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!


Notorious - US Nicola here! With just over a week to go until the publication of my new book, Notorious, I am extremely excited! Notorious is book 4 in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series and it features many of the characters who have appeared earlier in the series including Alex and Joanna Grant from Whisper of Scandal.


As you know, ideas for books come from many different places and one of the inspirations for Notorious was Pride and Prejudice. When Lydia Bennet runs off with Wickham her sister Jane laments: “So imprudent a match on both sides!” Elizabeth, in speaking to Mr Darcy about the elopement is even more outspoken, believing that Wickham will ruin Lydia and certainly not marry her: “She has no money, no connections, nothing that can tempt him to… She is lost forever.”

Mr Darcy, of course, saves the day, by compelling Wickham to marry Lydia. Money changes hands to Wickham seal the deal. The match is made. And the idea came into my head: “What would happen if money changed hands to ensure that a match was broken rather than made?”

In the literature of the Georgian age, in the archives and in fiction we frequently read of imprudent matches and disapproving parents. Money, marriage and scandal could be closely linked. Servant girls were paid off if they became pregnant (I’ve come across a couple of examples of this in my researches into the Craven family!) Parents and trustees bought off fortune hunters in order to save their heiress daughters from throwing themselves away on unsuitable men. When I was researching a Yorkshire gentry family in the Regency period I came across a very curious payment in the ledgers to a young local man who was paid "to go away to London." At the time the family had a teenage daughter who was an heiress. Naturally my writer's imagination started to spark; perhaps he had been involved with the girl and the family wanted her to make a more upwardly moblile match so they paid him to go away… Thus the idea for Notorious was born; my heroine would be a match-breaker rather than a matchmaker, paid to distract impressionable young men of good family if they looked inclined to make an unsuitable match or to tempt rakes away from heiresses.

The Hero 

Whisper of Scandal - US I didn’t have far to look for a hero for Notorious. After Whisper of Scandal came out a number of readers contacted me to ask if James Devlin, cousin to Alex Grant in Whisper, was going to have his own story. The idea appealed to me very much. Dev is the sort of man my late grandmother would have described as “cocky.” She would have said it with a smile because Dev is handsome, self-made and a little bit brash but so charming that he gets away with it. He is a little too confident of himself and of his ability to attract women. In short he needs to be taken down a peg or two and my heroine, Susanna, is just the woman to do it.

Of course life for Dev is nowhere near as smooth as it appears on the surface. He is engaged to an heiress and appears to have the world at his feet but it is a fragile world. Both Dev and his sister Chessie are fortune hunters and in Notorious I try to show what a precarious and at times desperate situation that could be. Dev's other problem is that he is bored with a capital B. He's been a sailor, adventurer and explorer. Now he is at the beck and call of his heiress fiancée. He is losing his self- respect, which I felt was an interesting conflict to give my hero. 

Kerry One other unusual thing about Dev. He has inherited an unusual title, that of Hereditary Knight in the Irish peerage. There are three hereditary knighthoods of feudal origin in Ireland and they sound as though they come straight out of the legends of King Arthur: The Knight of Glin (The Black Knight), the Knight of Kerry (the Green Knight) and the White Knight, which is currently a dormant title. I couldn't resist giving my Irish hero such a romantic background! The picture is of County Kerry, a stunningly beautiful place.

The Heroine and the Cover Art

I won’t give away how Susanna, the heroine, falls into her profession of match-breaker.  Susanna 1 Suffice it to say she is a very beautiful woman who realises that her looks will enable her to escape poverty and keep her adopted family together. When my editor asked me to send her some pictures of what I imagined Susanna to look like, I was immediately able to visualise her and here she is! The picture is from a very long-running and well-known advertisement in the UK for financial services. This was Susanna, beautiful, slightly mysterious and definitely intriguing. I sent in the picture to my editor and was very amused when the cover art for Notorious arrived, featuring a “headless” heroine whose most prominent feature was her enhanced cleavage. Hmm. But they did keep the red and black colour scheme!

The Title

I very seldom choose the titles of my books, mostly because I am not very good at coming up with something that my editor and the marketing team consider sounds "right." The choice of the title Notorious was interesting to me. Susanna cannot be notorious because she operates secretly. No one can know she is a matchbreaker because that would give the whole game away. So it is actually Devlin who is the infamous one. By the end of the book, however, both Dev and Susanna are as scandalous as each other!

Tattersalls There is a fun trailer for Notorious here and here is a link to an excerpt if you would like to sample the story. I’ll be giving away a signed copy of the book to one person who comments between now and midnight Wednesday. Notorious is set in London and features a number of prominent London landmarks from Tattersalls bloodstock auctioneers (pictured) to St Pauls Cathedral. Do you have a favourite place in London that you have either visited or read about which you would enjoy seeing featured in a book?

Transports of Delight!

Nicola wenchmark Nicola here! I have a manuscript to get to my editor today (eek!) and so I hope you will forgive me for dusting down and updating a blog piece I wrote a few years ago for a different blog.

The book I’m sending in today is called Desired and it is the fifth book in my Scandalous Women of the Ton series. There has been a strong theme of travel throughout the series – in Whisper of Scandal the heroine travels to the Arctic on a ship, and in One Wicked Sin the hero and heroine escape in a balloon. (I had wanted them to escape on a canal barge but I thought it might be a bit slow!) Desired contains a great deal of travel in and around London, a sort of early sightseeing tour. What with all this jaunting around, plus the marvelous array of state carriages that featured at the recent Royal Wedding, I thought it might be nice to talk a little about coaches and horses. (Actually I thought the horses totally stole the show at the Royal Wedding. They were magnificent!) 

A couple of years ago I was lucky enough to go to an illustrated talk about the Wedding horses history of carriages, given by Colin Henderson, who had been the Queen’s Head Coachman. Not only did he have some wonderful anecdotes about the Golden Jubilee but he had also worked as a riding specialist and stuntman on a number of films and included the role of highwayman on his CV! He gave us a brisk trot through the early history and background of carriages – the word coach, for instance, comes from the Hungarian Kote – but it was when we got onto the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century that my note-taking went into overdrive because he had so many fascinating little details that I had never read in the books.

After explaining to us the difference between “the leaders” – the leading pair of horses – and the Postilion's uniform “wheelers,” the two closest to the carriage, he told us that to ride postilion meant riding one of the front horses and leading the other. This was a hazardous enterprise as it meant that one of your legs was between the two horses and was in danger of being crushed. Postilions wore a steel leg guard to protect them in this position. Here is a Russian postilion's uniform from 1825.

The provision of lighting on both the inside and outside of carriages has always Mail coach interested me so I asked if there was any illumination inside and was surprised to learn that there were candle-lamps inside a carriage as well as out. The smoke apparently made a mess of the upholstery! I had not quite appreciated what a hazardous business traveling at night could be, especially on the Mail Coach. The external lights carried no further than the first horse so you could not see the road ahead at all. Coachmen had to have extremely keen hearing to listen for the sound of approaching hooves. Since the mail carriages traveled at up to 10mph and some coachmen accelerated down the hills in order to gain momentum and make up time, the possibility of running into the back – or front – of another coach or hay wagon was very strong! I was also fascinated to hear that the coaches changed horses on average every 10 to 12 miles, or 15 on the flat, and that a change of horses took only 2 minutes, rather like changing the tires on a racing car! Mail Coaches were numbered like buses are now and 16 hands was the largest horse that could be used to pull a three and a half ton Mail Coach because anything taller didn’t fit under the coachman’s footboard. The picture is the Glasgow to London mail coach. Love the red livery!

There were also some fascinating facts about the Grand Tour. The Duke of Beaufort’s traveling carriage was decorated in Regency stripe and had secret lockers under the floor for his valuables. It was rather like a caravan; the cushions folded down to create a full-length bed! Other luxurious touches included silk-lined steps, which were folded up inside the carriage to protect them.

I enjoyed learning the derivation of a few other coaching-inspired words as well – the “fore-gone” was the carriage that you sent on a day ahead with your servants, linen and silver, so that when you arrived, everything was prepared (or concluded!) The phrase “cheerio” originally comes from calling for a sedan chair – chair ho!

Craven State carriage This picture is the Craven State Carriage, a Victorian coach said to rival in magnificence Queen Victoria’s royal carriage. It is painted with seven coats of yellow paint, the most expensive color used for livery. Queen Victoria would not have been amused to be outshone! My favorite anecdote from the Victorian period was that the footboards on ladies’ carriages were enormous because it was thought indelicate that a lady should have to sit looking at the horse’s posterior!

I hope you have enjoyed this quick gallop through a few coaching Notorious_350 anecdotes. What historical mode of transport would you choose for traveling? Would you like to drive a curricle or arrive in style in the Queen’s State Landau? I’m offering an advance copy of my next Scandalous Women of the Ton book, Notorious, to one commenter!