take me back to my room and they warned me to keep my eyes shut. I had an oxygen tube up my nose … not right in there just up. I felt as if I’d had about fifty pints so was happy to keep my eyes closed if it meant it was just me that moved and the walls and ceilings  stayed reasonably still. They were kind enough to wheel me quickly as well, for which I was eternally grateful.

Back at my room I was informed that there was a front room available and that if I liked they could move me into it. Yes. I very much would like. I drifted in and out of consciousness and finally managed to tackle supper, an omelette and sticky toffee pudding and a flask of coffee McOther had made for me. I rang people and then I went to sleep. I was woken regularly during the night for blood pressure tests and pain meds. I began to be aware that my knee hurt. A LOT. Not so much I couldn’t admire the view though, although I took this picture much later, on my last morning.

The staff were gloriously multicultural, from absolutely everywhere in the world and were utter darlings, every man jack of ’em. I’d forgotten how multi-cultural London is and how much I loved that when I lived there.

During the night the mattress on my bed deflated, which made things a lot more comfortable for my feet but which, apparently, was a bad thing. They pumped it up but it wouldn’t stay full, instead gradually deflating or, if left on, starting to beep after a few minutes and continuing to do so until someone came and turned it off and it went down again. They gave it three strikes and then swapped my bed with another one.

The physio popped in and we had a little walk and she showed me some more exercises and I realised that my leg was turning blue.

Seriously, here are my legs, as they are now. A lot of the after pain is caused by those bruises. The left leg is probably about three or four inches greater in circumference than the right leg.

I was also brought a commode and urged to have a crap. Since they seemed very keen that I do so I obliged. I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of this … By Thursday I was ready to go home. The lady from the pharmacy arrived with what looked like a bag of duty free but which was, in fact, a massive bag of drugs to keep the pain at bay. I noticed it also contained a box of sennacot and what looked like a jeroboam of some other laxative.

Ah.

By Saturday morning, despite taking extra care to dose myself up with the laxatives, as proscribed, I was wondering if I would ever poo again. Ah the joy of opioids. At the moment, things get too painful to stay in bed after about 5 am so I come downstairs, make a cup of coffee, do my first round of Physiotherapy exercises, take the first set of paracetamol for the day and then doze on the sofa in my room of shame. This one morning, I was particularly knackered after a night of needing to … you know … go and yet at the same time, not being able to. There’s nothing more disheartening than sitting on the bog with stomach cramps, and a bottom that feels as if it might be actually tearing … but with no action.

Nurse! Forceps.

So there I was downstairs, having to eat because, ibuprofen, but nervous that I was in very real danger of filling myself to bursting point, like Mr Creosote, because there was nothing coming out the other end. And I noticed, by my bag, a one use surgical glove which had fallen out of my ‘filling up with petrol in times of Covid’ pocket. And I had an idea. An idea of such complete and utter brilliance … but also horror.

I mean … how did they unblock particularly difficult cases?

Did they …?

No.

I looked at the glove.

Surely they had to ‘help’ sometimes didn’t they? If I put on the glove and—

Gads! No!

Could I though?

No.

Than again, maybe it was better than the alternative, I thought, as another wave of stomach cramps hit me. And I swear that bastard glove winked.

Operation one; dignity, nil.

Suffice it to say I an not taking any more opioids, even though I probably should and joy of joys my insides are back to normal, even if my leg is still purple. Strangely, despite the ongoing pain, I can feel that there are things which used to hurt which no longer do, and most of the stuff that does hurt is due to swelling and bruising. It takes my weight and I am taking small walks each day and doing three sessions of my physio exercises, hopefully I can work that up to four later in the week. I’ll see what gives when I go to my first, post-op physio session on Thursday. Also, I’ll discuss pain relief when I go see the nurse practitioner to have the staples out on Friday.

In the meantime, I suspect that, for the next couple of nights at least, I’m just not destined to sleep much. If I get truly desperate, I’ll do a midnight physio session, as the physio seems to help at the end of the day when it’s starting to stiffen up.

Onwards and upwards …

_________________________

If you need something to take your mind of that, my audiobook test is still on.

Yep, I’m still doing my beta test for distributing audible via my own site. Or at lest via my own site an alternative way. If you’d like to give it a go, you’ll need to download the bookfunnel app or join bookfunnel. If you’re happy doing that feel free to help yourself – the link is below.

It’s in beta, yes you are testing. That’s why you get a 13 hour audiobook for free read by one of a man who can seriously do funny; Gareth Davies. The fellow who made Roy Hudd laugh … and laugh enough to be asked back to do it again.

Once you click on the link, below, you’ll end up on a download page for the book. When you click listen/play it will ask you to download the bookfunnel app and enter this code, which it gives you right there so remember to write it down.

When you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play it’ll ask you for the code you jotted down. I don’t know if the code is case sensitive but I’d presume it is!

This is a brand new app and brand new audio player, and Bookfunnel appreciate any and all feedback. If you get into trouble, or can’t get anything to work, contact their help address – which is given on their site, help @ bookfunnel.com – with a header: ATTN: Julie.

Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/fxd6bnoy7k

If you decide to listen to the book. I hope you enjoy it. I leave you with this fabulous book-shaped light. Rock on the lovely gift/interiors store on Peebles High Street. Go there, buy stuff. Oh and pop down the other end and have a sausage roll as well!

Wink wink

 

 

 

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Filed under General Wittering

If I die before I wake …

Doubtless you’re delighted to see that I’m not starting off with a melodramatic title or anything, because clearly, I would never be a drama queen about having a totally standard operation or anything. Snortle. All the same, I am nervous so this will be a brief post, because I have an operation on Monday and there’s not much of practicable use bouncing about in my brain. We drove down to London yesterday for my pre op tests which included a Covid19 test where, I swear, they pushed the swab into my actual sinuses. Despite the fact the lady was brilliant and actually very gentle, it was not a good scene.

Rotherhythe tunnel

One of the things I particularly enjoy about visiting London is the stuff you find. We went through the Rotherhythe tunnel, opened by in 1908 by Edward, Prince of Wales who became George V on my and McMini’s birthdays. That was amazing. Filled with porcelain glazed bricks to reflect the light, like the early tube lines; Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Northern. It makes a rather good picture. Who knows when I’ll need a light at the end of the tunnel type shot. It is also a very rare example of a tunnel where pedestrians, cyclists and traffic all go through the same bore.

This morning, having remembered to pay the congestion charge for yesterday and Sunday, ooo get me doing one of them in advance, woot! I realised that I’d forgotten to book any physio so I’ve been looking up the physio peps on my insurer’s books with a view to getting my rehab sorted out. I’ve found one that looks good and they have sent me a message which is handy.

In the spirit of if-I-do-this-hopefully-nothing’ll-happen, and not because I’m a batshit crazy old crone, no siree, I wrote The Letter. You know the one, where you add any bits to your last will and testament that you forgot at the time, or write one, tell your McOthers you love them and give them the passwords for your computer so somebody else can profit from the enormous earnings of your literary empire after your death.  Then you sign it, fold it up, write, ‘Open if it all goes horribly wrong and I snuff it!’ On the front of it and stick it in your desk drawer.

No shit, I even broke down how the film rights get divided up. If that isn’t some kind of optimism, despite the overall pessimism inherent in the act of writing the letter, I dunno what is. Mwahahahrgh! What am I like?

In a packed afternoon’s activity, I also sorted out the blinds in my office, finally. Now, instead of blinds on one window, I have blinds on all of them. Which makes it a bit snugger at night. Obviously this has left me feeling that I am a complete household goddess … and with some unfortunate red pen marks all over the paintwork.

There’s me thinking, ‘I know! I’ll use a dry wipe whiteboard marker and then it’ll just wipe off.’

Yeh. That went well. Let’s label it option a shall we? Note to self, dry whiteboard markers do not wipe off vinyl silk gloss. It’s clearly not glossy enough.

Ho hum, can’t win ’em all.

Other news, I just want to briefly update you on the bit I posted about Audible last week. As an author colleague noted, when you upload your books to either Amazon or Audible, you know you are supping with the devil. And she has a good point.

Audiobooks are great, and Audible is great, but I suspect it needs to get its shit together. Fast. It also needs to accord the people it does business with the basic courtesy of transparency and honesty in its practises. We know these companies are gorillas. We know their contracts probably have a sub clause pertaining to the sale of our very souls, I have probably sold my soul several times over since I’ve signed contracts to access Apple, Windows, Amazon and Audible.

No mention that this is a ‘return’.

Nobody wants Audible to go bust but it would be good if they could stop behaving like idiots. I used to work for a UK household name, I know what big companies are like, but they have taken the crappiness and run with it. Plumbing new depths I’d never have believed possible.

Who knows where the future of creative material is going. In an ideal world, the targeting would become more precise and the algorithm at the vendors better at matching products and consumers that suit each other. If that were the case, the slash in royalties that inevitably comes with streaming would be less of a hit. But of course, it’ll be pay to play, so however excellent the algorithm, it will never be left to work on its own. It’s not as if I or anyone else who is worried about this ‘returns’ thing believes the world owes us a living. But I also reserve the right not to work with wankers more than I have to. Audible is 60% of my audio sales but if they and ACX get too much like hard work I will probably give up on them. For now, I’ll hold off with the new release until they can provide me with some basic, reliable information. Some is there, I just need the rest, as do all of us. All we need to know is:

1. How many books I have sold.
2. How many books have been returned.
3. How much I am being paid for each borrow/read/purchase.
4. Ideally this would be real time.

Over and above this, it would be good to know which books are in this Audible plus thing. Are mine in and being ‘lent’ or are they not? I dunno.

Then there’s submitting books to Audible which is a nightmare. The usual channel is ACX, which is owned by the same people, and kind of a sister company, until you want something looked into in which case each one can tell you it’s the other’s problem. Things that do lie squarely with ACX, though, are the interface, which is abysmal, and the reporting, which is also abysmal and the massive delays, which … well it’s great that a human listens but they still need to tell you where in the 200 chapters you’ve submitted the extra second of silence is, otherwise you’re going to be flailing about, resubmitting that book again and again. No wonder they are inundated. Half those books are probably on their third or fourth submission.

Hopefully, if enough writers, producers and narrators of audiobooks can join together to try and open some dialogue with Audible and ACX we might succeed in getting a bit more transparency and a better service. Things that will help them as much as us.

Remember I told you about the K’Barthan Box set, how I submitted chapters for four books which had already been approved, and waited from July to October for them to, basically, approve the opening and closing credits? Yeh. A lot of authors are abandoning ACX because of that. Likewise, the number of people going exclusive with Audible appears to have dropped. So far, there are – again unsubstantiated – claims that the time ACX is taking to approve files has improved drastically. We need to collect more data on that.

I have, at present, unsubstantiated intel that Findaway to flag any returns on their reports from Audible. I have asked them but haven’t heard back yet. I will keep you posted as to whether these efforts to persuade ACX and Audible to listen turn into anything.

In the meantime, remember there are alternatives to audible, Kobo, for starters. But also Google Play, iBooks, authors websites – including mine – and Chirp – which is not available everywhere at the moment but I hope soon will be. There are alternatives. Better alternatives. Go for it. Look for them.

___________________

If you haven’t tried audio, you can, for free.

Yep, I’m still doing my beta test for distributing audible via my own site. Or at lest via my own site an alternative way. If you’d like to give it a go, you’ll need to download the bookfunnel app or join bookfunnel. If you’re happy doing that feel free to help yourself – the link is below.

It’s in beta, yes you are testing. That’s why you get a 13 hour audiobook for free read by one of a man who can seriously do funny; Gareth Davies. The fellow who made Roy Hudd laugh … and laugh enough to be asked back to do it again.

Once you click on the link, below, you’ll end up on a download page for the book. When you click listen/play it will ask you to download the bookfunnel app and enter this code, which it gives you right there so remember to write it down.

When you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play it’ll ask you for the code you jotted down. I don’t know if the code is case sensitive but I’d presume it is!

This is a brand new app and brand new audio player, and Bookfunnel appreciate any and all feedback. If you get into trouble, or can’t get anything to work, contact their help address – which is given on their site, help @ bookfunnel.com – with a header: ATTN: Julie.

Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/fxd6bnoy7k

If you decide to listen to the book. I hope you enjoy it. I leave you with this fabulous book-shaped light. Rock on the lovely gift/interiors store on Peebles High Street. Go there, buy stuff. Oh and pop down the other end and have a sausage roll as well!

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Let’s talk about Things …

One of the things I tidied up was my room of shame … well … a bit.

Blimey, it’s already that time of the week again when I’m supposed to be writing a blog post. It’s been a bit of a clearing up week this week.  I’ve finally finished my story for Christmas Lites. It’s absolutely terrible but it’s done. I’m supposed to have sent it off today, but I need to put the last batch of edits in – and possibly write an additional scene. Which reminds me, I must email the organisers begging for clemency.

That said, although it’s terrible, it’s only the first part really. I could probably tidy it up a lot more if I had the actual event they’re trying to sabotage taking place at the end. Then our band of heroes and heroines could all stand about looking smug as their Grongle overlords commit what they think is an act of extreme sacrilege to upset the locals but … well … isn’t. I might miss the deadline if I do that though. I mean, really miss it. And also I doubt I could do it in under 4,000 words and I only have 3,000 to play with. And I have to prepare for my hospital trip.

I also tidied my desk … sort of.

First up I need to work out what I’m taking and I have a lot of paperwork to read about what I should bring, papers to sign about covid and other stuff to bring along. There’s also a lot of stuff I don’t know, which I do hope they are going to tell me. Soon. I’m guessing I’ll need to wear track suit bottoms. I have a mask with a filter in it that’s good for about 700 hours and I’ve bought one of those plastic face screens to wear as well. While I’m writing, I ought to give you the heads up that there may not be a blog post next week. It depends but I suspect I’ll be on the go driving down to the hospital to have my premed appointments. McOther and McMini may drive me but it depends because I don’t know how long these appointments will take.

The knee is really appalling now. I’m so glad I’m having it done, as I can only do tiny stints of walking before I have to go and have a sit down. I did manage to rake the leaves off the path today and clear away some of the dead and dying veg plants from the garden. I brought the things I’d like to try and keep alive over the winter indoors to the conservatory and I have also managed to make a few more inroads in my room of shame office. See photos.

Squee!

Meanwhile, Gareth is working on the next audiobook, Close Enough, at which point we will have my entire catalogue recorded. So in theory the next book, Too Good To Be True, should be released with an accompanying audiobook, and a lot fewer mistakes because Gareth is very good at spotting typos!

As usual, the chapters he’s sent so far are brilliant. Woot.

As always, he asked me, at the start, if I have any preferences for any of the new voices. On the one hand, it’s hard not to be like a kid in a sweetshop, on the other, I don’t like to be too overbearing. Even if I do stipulate something, I try, really hard, to keep it general and not be any more specific than, what about … accent a or b? But at the same time, Gareth can do pretty much anything I throw at him. I suspect he might surprise himself sometimes on that score. Also, he comes over as a man who enjoys an acting challenge, I sincerely hope so.

That said, I do try to stick to things he might not have thought about doing and stay within the parameters of what his particular voice can do rather than push him miles out of his comfort zone. The aim is for a positive reaction along the lines of, ‘oh yes, that’ll be fun.’  Part of the sheer joy of it all is feeding the ideas in and seeing what he does.

There’s a character in this one called Marcella the Pirate. I have slightly based her on Edward Teach – also known as Blackbeard. Originally she was a guy but then the idea of having her as a lady began to appeal because it made her seem even more of a scary psychopath. So I did that instead. I haven’t really a voice in my head for Marcella short of hard and nasty.  Gareth asked if I had any particular ideas on how she’d sound. When I came to actually think about it I wondered if Edward Teach was from the West country and thought maybe that would work. I checked with Google and sure enough, he was, so I suggested hard and nasty West Country and let him get on with it. Mwahahahrgh, he has not disappointed.

Just on a quick tangent here, Edward Teach was from Bristol. Could that be why pirates traditionally speak with a Bristolian accent? He used to plait his beard and hair and attach firecrackers to the ends of his plaits. I thought he got this a bit wrong at one point and blew himself up. Na-uh. He was actually ambushed. He was shot 20 times, stabbed five more times, then they cut his throat after which, just to make absolutely certain he was dead, someone chopped his head off. Well. There’s nothing like making sure of something I guess but that, right there, is fear of your enemy.

Also on the audiobooks front, Audible have finally released the box set of the K’Barthan Series. To my complete and utter amazement, it sold 33 copies in the first five days. So at least the royalty cheque I send Gareth in however many months it is won’t be quite as risibly small. At the moment I transfer them with ridiculous references on them like ‘HugeRoyalty’ ‘MassiveCash’ etc.

The conceived wisdom on all this is that big books go well on Audible and small books go well on Findaway – though library borrows mainly. I am discovering this to be true. Neither Audible nor Findaway reports completely in real time, Audible seems to update more or less once a day, give or take. Findaway is quite random. So far, the last month’s sales have all been for library borrows with only three or four of the full length books being sold and absolutely zero sales of the Box set.

Going forward, I suspect what I should have done is kept the box set to myself and sold it via my own site for a reduced amount. I will probably do that with the pending K’Barthan Shorts box set. I have to write seven now, as well, because One, Two and Three make a nice novel length book. Four is a novel and Five and Six … well … I suppose they might be longer but I doubt it so I may need a Seven. Although I think The Pan is going to be getting into more trouble with Marcella The Pirate so I doubt it’ll be too tricky. I will probably sell all the books for a bit less on my own site when I get it sorted. At the moment I’m doing that through Author’s Direct. Gareth and I share a 70% royalty on anything I shift there. However, books I published weeks ago still haven’t appeared on my Author’s Direct dashboard so I’m hoping that eventually, I’ll be using the alternative platform that I’m testing alongside (CF the free book last week).

I’m wondering if those 34 people who bought the box set on audible are people who listened to the free book from the link I provided here. It’s difficult to say. It’s stopping now, but it does appear to mean that 34 people were waiting to download it, which is nice. I wonder what sort of royalties we’ll get paid for an audible token purchase. Probably about £2.50.

Audible/ACX does worry me a bit though – ACX is the platform run by Audible to which you upload books. I’m not even sure if I can remove my books from sale once they are on there, which is the bit of a worry with the subscription model looming. You can’t choose where you distribute either, so you have to put up with two listings on Apple, one which pays 40% royalties and one which pays 25%. You can contact Apple and ask them to give the 40% version precedence though. If I go through an aggregator to Audible/ACX, I think can take my books off there more easily but Gareth and I would take a big hit – we would earn 40% of the 25%  royalty that Audible/ACX pay us to go direct.

Also, their exchange policy is concerning. It’s fine returning books you’re not enjoying. I have zero problem with someone downloading my book, loathing it and returning it. But audible encourages readers to ‘exchange’ a book and re-use the credit. They pitch this as one of the benefits of joining. That means an audible user who has enjoyed my book may well decide to ‘exchange’ it for a different one, Audible pitches this to customers as working like a library but as I understand it, they treat exchanges as a return. That means the author and narrator do not get paid and if they have already been paid Audible will claw back the money from future payments. Readers can ‘exchange’ books for up to ONE YEAR after purchase and yes, if it happens in that time, ACX/Audible will take back your money.

So if you’re an Audible user maybe avoid ‘exchanging’ books by authors and narrators that you like eh? Well … if you want them to continue putting books on Audible.

Authors and narrators are getting wise to this, though. Many are now distributing ‘wide’ beyond ACX/Audible while a growing minority are no longer uploading their books to Audible at all. Add to this that if you don’t go exclusive Audible slash your royalties from 40% to 25% – yeh, how dare anyone put their books in libraries – and although it’s supposed to take ’30 days’ for them to approve a book, in reality it takes three to six months to get a book approved and it’s a bit of a kerfuffle. Case in point, the K’Barthan Series Box Set was uploaded in July 19th and went live on 9th October. The glorious illogic of this was that, barring the five second beginning and ending credits, the entire thing comprised files that they had already approved and which were on sale as individual books. So that’s six months to check the beginning and end credits of the book – about 20 or 30 seconds of audio? Something like that.

In addition I encounter many tales of audible rejecting books after three months with a generic message such as – there is too much background noise. What they don’t tell you, of course, is where that piece of background noise is. Bear in mind this may be a 12 hour book with 70 chapters. At one point they changed the length of the silences they required between chapters, books where the silence had been within guidelines when they were up loaded were rejected because they now were not.

All the author or narrator can do is check their books and resubmit – there are actually pieces of proprietary software that enable you to do this. Not from Audible/ACX, obviously because that would be helpful. Another three to six months later it may well be rejected again. Some authors are resubmitting again and again because even going through their books with a fine tooth comb, they can’t find the place where the ‘mistake’ is and get this … Audible doesn’t tell them. Imagine if school was like audible.

‘Here’s your essay back, there’s a mistake in it.’

‘Oh, what did I get wrong.’

‘It’s not my job to tell you what you got wrong, you should know.’

Contributors check, and recheck, and scratch their heads. They resubmit what looks to be a perfect book, completely within all guidelines and it’s rejected again and again. There are stories of people discovering .5 of a second too long a silence at the end of one chapter in 60, resubmitting and it going through. Folks checking the chapters and over the book and then discovering an extra second on the silence after the opening credits. Seriously, how hard would it be to say, chapter 45 has .5 of a second of extra silence.

Audible/ACX is swamped with submissions but if they identified the mistakes how many hundreds books in the queue for checking would have passed by now. I know authors with books which have been going round and round since February. Would these books be clogging up the system had Audible/ACX taken the simple, blindingly obvious step of identifying where any errors actually are. Even ‘there’s an error in chapter six, you know the one, the forty minute one, it’s in there’ or maybe, ‘here are your first five errors, there were more,’ would be better than what they currently do which is: ‘here’s twelve hours of audio, somewhere in there, is a single, tiny background noise/a silence that is 4 seconds long instead of 3.5. It’s not our fucking job to tell you where it is because that might actually be of some practicable use to you. Now piss off and fix it.’ It’s extraordinary. And worse, people who’ve read too many Geoffrey Archer novels and seen too much shit on TV like Madmen are beginning to think this kind of shambolic, unprincipled, bollocks approach is how actual business works. I don’t think so.

It’s also the reason why, most of the time, any folks using Audible who want to get my books the same time as everyone else have to borrow them from the library. 🙂

_____________________________

On a lighter note …

Do you remember in this post here, where I talked about doing a podcast interview? Well the interview is now live, so if you’d like to watch me shooting the breeze for half an hour on Bibliofiles, with Bonnie K.T. Dillabough you can. It was great fun, I really enjoyed it although I will have to try a different camera angle next time I do something like that! Double chins anyone? Anyway, if you’d like to give it watch, you can find it here:

 

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That’s … a bit of a thing.

These last fifteen days or so have been a bit of a roller coaster. You may, or may not, know – but I think you will know because I can’t believe I haven’t mentioned it – that I have an arthritic knee. Now I am on McOther’s health care but I’ve never thought to investigate it particularly thoroughly because … well I suppose because I had private health with one of my jobs and any problems with my left knee were actually excluded from the policy.

Every few years it flares up and when it recovers, never quite returns to previous levels. Living in a different county, I had a transplant to move some cartilage from a part of the knee where it wasn’t used much to an area where it was. That lasted a year or two, but I don’t think getting pregnant three weeks after the op (by mistake) did it much good.

The NHS will only give you one knee and they seem to have this slight of obsession with not giving it to you until you hit sixty. I suspect it’s because if people have to wait another 20 years there’s a good chance some of them will have died off before the operation has to go ahead. The official argument is that you won’t want to be in a wheelchair as an old person. My counter argument would be that actually, when you are 40 and have just had a little boy, or when you’re fifty and looking down the barrel of another eight years of bone on bone, that’s the time you want to be fit and able and … you know … pain free. Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you may die, and all that.

With lock down came a change in the way I exercised, more walking, less cycling, no gym and with that change came a truly evil flare up. So evil that I looked at our health insurance policy and realised that yes, I was insured for treatment for an acute flare up even if the underlying condition is chronic. So I asked.

I was given a call back from their triage team that same day. I then had a call booked a few days later to speake to a member of their physio teem who referred me straight through to a consultant. Within the week I was zoom calling a knee surgeon who fixed a friend’s knee. Wasn’t sure about using the local guys because I’m pretty sure one of them was the NHS guy who told me, aged 40, that I’d be fast tracked if I was 20 years older and that I should just go and lose two stones – I went to the gym where I lost two dress sizes and put on a stone so … a partial success there I suppose.

A quick chat by zoom and the following Monday I was making an appointment for photos/MRI etc. They offered me Wednesday but that’s my day to visit Mum so I chose the Monday after that. A week later I was heading down to London to be filmed and meet the surgeon in person. He’s very calm and measured and has a dry humour and subtlety to the way he delivers his verdict about things which reminded me strongly of McOther. He also has the same calm confidence about his expertise, which is always reassuring. He told me, ‘this is rather worse than I was expecting from your story. There’s not any cartilage that I can see.’ Then went on to explain that the knee was actually, ‘completely trashed’ and that a full replacement was the only real option. I may be fifty two, he said, but my knee is every bit of seventy years old. I’m not surprise. I suspect it’s been bone on bone for the last three years, at least.

While he was showing me the MRI it was intriguing to see it zoom through all the meat bit by bit. I looked at it and thought, Hmm, there’s some nice marbling there, if I was a steak, I’d taste nice. Which even I thought was a slightly strange thing to think.

I’ll be having surgery at London Bridge Hospital. The white and brown building second to the left of the Shard. HMS Belfast is near there, too. It’s on the left, just out of shot.

There we are then. As of two days’ time, I am about to plunge into two week’s isolation before having a knee op. When I come out the side I will have a replacement knee … I hope.

In so far as such a concept is possible, I am quite looking forward to having surgery. Counter intuitive as this may seem, if it works, I will be able to do a lot of things I couldn’t. Like … I dunno … walk. I suspect that once I get up and running after the op, I’ll do a fair bit of walking, just for the sheer joy of being able to. I may even be able to run for the first time in about 15 years.

Like any operation, there is a chance it will go horribly wrong. I might die on the table, have a blood clot or end up as a unidexter. But I like to think positive and believe that things will go well and that, by six pm, two weeks on Monday, I will contain some titanium and a lot of painkillers.

Let’s face it, they are sawing the ends off two bones, I’m guessing it’s going to feel a bit like having a broken leg at first. Or to put it another way, I think it might be going to smart a tad. On the other hand, since my knee is bone on bone, I’m probably looking at a reasonably substantial uplift, once I’ve finished the recuperation process, on the day-to-day pain levels I currently … ‘enjoy’ – if that’s the right word. Also, of course, once I’m out the other side I can go to follow up appointments on the train again and stuff. Which will be dandy.

Going to London on Monday used every last one of my reserves but it was fabulous. I left a wet, cold and windy Suffolk and walked off the platform at Liverpool Street into a warm, sunny autumn day. Bit of a bonus there. I do love the feeling of the sun on my skin and all that light on the backs of my eyes.

There was hardly anyone around and so I walked to my appointment and then walked back to Liverpool Street, via London Bridge, to see the hospital in which they will operate on me.

In order to preserve knee spoons I took it very slowly and happened upon Monument and Pudding Lane, which was rather lovely. I enjoyed the sunshine, not to mention the fact I could stand in the middle of Threadneedle Street to take a photo without being bothered by traffic. And I think I might have started a small love affair with the Walkie Talkie.

The Walkie Talkie is slightly nuts, which may be why I like it. Apparently it can focus the sun on a parking spot on the road below and, on the wrong kind of day, set parked cars on fire. I haven’t been able to substantiate if this is really true.

However, for all the rumours of murder rays, it looks a great deal more benign. Indeed, to me it looks like some well meaning creature bumbling through the streets. The others are really cool but they are buildings. The Walkie Talkie looks … a bit cuddlier than that.

When you catch a glimpse of it, over the roofs of other buildings, it looks as if it’s popped up to orientate itself.

If it spoke, I reckon it would make well-meaning noises; a mash up of Dara O’Brien doing impressions of whale song combined with his take on the flowerpot men; as seen on on Mock the Week.

See pictures below.

Boing. Woieoooooow. Blobalobolob.

Lobolobobloboblob!

Can you tell me the way to the river? I need to wash my feet.

Too weird? Yeh. OK.

I lived in London for a little while, and I love it. I left pre Canary Wharf – well I think the big square tower was there but that was it, it hadn’t even reached the point where it looked like a three pin plug. But I think for the most part, they’ve made a really good stab at the modern buildings thing.What seems to have worked well is the juxtaposition of the old and new; the way you have the Gherkin, the Lloyds Building and a bunch of other stuff all hugga mugga with some ancient church (that’s the little sandy coloured blob, right in the middle, with the Gherkin growing out of its head). I like that if something modern is good, it looks perfectly alright next to a twelth century church or the neo classical splendour of The Bank of England. I liked that there was no traffic too. I suppose even Covid has to have an upside.

This street is very K’Barthan. Quite similar to Fuller’s Row for anyone who has read Nothing to See Here. Except there aren’t the same railings.

Then suddenly, you get a whole Victorian row in the middle of it all, shown above. A small miracle, in itself, when most of this area was flattened by the Luftwaffe trying to bomb Liverpool Street in World War II. This is very K’Barthan, and looks more like Bayswater than the city. Looking at it, people might actually even live in these houses.

Looking down Threadneedle Street, with the Bank of England about 200 yards up behind me.

I also love that I managed a couple of shots which I could, plausibly, use for book covers. I have some shots taken from McOther’s London office of the shiny building in the previous shot being constructed. The brown building reflected in the shiny glass is the building in which his office is situated.

And finally, the cover of the ‘Christmas’ story I’m working on would probably be this one. As usual, I’ll do a short version for the Christmas Lights anthology this year and the longer expanded version will be released next year, the way Nothing To See Here would have been if I hadn’t run out of money and had to hold off releasing it until the following February! Oh and … er hem … sorry, we’re talking about Arnold, The Prophet’s Birthday, clearly, rather than Christmas.

So yeh … that’s where I am this week. Slightly in shock and about to enter splendid isolation.

_________________________________

 

Talking of isolation … if you’re bored and looking for something to keep you amused, I’m still giving away that 12 hour audiobook?

Yes, word up. Right now I am looking into ways I can deliver audiobooks direct to users: they buy from me and they can listen to the book in an app or on their computer. If you’d like to give it a go, you’ll need to download the bookfunnel app or join bookfunnel. If you’re happy doing that feel free to help yourself – the link is below.

It’s in beta, yes you are testing. That’s why you get a 13 hour audiobook for free read by one of the most distinguished actors you’ve never heard of: Gareth Davies. The man who made Roy Hudd laugh … and laugh enough to be asked back to do it again.

Once you click on the link, below, you’ll end up on a download page for the book. When you click listen/play it will ask you to download the bookfunnel app and enter this code, which it gives you right there so remember to write it down.

When you’ve done all the installing malarkey and you click to play it’ll ask you for the code you jotted down. I don’t know if the code is case sensitive but I’d presume it is!

This is a brand new app and brand new audio player, and Bookfunnel appreciate any and all feedback. If you get into trouble, or can’t get anything to work, contact their help address – which is given on their site, help @ bookfunnel.com – with a header: ATTN: Julie.

Here’s the link: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/fxd6bnoy7k

If you decide to listen to the book. I hope you enjoy it. I leave you with this lovely picture of Marvin the paranoid android.

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How does it work? Audiobooks.

Today I thought it would be interesting to do a what-are-the-duck’s-legs-doing-underneath style post about audiobooks. Obviously, I know jiff all about audiobooks or producing them so the best place to start is with someone who does; Gareth, The Voice Of K’Barth Davies. This means I also get to post some of the extensive interview he did, which is going to be delivered in several parts to audiobook listeners on my mailing list. Also, because after pestering him with that many questions, frankly, I think the least I can do is share his answers with as many people as possible.

Boing …

Most of you know how it all started, I’m sure, but for those who don’t, I got an email, out of the blue, in July 2019 from Gareth, with a link to Unlucky Dip recorded on audio. Obviously the email was funny so he had me at ‘hello’ – although it was actually  ‘greetings and salutations’ if I remember correctly – but the recording was brilliant as well. Bonus! I had no clue who he was so I had a look at his website.

He was, indeed, an actor and acted for a living, without doing anything else. This, I suspected, made him impressively bloody minded and, if he could earn enough not to die of starvation, probably quite good at acting.

Gareth cooking audiobooks …

It looked like he had a sense of humour (always a bonus) a bit of a line in pantomime villains (well, he was going to be reading Lord Vernon, wasn’t he?) and it seems he can also jump very high in the air.

In subsequent conversations, I discovered that he is a even bigger sci-fi nerd than I am, which takes a bit of doing.

One of the jolly side effects of this project has been that meeting of the spuds aspect! Put it like this, he kept rabbits at one point and one of them was called Wicket – after the Ewok, naturally. He was a children’s entertainer for many years and you need something to pull out of the … well … I think it was a house rather than a hat but you get the picture.

He can do funny, which is fairly essential for reading my stuff and he is very modest about his achievements. I suspect he’s a lot more distinguished than he makes out.

Having decided the project was go, both of us were feeling our way a bit at the beginning. He hadn’t done a commissioned book before and I … well audio was definitely on my radar but I’d looked at the prices and chalked it up as something to do in my dreams for now. So I hadn’t read up on it or anything and consequently, I hadn’t a fucking clue what I was doing (now I have read up on it I still haven’t a fucking clue but that’s by-the-by). Gareth made relatively few actual mistakes, even on these first books most of the errors I picked up were my own typos. Sheesh.

We were both quite nervous, after recording the first novel, Gareth sent the link to me with the rider, ‘Basically, I’m just hoping for any reaction other than “what the hell have you done!?!”‘

There was also something that went slightly skew whiff with the set up on the third and fourth books because he was experimenting with the sound set up. He did explain it, I think it was called ‘sound gate’ if I recall. Then it was my turn to be nervous, principally, about the weird nature of the feedback I was giving him.

When he’s not illuminated in green or dressed up in costume Gareth looks like this.

Since my only experience of audiobooks was still restricted to Radio 4s A Book At Bedtime it did feel weird marking up a document going, ‘8 minutes 10 seconds you breathed in a weird way there and I heard it!’ I was a bit unsure as to whether I was helpfully pointing out things or being an anally retentive wanker. As someone who is not at all comfortable with the notion of overt wankerdom, I did keep asking, to check. It was probably quite annoying, but Gareth cheerfully continued to reassure me … quite a lot … that it was the former, not the latter!

He has now recorded a lot more audio, including seven of my books, I get the impression that he has definitely evolved a working process that suits him. Clearly, no two people are the same but I hope you will get a general feel for what the process involves and what a narrator does.

As I understand it, Gareth proofs all his own stuff. Some narrators don’t though, so they have to pay someone else to do that for them, usually at an hourly rate. That’s how the costs of audio end up sounding very high. The minute you start to unravel what goes into producing a book you (general ‘you’ here, clearly) start to change your view. Narrating an audio book is way, way more complicated than just sitting (or standing) in front of a microphone and reading stuff aloud as Gareth’s answers show.

Anyway, enough wittering on already. Here he is answering my questions about audio book production.

Gareth on producing audiobooks…

Right oh. First question. You warned me you’d take a while to produce the K’Barthan books but actually I thought you worked impressively fast. How long can you read at a stretch before you lose the will to live have to give your voice a rest?

I work a bit differently now than I did when reading the K’Barth series (I have learned!) For those, I read the whole book through, sent it to you for notes, then rerecorded, edited and mastered the finished piece. That meant that I would just be reading for as much of the day as I had quiet. Which meant, on days where the house was completely empty – if everyone was away for a few days – I could record for many hours. We were up against a very hard deadline to finish the initial reading of the last book because I was leaving the country on tour. I recorded maybe 12 hours each day over a long weekend and I finished reading that at around midnight on Sunday! That’s probably the closest I’ve come to losing the will to live …

Now, I record, edit and master a section each day – that gives the author more manageable chunks to listen to and, on the off-chance a chapter has no notes then it’s finished. Generally speaking, for each hour of finished material, it takes at least two hours to record it, slightly less to edit. So I currently aim to get around 1.5-2 hours done each day, which is roughly 3-4 hours recording and maybe 3 editing. When recording, I tend to work by chapter. So, unless it’s a very short chapter, I’ll take a break; walk around a bit, sit in my comfy chair and – always – go to the loo: you are constantly drinking water when recording.

There was a long stretch at the start of book three where the male MC has a sore throat and Gareth read that with a croaky voice, which was genius. One of the most fun parts of the process is that, if I leave him room to work, this is the kind of thing he does. He did confess to being very relieved when he got to the point where the sore throat is mentioned as having gone. Likewise, I do give some guidance on the voices I want, but mainly because he can do a lot more accents than he thinks he can – and with a gentle (I hope it’s gentle) prompt he can produce a very varied cast of characters, often with just the tiniest tweaks on the same basic set of vocal parameters.

On a side note, that’s also wise advice about the weeing, we know what Billy Connolly said about never passing up the opportunity to use the loo.

Next question …

Do you do voice training and if so, how much? Do you have to do the voice equivalent of warm up stretches before you start reading. Or any other special measures (!) like … I dunno … standing up to read? (that sounds weird but I do it all the time on the phone when I want to make a complaint, or a business call, or pretend I’m a grown up … and I can’t speak and think sitting down sorry. Tangent.). Are there some days where you know your voice is just not going to play ball? Says Mary attempting to break the record for the longest question ever asked.

Oh, there’s a lot there and I feel I might end up giving you an even longer answer than the last one! Yes, I definitely do some vocal warm ups. For starters, I always want to have at least two hours between getting up and starting to record (which isn’t hard cos I’m not a morning person and it takes me ages to get going, anyway). Then, when I’ve got the laptop and mic and everything set up I start warming the voice with some humming, then soft vowel sounds then moving on to phrases I learned 20 years ago at drama school! This isn’t a long process, we’re talking a few minutes rather than half an hour or something, but it’s just until I feel things are fairly loose and I’m not pushing or straining. Then I run through a series of tongue twisters – because tripping over consonants when you’re in mid-flow is deeply irritating and annoyingly frequent!

There are days when you realise your voice isn’t really with it, but you only really know for sure when you’ve started. I’ve had maybe two days where, maybe half an hour in to recording, I’ve stopped and packed it in for the day.

But it’s odd that you mention standing up. I have read everything so far sitting down, but in a session with my singing teacher recently (over zoom, naturally) we found that my system is actually more relaxed and my voice more open when I’m standing, so I’ll be trying that out next – though whether it’s something listeners would be able to pick up on or whether its just for my own benefit remains to be seen…

Gareth’s first standing up book – I think – is Nothing To See Here which we signed off yesterday, as I type this. 🙂

Does your voice change over the course of the day and how do you deal with that when you’re reading audio to a deadline?

Yes, it does change, but maybe not in the way you might expect. Rather than the sound of the voice changing it tends to be more the mental shifting that gets reflected in the way you read. The clearest example of what I mean is that I noticed (to my embarrassment) that chapters I’d recorded first in the day tended to be slightly slower paced than those recorded later – hopefully not in an obvious ‘that’s weird’ way but certainly enough that I started to hear when editing. When you become aware of something like that, you can try to counter it.

In general, I suppose one of the benefits of both voice training and the practical experience I’ve had over the years is that I have a kind of ‘work mode’ so that no matter where or when or what’s going on I do default to that which keeps the voice pretty consistent.

In the 70 or so hours of recorded material Gareth has produced about K’Barth there’s only been two occasions when his voice didn’t play ball, one time he was ill. He was busy being The Fat Controller at Thomas World – a job description that still causes me an unreasonable amount of mirth – sorry Gareth. He was working through the run up to Christmas 2019. The weather was vile; cold and rainy. I should imagine that working outdoors, in the freezing rain, in a soggy fat suit, is a fairly good way to catch pneumonia. I think he felt quite rough for a week. One other occasion, his voice was just tired and not playing ball the exact way he described in the previous answer, so he had to wait until the next day. All in all he’s very consistent, which is handy. Next question …

How do you keep track of what voice you are doing for whom, do they slide a bit from time to time … or do you have an ‘are you nervous son’* for everyone!

* – Gareth told me that to do the accent for Big Merv he would always do one particular line out of Unlucky Dip when BM slaps a giant hand on The Pan’s shoulder and goes, ‘Are you nervous son?’

When I started The Wrong Stuff (book 2) I set up a separate tab on my recording programme. I transferred clips from book one onto it and then added recordings of new characters as they came in. That way I had a quick reference point to go to if I got confused – this was a lifesaver when it came to books 3 and 4. There are several chapters there with eight or more characters in, including many new ones; so I’d think ‘Damn! Which resistance officer is which?’, go and have a listen and then carry on.

Sliding? Yes! Two pairing especially come to mind. The Pan and Ruth, as our central pair, are both more neutral voices so sometimes their dialogue could blend too closely. Also the first few chapters between Deirdre and Snoofle – I kept giving them each other’s accent! But some characters did develop their own reference to help out! Aside from Big Merv’s ‘You nervous son?’, the best is Gladys; whose voice is accompanied by a forward and back shaky right hand! Every single line!

So now I’m wondering whether the hand moves faster if Gladys is talking quickly! I should have asked him.

How do you make up for the lack of audience to keep the buzz and energy in your performance when you record?

That’s not really something I’ve particularly thought about. Obviously for live theatre or concerts or street shows, the audience is a major factor. But there’s also plenty of acting work that happens without one, even in my career which has been predominantly theatre. Even in rehearsals for live shows you’re working for performance level so working without an audience, or rather, working as if there’s an audience is fairly common. It’s mostly just about staying focused on what you’re doing, which is obviously tiring in itself and one reason for frequent breaks!

When I’m recording books, my focus tends to be on the microphone, and the audience I’m thinking about is myself (will I accept that when I’m editing? If not, let’s redo it now) and the author (am I delivering something close to what they had in mind?).

The audio thing … it looks like it takes a hell of a long time to learn; making the booth, learning the tech, choosing the mic, editing out the trains (Gareth lives near a railway line) and mastering the … well … mastering … How long did it take you to achieve book readiness, so to speak?

This is one of those things where, to get to an acceptable level is not too hard, but then you keep learning and making improvements. My booth is basically a corner of my room with a spare mattress behind me (with a very nice Star Wars Lego cover on (next to a Lego Han Solo it says ‘Han shot first), towels on the various surfaces around me and sheets draped in front. I’ve now upgraded so I can remove the sheets.

Gareth’s recording corner, note StarWars tat on top of the sheeted … cupboard? Shelves? That’s probably all the Warhammer figures under there.

I am not remotely tech savvy so that was definitely the thing that slowed me down at first. I followed a guide (specifically for audiobooks) in setting up and using the software I bought. Even now, I barely scratch the surface of all the things that program does and I’m probably ignorant about 95% of it – but I mostly know how to do the things I need it for.

It probably took me two or three months to get comfortable with it, and much of that time was spent playing around recording Unlucky Dip, the short story, and getting that right. Certainly by the time I’d finished the first full book in the K’Barthan Series I felt pretty confident – though I was still referring back to my notes for the mastering process.

Since then I’ve invested in a better microphone and some very clever editing software that makes that process much, much easier! But there are still things I want to learn more about so I can keep improving.

That bit about learning what you need to know to get started completely resonates with me. I’m like that with Facebook ads, I bought a brilliant course a few years ago, learned enough to get them to work and now that’s what I do. There is so much more I could do, and a lot more I want to do, but there’s only so much time and those things come under the other 95%. Mwahahahargh! Sorry, next question.

How many actual hours do you reckon you work for a finished hour of audio?

Oops, I should have read ahead! I half answered this question above. In actual practical terms, for recording and editing, I’d say I’m currently at around 3-4 hours per finished hour. The usual estimate for audiobooks is around 3 hours, so I still have some room for improvement.

That does not, however, include the preparation time. I like to read the book once through just to read it, get the overall story and tone. Then read it through a second time making notes. Technical notes like the start and end page numbers for each chapter and which new characters are introduced when. And performance notes about the characters and any particular points I might need to be aware of when reading. And any questions I have for the author; such as checking pronunciations (we learned that the hard way when I went back and rerecorded every instance of ‘Blurpon’ in Few are Chosen…) their thoughts on character voices and – knowing that typos tend to slip through the tightest knot – even questioning bits of text if I think there might be an error.

Then there’s figuring out the voices. For some books it can be a simple thing of pitch or intonation. Then, there are books like the K’Barthan Series ………..

(Obviously, I loved it. Even when I was desperately running out of ideas towards the end!)

OMG the Blurpon thing! We were both so green at the start. I still feel a bit kind of … wandering in the dark sometimes but Gareth definitely has a process now. Not that he was ever anything other than a consummate professional. He has always come over as efficient and unflappable – and if anything did go wrong, like the Fat Controller flu episode – he kept me updated on progress. But I digress, next question.

Is there anything we authors can do when speccing up the audio job, that would be helpful – apart from the really obvious things like, remembering to tell you how all the made up words are pronounced (doh! Although you got them all right bar one anyway).

There’s that Blurpon again! (I really should read ahead…)

Accents is one (though, having just read ahead (finally) I’ll save that for the last question). But overall, I suppose knowing how much of an input you want, and being aware that there’s a limit to how close to your perfect reading any reader can get.

Some authors (like yourself) have very clear ideas in their heads about how characters sound or how certain phrases should be said, so it’s good to know that going in. Other authors have a more, ‘I’ve written it but you’re reading it, so just let me hear it’ approach. And some are in the middle ground. None is right or wrong, none is better than another. As long as that awareness that its someone else reading it is there. A friend of mine read one audiobook, but the author was so on his case about getting sentences exactly the way she heard them in her head, that he hasn’t done any more!

That’s unbelievably sad about the narrator who was scared off by the micro managing author. I think that, as an author, some of us are micro managing, which is fine. But if an author wants their book exactly the way it is in their head, and will brook no movement from that, the only option is to read it themselves rather than hire someone else. I know a couple of authors who feel this, have accepted it and are, indeed planning to read their own. The rest of us … there needs to be some give. Right at the beginning, Gareth made a point of explaining that, while he would give anything a shot – except a Liverpudlian accent – I needed to understand that all the voicing is being done by one person’s voice and the limits are set by what, exactly, that voice can physically do.

For all the caveat, many characters in the K’Barthan Series sound exactly the way they do in my head; Ada, The Pan of Hamgee, Lord Vernon, Ruth (intonation, tone etc), Big Merv to name the main ones. He also got Sir Robin Get bang on but we used that for Professor N’Aversion because the voice he suggested for for Sir Robin was so much better than the one I specced. In the general narration, he also has exactly the kind of voice I would have looked for had he not approached me. I consider myself extremely lucky in that. I think if The Pan, Ruth, Big Merv and Lord Vernon had been too different, I might have struggled … possibly … I dunno. But there is so much more to this than how the characters sound in inner space.

One of the joys of books is that they are living things in a way no other art form is. Because every other art form is presented to you in its interpreted form by a conductor, producer, director or whatever, but a book is something each reader interprets for themselves. Every single person’s head cinema is different. That’s what makes reading so wonderful, you can imagine it from the author’s cues but that’s just the basic framework; a lot of the rest is up to you, the reader. The way Gareth reads some words is different to the way I do, the intonation on some bits isn’t the same. I love that. It’s like a window into someone else’s thinking; how he sees it and hears it. As a nosey author, that kind of thing intrigues me hugely.

Surely, the overall tone and feel the narrator creates for each book is way more important than the minutiae. Is the way the characters interact true to the original – do their relationships come over, their feelings, their dreams their desires (where applicable) the chemistry between them, or lack of it … For me, there is so much more to it than soundy-likey voices.

Er hem, sorry. Went off on one there. Where was I? Ah yes, last and final question.

Is there anything you would categorically refuse to do as part of an audiobook narration, if asked? Or is it just the Liverpudlian accent? Mwahahahargh!

I can’t think of anything. My standard answer of ‘I won’t do nudity’ isn’t really relevant here.

But accents are where it gets potentially tricky. I’m reasonably good with accents, but I’m not one of those phenomenal accent sponge people. (I made that up, but you know what I mean.) But if there’s an accent required, I’ll do my best. The book I’ve just read had a South African character for a few lines. I did my best as a kind of placeholder while I finished the rest of the book, then went and researched and practised and tried to improve and went back and rerecorded it. It was better but certainly not brilliant. Then I was told that a future book in the series was set in South Africa. So I’m putting in more practise now…

But saying no? While I’m prepared to have a go at most accents, I’m a white European, so if an author came to me with a book set in, say, Asia, with a cast principally made up of Asians, I would suggest they find someone more appropriate to the task!

So there you go … A massive thank you to Gareth for taking the time to answer all my inane questions. I hope his take on doing audio or at least his answers to my questions about it, helps to give you a feel for what’s involved. And if you want to find out more about Gareth, you can visit his website here.

Also, one of the best chapters he did was one in Few Are Chosen, you can listen to that on soundcloud here.

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Oh and if you’d like to listen to Gareth’s work, why not try one of my audiobooks? OK not this one because we only signed it off yesterday so it’ll be a month or so before it appears online … and it probably won’t appear on Audible until next year. But anyhoo if you want a listen there are two ways to do so for nothing:

Thing one: If your local library uses Hoopla, Overdrive and Odilo so you should be able to find them on many local library apps – just ask your librarian if they aren’t obvious as some libraries have to buy a copy and you have to borrow it one at a time, others do a thing where multiple people can listen at once and I get paid per check out. The point is, they pay me but you get to listen for free.

Thing two: if you just want to see what it’s like, you can listen to an entire 90 minute story for free if you decide to join my Readers’ Group. A story that isn’t available anywhere else. You also get to listen to Unlucky Dip, the 30 minute short, for free as well.

Alternatively, for a list of my audiobooks, and links to buy from me, direct, or from the main stores, go here.

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