Narrating audiobooks: an actor’s perspective


I’ve not been narrating audiobooks for that long really. I started when I left drama school in 2010, and have now read over 150 of them (some great, some not so great…!). It is a strange experience. You spend three or four days (sometimes longer), in what is essentially a padded cell, talking out loud to yourself in different voices. But if it’s a good book, I can’t think of many better ways to make a living. I love it. You get to meet and work with brilliant people, telling stories all week.

The process for the actor begins well before you enter the studio. Ideally I’d receive the script a few weeks ahead of the recording. I use iAnnotate on my iPad to mark it up. I will read it through, and make a list of characters and any information that is given by the author that may help to create their voice (e.g. age, where they’re from, personality traits etc.). Once I’ve finished, I will go back through my notes and record a clip of what each character sounds like. This is particularly helpful when a character who speaks on page 12, then doesn’t reappear until page 376…

I like to head into the recording with as much knowledge of the characters as I can. I live in fear of only discovering halfway through that a character I have made a bit cockney, is in fact from Abergavenny… Reading out loud all day can be pretty exhausting – mainly due to the concentration required. You want to make as few mistakes as possible – it makes the editor’s job easier, takes less time in studio, and it helps with the flow of the story. Because of all this, I like to be as fully prepared as I can be.

Once behind the microphone, it’s the actor’s job to bring the book to life. Working with a producer, we tend to record over four sessions each day. Two in the morning and two in the afternoon (when the much dreaded 3.30pm slump kicks in and the kettle is hastily boiled). I find books with shorter chapters are psychologically easier to read than those with long chapters. Completing one 40 page chapter is not as satisfying as the feeling of ticking off 12 short chapters!

It’s been amazing to see the growth in the audiobook industry. With the advance of smart phones, it is now so easy to download and listen to a book, and it’s exciting to see how more and more people are putting their headphones in and being told a story. Recently, I’ve been involved in a number of multi-cast audio dramas, which have been great fun, and I’m sure we will see more and more of these recorded in the next few years.

About a year ago, I made the decision to move away from stage and screen work and focus entirely on voice overs, and in particular audiobook narration. There were a number of factors that led me to this decision, but the primary one was the realisation that I was already doing the best job in the world – imagine if I could do it all the time? With the rising popularity of audiobooks, it suddenly became a real possibility. It’s an exciting time to be involved in the industry. I feel very lucky to be a part of it, and hope I will be for a long time to come!

Joe Jameson is a London based actor and voice-over artist. He trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, and since graduating has become one of London’s youngest in-demand voice-over actors. He has narrated nearly 150 audiobooks including The Danish Girl; Reveal – Robbie Williams; Bear Grylls Adventures; and The Charioteer. Joe is also an experienced stage and screen actor. He spent 3 years performing at Shakespeare’s Globe, and most recently was seen in ITV’s Grantchester.

Thank you to Louise Newton on the BookMachine Editorial Board for commissioning this excellent piece.