It’s not always a case of having to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear – it’s just a fact of life that the majority of books that we get to read are not great literature, they’re often desperately over-written, poorly edited, and can be filled with stereotypical one-dimensional characters who tend to waver between being incredibly repetitive or wildly inconsistent.
As far as the narrative voice is concerned, again, we’re often faced again with over-written passages with far too many adjectives that are really only padding; they do little to create atmosphere and are simply there to fill in the gaps between dialogue.
I’m making it all sound very bleak – and indeed sometimes it is.
I remember when I worked in television continuity. It was the most boring job in the world – you spent hours and hours hanging around – simply to have a thirty second slot to camera between programmes. We were paid very well – and I remember asking my boss why the pay was so good when the job required very little skill other than looking pleasant and being able to speak to camera while keeping an eye on a clock so that you came out on time, while someone is talking in your ear. He said, ‘you’re paid for what you CAN do, not what you do!’
I didn’t realise what he meant at the time – and it only dawned on me when a programme disappeared completely – with me in vision – the transmission controller saying through my earpiece, just keep going. I kept going … no script, just a copy of the TV times … and I kept going for seven minutes. That was what I was being paid for!
I think in audiobook narration the correlation between workload and pay cheque is somewhat similar.
When you’re narrating a beautifully written book filled with believable people, it’s a joy. The words spring off the page and everything flows. At such moments, you feel that you’d be happy to do this for nothing – but then reality hits and you get yet another pretty average book (I often wonder who reads (or listens to) such poorly written books, and you realise that you earn every single penny of what you’re being paid – and then some! Our ‘bread and butter’ is almost always the less than wonderful; but if at any point you allow your personal opinion of a book to seep into your narration, then your disaffection will show. It’s like doing a tatty tour or being playing in a potboiler in rep, you have to play it for all its worth – and believe in it and commit to it and its dreadful cast of boring people with the same integrity and professionalism as you would were you playing a leading role at the RSC.