A farewell to arms
The email arrived in mid-January. It caught me completely by surprise. Was I available to record a further five books in the Legionary series by the brilliant Gordon Doherty? Could I start ASAP please? It had been two years since I recorded books 2,3 and 4 in this epic series detailing the adventures of the eponymous legionary, Numerius Vitelius Pavo.
The request came from WF Howes Ltd, the UK's biggest independent producer of audiobooks. Naturally, my answer was yes, and we agreed on a schedule for the productions. It was tight; finished audio to be delivered every two weeks per book. A really big challenge in fact, but one I was determined to meet.
There were big factors in my favour on this occasion. Previously, I was recording within an acoustic tent in our dining room in a 17th century farmhouse, with constant interruptions from passing tractors or the builders restoring the neighbouring Tudor manor house. Then there was the cat... She was suffering from hyper-thyroidism and driving us all bonkers with her constant appeals for food. She's a vocal cat at the best of times, but her screeching meant my narration sessions were constantly interrupted.
On top of that, I was still not set up to 'punch and roll' my recordings. In other words, I was leaving it to the edit to create a finished product, and condemning myself to hours of extra work de-breathing, de-clicking and editing out my fluffs and overlaps. I worked 15 hour days to meet those deadlines. Madness.
This time it's been a far more efficient and smooth process. Put simply, the considerable investment in studio kit has paid off. First, there's my bespoke KUBE audio studio. Not quite soundproof enough to prevent the sound of teenage feet on stairs coming through, but certainly enough to keep external building sounds at bay. I ought to say, we have moved homes since the first three books, but we still have builders working on another manor house to contend with.
Then there's the upgrades I've made to my audio kit. A Universal Audio Apollo X6 interface is simply brilliant, together with a new Townsend Labs Sphere modelling microphone which allows me to recreate all manner of classic vocal mics. Then there's Presonus's Studio 6 DAW software, with a series of filters added as I record. No more breath sounds and mouth clicks to deal with, and a very usable punch and roll system.
The result of all this? My production time has come down exponentially. It's allowed me to focus on delivering on the emotional and dramatic punch of Gordon's work, and meant that the many epic battle scenes such as Adrianople or Remorum Vale have been recorded cat-free!
The technical challenges are only one part of the equation on a project like this. It's been almost 3 months solid work on these books, and somehow I've managed to escape a UK winter without a significant virus to ruin my voice or delivery. That's a minor miracle. It's also been an important exercise in time management for me. I co-run a publishing company, so that makes huge demands on my time, as well as present and produce a successful weekly podcast, The Hobcast Book Show. I'm not one of nature's planners I'm afraid, and recently discovered I have A.D.D (Attention Deficit Disorder). Applying myself to recording daily, and reaching specific targets for those days, has been invaluable. It's shown me I can focus and push distractions aside. That's an incredibly powerful revelation for me.
Then there's the creative side. First, I had to remind myself how I performed each character previously. I was quickly back in my stride with most of them, especially personal favourites like the centurions Zosimus and Quadratus, or Tribunus Gallus. Imagine then, my dismay when I discovered they all (spoilers), are slain midway through the series. I cried real tears at that point, not least because I just loved bringing their voices to life. These books span the Roman Empire, with voices needed for the all the many tribes and peoples the Romans encounter, be they Huns, Goths, Persians, Vandals or Franks. I fear I may have strayed into 'Allo 'Allo territory at times with the accents. I hope not.
Then there's the emotional heft of Gordon's work. Pavo and his comrades face a myriad of life and death challenges with dizzying regularity. Some are epic battles where I have to create the impression of giant armies crashing together. Others are more personal. One-to-one combat between bitter enemies. I am particularly proud of my work on a duel between Pavo and the evil Emperor of the Western Empire, Gratian.
But there has been another factor in this project that has played a part - both unexpected and unwanted. I reached out to Gordon when I was commissioned to return to his fictional world, and asked casually if everything was ok? His reply shocked me. He had lost his wife to cancer just days earlier. I have borne that in mind throughout this process. It might sound mawkish and overly-sentimental to say this, but at the most challenging times I have thought of them both. These audiobooks are my tribute to their partnership.
It's been an honour to work on these wonderful books.