Interview on creating an audiobook

Here is a reprint of an excerpt from an interview Julian did with a local radio station on the audiobook.

Interviewer: How difficult was it to create an audiobook?

JB: It was much more difficult than I thought it would be. I could barely read a couple of paragraphs without making some sort of mistake in pronunciation or intonation, let alone 116,000 words! Thank goodness for the audio editor; it makes me sound somewhat articulate.

Interviewer: I can imagine that there were some names that were difficult to pronounce. For example, some of the Native American names.

JB:Absolutely. It’s also hampered by the absence of how certain names should be pronounced. Let’s take the famed Native American explorer, Sacagawea, as an example. Lewis and Clark may have been brave explorers, but they were terrible spellers. They mention Sacagawea seventeen times in their journals, and spell her name in seven different ways. Today, Americans tend to pronounce her name with a soft “g.” However, I was persuaded by a couple of dozen articles that I read that her name should probably be pronounced with a hard “g” or maybe even a ”k.” This, for example, would make the meaning of her name Bird Woman, rather than Boat Launcher. I then had a decision to make on whether to perpetuate the soft “g” that Americans are used to, or use the likely more correct pronunciation. It’s all very easy to get lost in research on how to pronounce names, especially if you are looking for an excuse not to be reading a chapter of the audiobook.

Interviewer: The book has some quotes from Americans. Do you do the accents?

JB:Yes, unfortunately. Although I researched how famous Americans sounded (including those whose voices were never recorded like Mark Twain), I was somewhat hampered by the fact that I still can’t do a very good American accent.  The accents are therefore directionally accurate but somewhat comedic.

Interviewer: Is there anything you would do differently next time?

JB:I cannot tell you how many times I had wished that I had written simpler sentences.

Muscle Shoals

Listen kids.  Back in the old days we used to buy our music in the form of LP records.  I agree it’s much better now; you can discover almost anything immediately and it doesn’t cost as much.  But there were a few things that were better then, and one of these was the album cover.  When you first bought a record, you used to pore over every single word and picture on that album cover and sleeve.  You could learn who played each instrument or sound; what each lyric was; and where it was recorded.  The dedications were usually a bit unfathomable, but the art work was usually cool.  Album covers were great and it all started to go downhill when CDs replaced them.

When I was an adolescent I remember noticing that quite a few of the records I liked were recorded in a place called Muscle Shoals, Alabama.  I’d never heard of the place and there was no internet to help correct my ignorance.  I recall looking in an atlas to find where it was, but I couldn’t find it either because it was such a small town or because I erroneously thought it must be on the coast.  My parents didn’t have the type of reference material that might include Muscle Shoals. If it had been a wild flower of Britain or a Greek myth or legend, I would have been fine but rock music just wasn’t my parents’ thing.  

Anyway today we were passing near so we visited.  I wanted to see where The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Etta James, Aretha Franklin, Cher, Eric Clapton, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Percy Sledge, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and others all recorded music.

Muscle Shoals is a very ordinary town of 14,000 people near the Tennessee River.  The main drag has multiple strip malls on both sides and the usual array of franchised fast food joints.  There are two studios in town.  Fame Studios was the original, and Muscle Shoals Sound Studio the offshoot formed when the house band, The Swampers, left Fame Studios.  You’ve probably heard of The Swampers from the lyrics of Sweet Home Alabama:

“Muscle Shoals has got the Swampers.

And they’ve been known to pick a song or two.

Lord, they get me off so much,

They pick me up when I’m feelin’ blue”

Fame Studios is sandwiched between a CVS and a Walgreens (English translation Boots The Chemist and Superdrug).  As you can see, it’s a very ordinary building and it needs some updating.  The cars in the parking lot were 10-30 year old Toyotas and Chevrolets, not a Ferrari in sight.

I got talking to a man eating his salad lunch outside the building.  He was a London-based music producer.  I asked him why he had come all this way to record music.  He said the sound here was unique.  The musicians who lived in this part of Alabama just played differently from those elsewhere. The relative integration of the whites with their music traditions and the blacks with their different influences had created a richer sound here than elsewhere.  They also played more traditional versions of their instruments and the walls of the studio held the music better than studios elsewhere.  The result of these three factors meant that the sound created here was unique.  These musicians didn’t travel so if you wanted the sound you had to come here.  

We weren’t allowed to go into the studio.  Someone called Arkansas Dave was recording a song.  He will do well to beat the average of the songs produced here.

Oscar predictions 2014

As you probably know, we like going to movies. We’ve seen pretty much everything this year except The Wolf of Wall Street. I just couldn’t summon up the enthusiasm for a three hour film about unpleasant people. Three hours is just too long for a film. Let’s pray that it doesn’t win “Best Editing”, because they obviously didn’t bother. As one critic said “I lost interest in the movie during the third scene of bankers snorting cocaine from a hooker’s arse”. I’m sure Martin Scorsese doesn’t mind; this film has earned more money than every other movie he has made.

Anyway, I’ve take a few minutes to write down my predictions for the 8 top awards. This is obviously a pretty foolish thing to do, as by Sunday night I will likely be proved very wrong.

Best Film
There were a very good batch of movies in the last year, the best for many years. This will probably mean that the awards will be shared by multiple films, rather than one film taking 13 awards.

The best movie last year was undoubtedly 12 Years A Slave. Despite my wife’s protestations, the most original mainstream movie was Her. Both pictures are near perfect. Captain Phillips was good (and Tom Hanks should have been nominated for Best Actor). Philomena, Nebraska, Dallas Buyers Club and Gravity were also very strong. The subject matter of 12 Years A Slave is what usually win Oscars though and it is genuinely the best film.

Best Director
The Best Director nominations are always strange. You would think that the director of the Best Film would always win Best Director, but it is rarely the case (sometimes they don’t even get nominated – Argo). I suspect that artist-turned-director Steve McQueen will be unlucky and that Alfonso Cuaron will win for Gravity. The hardship stories of how long it took Cuaron to be able to make this film will influence the judges. But it should be Steve McQueen.

Best Actor
My favourite actor currently is Matthew McConnaughey. He should have won last year for Mud, a vastly underrated film. In Dallas Buyers Club, he did what Best Actors do to win an Oscar; he suffered for his art, losing a huge amount of weight to be believable as an AIDS-inflicted bigot turned pharmacy saviour in Dallas Buyers Club.

Best Actress
Most Oscars are won by movies released in December, but the nailed on certainty for Best Actress is Cate Blanchett for Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine (released in the Summer). She chewed the furniture and then some.

Best Supporting Actor
This should be won by first time actor, Barkhad Abdi, for his terrifying performance in Captain Phillips. The supporting categories are often close though and Michael Fassbender for 12 Years A Slave and Jared Leto for Dallas Buyers Club also have fine chances. I think it should be Abdi, but I suspect Leto might win it.

Best Supporting Actress
My bet is Lupita Nyongo for 12 Years A Slave, but it might be current darling, Jennifer Lawrence, for the inexorable American Hustle or even Sally Hawkins for Blue Jamine.

Best Original Screenplay
I would really like it to be Her, an original idea that keeps innovating.

Best adapted Screenplay
Again, the Best Picture should win best screenplay so I’m pitching for 12 Years A Slave

I’m sure people will score my predictions come Monday morning. Happy to take others’ thoughts in the comments though.