An Interview with Katherine Kellgren!

Katy Kellgren Nicola here! I am thrilled to have as my Word Wench guest today Katherine Kellgren! Katherine has recorded over 125 audiobooks, including winners of the Audie Award, the American Library Association’s Odyssey Honor, the Earphones Award, the Publishers Weekly Listen Up Award, and ForeWord Magazine’s Audiobook of the Year. She was named one of AudioFile Magazine’s Best Voices of the Year for 2008, 2009, & 2010 and last year she was added to AudioFile's list of Golden Voices. Amongst her titles are Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and now my very own audiobook, Notorious!

Katherine and I first got chatting when she contacted me to discuss some aspects of the characterisation in Notorious in the advance of the recording. The process of narrating and recording a book intrigued me and so I thought it would be interesting to invite Katherine to talk about her work.

Katherine, welcome to the Word Wenches! How did you come to work as a professional narrator? What is it about the job that appeals to you?

As a child and teenager, I spent hours in my room listening to audiobooks and spoken word recordings. My particular heroes were John Gielgud, Ralph Richardson and Edith Evans, and I spent countless hours listening to recordings of them performing in the plays of Shakespeare, Wilde, Sheridan & etc. and reading poetry. I had wanted to be an actress since a very young age, but part of what drew me into me into that desire was listening. After I graduated drama school (I did a three-year training at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art), my father (who was in New York) began to suffer from the effects of Parkinson's disease, one of which was that he could not focus to read properly. He had always been a great reader, so I went to the library and took out a book by his favorite out-of-print detective author, bought myself a hand-held recorder, and made him an audiobook of the title. When I moved back to the States I spent a lot of time reading to him, and somewhere along the line I began to realize that since listening to recordings and being read to had always been such an important part of my life, I should try to pursue audio narration.

What was the first book that you narrated?

The first audiobook I narrated professionally was WICKED WIDOW by Amanda Quick, which I recorded Wicked Widow for Random House Audio.

What qualities do you think you need to be a good narrator?

The patience and ability to work hard and really apply yourself to each title you record in terms of preparation and research. Concentration and stamina when you are in the studio are also very important, for when you spend all day recording you can't let your attention or focus waver for a second or it will show in the finished product. Also the traits that every actor needs to have – the intelligence to best interpret the will of the author, ability to embody characterizations & etc. Added to this, the ability (once you are armed with all the preparation possible) to let yourself go when you are recording and ride the arc of the story. You don't get to rehearse like you do in the theatre, and it can be a bit of a roller-coaster ride recording a book.

Take us through the preparation that you do for each book. How do you develop the characterisation, emotional interpretation and voices/dialects?

I first read the book through at home, making note in the margins as I go of any descriptions of tone the author has provided (i.e. "he said sullenly" "she said, shocked"), as well as any specific physical descriptions of characters provided. I make note of all the accents and dialects needed (and see a dialect coach if I need to brush up on or study them), and look up words which I'm not sure how to pronounce. Then I go back through and mark each character's dialogue in a different color of highlighter pen. This takes time, but really helps me attack each voice with more confidence when I'm in the studio.

I read that you also did some singing in some of the books, which sounds great! Are you a singer as well as a professional narrator?

 My first job when I left drama school was in a musical, but since I'm now entirely focused on audiobooks the only chance I get to sing is when a song pops up in the text. I always find it quite fun when that happens!

How does an audiobook get made? What happens in the recording studio?

Well, the process is different for different books, but for example, when I recorded your lovely title Notorious_350 NOTORIOUS it took me just under four days recording from 10AM to 4PM. I worked in the studio with a wonderful director/engineer called Nikki Banks who provided guidance, and kept me on the straight and narrow when I fluffed or accidentally said the wrong word (a big sin!) and also took care of the rough audio editing as we went. 

A newspaper recently said that: “The right voice can send an audiobook up the charts.” Do you think this is true?

I absolutely agree. I am a big listener to audiobooks, and I often buy them because I love the work of a particular narrator.

How many books do you record a year?

 It varies by year, but somewhere between 25 – 30.

Do you have to take special care of your voice?

I drink an awful lot of tea in the studio, and if I start to get a touch husky, I find hot water with honey remarkable soothing.

What sort of books do you enjoy reading – or listening to?

 P_-g_-wodehouse-thank-you-jeeves-cd-unabridged-audio-book-1477-p I used to be a big fan of 18th century English literature (and still am), but find that because I read a lot for work I do a lot less pleasure reading. When I do snatch the chance to read for pleasure nowadays it's often something like P.G. Wodehouse that does not require tremendously deep thought or analysis – not that I'm dissing P.G. Wodehouse – I worship him! As far as audiobooks go, I'm always listening to something. I often revisit the old spoken word recordings I loved when I was growing up, and I listen to a lot of new titles too. I'm a big fan of the work of Jim Dale, who is an unbelievably gifted narrator of children's audio. 

Katherine thank you so much for joining us here today and giving us such a fascinating insight into the world of audiobooks! I can’t wait to hear your reading of Notorious!

Now it’s over to you for any comments or questions for Katherine! To kick off the discussion I wonder how many audiobook listeners we have here? If you enjoy audiobooks, what is it that you like about them? Do you have any favourites? And what makes a good listening experience for you? I'm offering a gift voucher for the audiobook of your choice from Audible to one commenter between now and Sunday!