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June 24, 2013

An Interview with Katherine Kellgren, Golden-Voiced Audiobook Narrator

Posted by tom

This week's blog posts (our last in this year's audiobook blog series) offer an exciting change of pace, as we hear from narrators about their audiobook experience. First up is Katherine Kellgren, who has recorded well over 100 audiobooks, was named a “Golden Voice” by AudioFile magazine, and was one of the narrators of Bram Stoker’s DRACULA, the 2013 Audie Award winner for Distinguished Achievement in Production. In this interview, Katherine talks about her own approach to audiobook narration --- including a well-developed and personal series of symbols --- all the amazing things she learns from narrating books, and the importance of getting an author's input on the reading of his or her work.

Question: What do you love about narrating audiobooks?

Katherine Kellgren: There is an experience you get from reading and being read to that is like no other. Audiobook narration is a constant challenge and a constant joy.

Q: What has narrating audiobooks taught you about yourself?

KK: When narrating a book, I find I’m drawing on everything I can remember (voices, dialects, experiences), and things I didn’t even realize I remembered. Also, I’m constantly learning about new things (in this last year, everything from Elizabethan lute music, to the warning cry of an ostrich --- yes, there is one, and I had to reproduce it)...! Audiobook narration keeps teaching me that there’s so much I have yet to learn!

Q: How do you prepare for a recording session?

KK: First, I read the text through very carefully at home, marking it with a series of symbols I’ve come up with over the years (nothing too fancy) and writing in the margin any descriptives that the author might give --- i.e. “she said sulkily,” “he said in his gravelly Scots accent,” etc. Then I go through and look up pronunciations of words, tunes to songs the author might mention (as long as they are in the public domain), and any foreign language words the author might sprinkle in for authenticity (sometimes I track down native speakers to help me with these). Then I go over accents and dialects I might need to brush up on or learn --- I sometimes work with a wonderful dialect coach I’ve found if I need extra help. Then I go through and highlight every character’s dialogue in a different color of ink. Often prepping for a book takes longer than recording it.

Q: Is it important for you to connect emotionally with the material you are reading? Do you have interaction with the author?

KK: I find it best whenever possible to have contact with the author before recording. I feel it’s my job as a narrator to make the audio version as close to what the author would envision as it can be. I have had the pleasure of working with L.A. Meyer and his wife Annetje (who does much of the research for his books) on the Bloody Jack series. L.A. Meyer will tell me about his vision of the characters (he sometimes has a specific actor or performance in mind when he writes them that I can study), help me track down the tunes to ballads and sea shanties that appear in the books, and generally lend me a helping hand. As a narrator, this sort of help is invaluable.

Q: Are there particular words that you consistently stumble over?

KK: “In an attempt” sometimes still gets me even after several years of recording now!

Q: Do you like to listen back to your own narration?

KK: Yes, it helps me to correct flaws in my narration (many of which I always find) for future recordings.

Q: What narrators do you admire?

KK: Jim Dale, Dion Graham, Davina Porter, Barbara Rosenblat, Alfred Molina, David Sedaris, Neil Gaiman, Simon Vance, Scott Brick, Suzanne Torren, Lorelei King, Robin Sachs, Marc Vietor, Jonathan Davis, Tavia Gilbert, Cassandra Campbell, Grover Gardner, Kathe Mazur, Simon Prebble, Johnny Heller, Khristine Hvam, Jessica Almasy, Nick Podehl, Gerard Doyle, Edoardo Ballerini, Simon Jones, Therese Plummer, Hillary Huber, Oliver Wyman, William Dufris, Amy Rubinate, Richard Ferrone, Cynthia Darlow, Robert Fass, Rupert Degas, George Guidall, Frank Muller...I could go on like this all day...!

Q: If you listen to audiobooks in your free time, tell us about your favorites.

KK: I do listen to audiobooks, and would happily listen to ones read by the all the narrators I’ve listed above and more. Audiobooks that I’ve listened to repeatedly over the years include AGES OF MAN read by John Gielgud, TREASURE ISLAND read by Alfred Molina, The Roald Dahl Audio Collection read by the author and Tennessee Williams Reads. I have a particular liking for Jim Dale, and listen to his recordings a lot. Currently I’m listening to ODDLY NORMAL written and read by John Schwartz, and it is wonderful.