Good Reading : April 2005
24 goodreading categorical Recordings have flooded in, and have been sent to the studio to be cleaned up. ‘We’ve published sound tracks of stories that no longer exist,’ says Stevens. He adds that the BBC believe they now have just about everything that anybody anywhere once recorded. Stevens’ latest project is the 2005 launching of the last of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy radio series as audiobooks. It’s a project that shows how adaptation can be a highly artistic process in its own right. Douglas Adams’ original Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was written for radio.The series, which was broadcast in 1981, was such a success that Pan Books commissioned Adams to write it in book form. A second radio series led to another book. But Adams wrote subsequent episodes of the story in book form only, and no radio adaptations of them were made. According to Stevens, it’s clear that Adams was no longer thinking in an auditory way when he wrote his later books. ‘They were hard to adapt,’ he says. ‘The plot lines don’t work in the same way.’ Gervase Phinn, on the other hand, origi- nally wrote his autobiographical stories, like Head Over Heels in the Dales , for the printed page, without any regard to whether his work would be adapted for another medium. After his books became bestsellers, the BBC com- missioned him to read them as audiobooks. He now knows that any subsequent books he writes have to work for the ear, as well as for the eye. Phinn acknowledges that this has changed the way he writes. ‘I don’t put in Welsh characters, for a start,’ he says. The reason? He’s not good at Welsh accents – and he’s had letters telling him so.The producers in the tearoom laugh as he speaks.They can’t wait to talk about the problems they’ve had with stories peopled with foreigners. ‘We did a book where there were these four spies in a van,’ says a producer. ‘And one actor reading it.’ Apparently each spy came from a different country, and each had a thick foreign accent. As the spies sat there in the van, they became more agitated. By the end of the scene, they were sup- posed to be shouting at each other. ‘And then the Russians closed in,’ says the producer. ‘We had to stop after each line so the narrator could think in a new accent.’ ‘You think that’s a problem,’ says another producer. ‘This book I’m doing? I’ve got twelve blokes in a submarine.’The producer says she’s taken an artistic decision and made the twelve men from different parts of the British Isles. One actor can read in twelve different accents, ensuring that the listener will always understand who is speaking. Sex scenes can be a problem, too. ‘You get the actors pant- ing,’ explains the first producer, ‘and the Northern Libraries begin to complain.’ You can see that Kiran Kataria has to think very carefully before she agrees to turn a book into an audiobook, even if it’s of the more traditional type involving only a single reader. Kataria sits at the back of a huge open plan office, surrounded by bookshelves and trolleys filled with books. She receives about 100 books a week from publishers who are keen to have their books recorded. Kataria says she looks first and foremost for a good story, saying that crime, sagas and thrillers work very well as audiobooks. The BBC, of course, aren’t the only people making these kinds of decisions. Bernadette Neubecker, Manager of Australia’s ABC udiobooks, is in the same position. Neubecker sends ut books to readers experienced with radio and aits for their recommendations. She says a book at works well on the page will work for the ear. ‘The added enhancement of it being read to ou is that the actor can bring drama to the story,’ ays Neubecker. She adds that sometimes literary fiction can be more accessible when read aloud. ‘One of the best in recent years was A Suitable one on location. It was heavily abridged, but fabulous.’ As far as non-fiction goes, self-help doesn’t work very well, while biography, utobiography and history do. ‘As long as it as a good story,’ says the BBC’s Kataria. Recording autobiography raises the licate question of who should be reading – the author, or an actor? It turns out that e Gervase Phinns of the world are very rare. ostly, audiobooks work better if an actor is It’s a rare author who gets to read their own work aloud, even if their works are bestsellers. What makes Phinn different, as he’s busy demonstrating, is that he’s got the gift of comic timing, and a rich and inviting voice.