Read on Transcript
Red Szell: Huw Parmenter, welcome to read on!
Huw Parmenter: thank you very much.
RS: I’ve been accompanied by your voice for much of the last week. I’ve just finished reading The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder. What a great book!
RS: Did you enjoy reading it?
HP: Yeah, absolutely. I found it just fascinating. Very different subject matter, something I didn’t know a huge amount about...I didn’t know that synaesthesia existed. And so it’s always great when you can learn something from a book as well as enjoy the trials and tribulations within it and the adventure and the story within it as well as learning something.
RS: I think you catch the..both the determination and the vulnerability of Jasper perfectly. Was it a difficult part to prepare for?
HP: Yeah, I suppose there’s ... you know, you want to do it justice. Jasper is a thirteen year old boy who is on the autistic spectrum and so is obviously very, you know, quite a different little lad. You want to do it justice and I think obviously he celebrates his difference and I think a few points in the book he touches on his love of being a bit different. But I wanted to do it justice and pay those differences in him the amount of respect that they deserved. I think certainly when it came to voicing a character who is on an autistic spectrum, there are a few things that ..I wanted to know as much about it as possible and yeah, certainly there was a good amount of research that needed to be done and I had a lot of fun doing it, actually, and learned a lot. But yeah, I think you know the sensitivity of him was the key thing. And I think it’s lovely to hear that you think the vulnerability comes across because I think it’s ... that’s obviously a crucial part of him. But it is that ... the determination and his love of his differences that makes him quite a special character.
RS: He has a wonderful self knowledge, whilst also finding it quite difficult to know other people. It’s quite a dislocation between this rather knowing thirteen year old boy and this very naive thirteen year old boy.
HP: Yeah, it’s quite a dichotomy, isn’t it, between the two. I think he understands the world around him in a very different way to everyone else. And you can see him working things out and the processes he goes through to put his memory back together..are quite extraordinary. Obviously using the painting primarily to do that. And you do sort of - the whole time - you’re just hoping that he’s gonna be able to get through and not put himself in too much danger by dealing with things the way that he does in his very independent way.
RS: It must have been quite difficult for you reading the Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder to have Jasper describing voices in ochre yellow and grubby brown and so on and so forth. You presumably don’t yourself think of voices in those kind of terms. Did you find yourself bending towards his point of view as you were reading?
HP: Yeah. Absolutely. I think that was probably one of the biggest challenges and certainly something that I felt a little bit of pressure over, because I think - the way that it’s written - as you read off the page, you know you’re going to interpret it in a different way. Everyone’s yellow ochre is probably slightly different to everyone else’s. So I felt a certain amount of pressure saying well, this is the way that Jasper hears it. This is the tone of voice that’s specific to that. But I definitely felt that going through the book I did start to hear things in colours.
When I was at drama school we worked a little bit with colour psychology. And it’s definitely something that I found useful. I think a lot of the sensory work that an actor does, attributing feelings to colour, and things like that, there were overlaps there. So there were things that were recognizable. And actually, eventually, really helpful in getting across a feeling or a sensory reception to something.
RS: When do you first pick up a book that you’re going to be narrating and give it a first read through? Are you just like the rest of us, turning the pages, waiting to find out what comes next? Or are you reading it with that professional eye that starts taking it to bits - how could I perform this, how would I do it justice?
HP: Generally speaking, I think if I know that it’s something I’m going to be working on as a narrator, then I will start working on it straight away. I think it’s important to try and capture that initial instincts that you have with the character; whether that’s a voice, or a tone, or a sensitivity. Whatever it is, I think it’s important to capture that initial feeling about it. So, I’ll be going through it and making notes as I go.
But as much as possible, you know, as a reader - try and enjoy it. I think it’s always nice then, when you’re reading something that isn’t for work and you can kind of switch off a little bit. But at the same time, in the same way as you know, working as an actor you’re going to be watching a film with a certain amount of distance and thinking, “oh, I wonder how they did that shot” or “I wonder how that piece of music was brought up and what way that generates feeling.”
I think there’s always a certain amount - as an actor or a performer - there’s a certain amount of understanding and respecting the craft all the time.
RS: And do you mark the book up as a script with lots of different coloured pens to remind you which voice you should be slipping into?
HP: Yeah. I do. I mean, when I first started doing audiobooks I think.. (because years ago), I would get sent a script in the post, in this huge package. And I’d have all my coloured pencils out and that was before I had a wonderful .... an iPad. Which then made things an awful lot easier, because it not only obviously ... I can mark up the script there with all the different colours...different highlighters on the iPad. But also, it makes turning the pages a lot easier and a lot quieter to record. So, you’re not stopping every two to three pages to bring the next few pages up and shuffling all the pages about.
RS: You’ve done quite a range of books. From books about dogs for children and much younger adults; some fairly gritty thrillers, and a book about the joys of surfing in Cornwall I think, called “Kook”.
RS: Do you have a particular favourite?
HP: In terms of genre or an audience, I don’t think so...I mean, I think the books for young adults or for the younger children tend to be very colourful and have lots of interesting characters. I remember doing a series of books called I’m Not A Loser by Barry Loser. And it was written by a guy called Jim Smith. And they’re great fun. And there are quite a few versions ... And I remember doing the first couple and thinking okay, well there are all these various creatures and characters in it that.. you’re creating all these wacky voices for and certainly for children’s books you can be pretty bold with the voices that you can do. It was just ... then became a slight problem towards the sixth and seventh version of the book when you think crikey, oh I don’t know how many more accents I’ve got left in me! You know, I’m doing a Botswana (?) and a bee teacher now... or you’re trying to make a slightly less Glasgow version of Scottish or ... for another teacher and it keeps you on your toes I think, because books are really good fun. And the same time, obviously, doing the more adult books can be really challenging and be very rewarding in a different way. In trying to match the level of tension, the quality of the writing; obviously, you know you’re ... there’s a lot of fun to be had in doing that justice as well.
RS: Now, one of the things that narrators of audio books tell me is that they love doing the books because they can be the entire ensemble cast.
RS: I noticed from a few of the books that we’ve got in the RNIB library with your name as the narrator, that actually they’ve been with two - or in one case, three - other narrators. It’s something that’s becoming a little bit more of the case with audiobooks now. How do you feel about that?
HP: Yeah. I mean, obviously there’s ... that’s the actors dream, isn’t it? Play all the parts! I think that’s .. it’s always good fun to do that. And you can take a real sort of autonian overview of the piece as a whole and you can map out the arc of the story. And obviously being solely responsible for that is umm..it’s really good fun.
I really like sharing books with other people because, before going in and recording, you’ll be then listening to the other narrator’s voice or maybe a little excerpt of what the character that they’ve recorded...you go, okay! Well, I didn’t see the character like that. And actually, that’s really interesting that you’ve interpreted it in that way. And that can then feed into your performance.
I just did a book recently called I Was Born For This which was two of us..two main narrators and it’s about these two young people who don’t know each other for most of the book and then meet. And it was really useful, actually, hearing what the other narrator had done. And I think it really improved the performance of the chapters that I read.
RS: Do you think that as more audio versions of books are being made - more books are being simultaneously published in audio - that we will see more of them having more than just one narrator?
HP: I think so. I mean, I think there’s an argument for both, isn’t there? I think as a listener you can get comfortable and you can really enjoy one person’s particular voice. But I think as well, on the other hand it’s fun to listen to a few different characters. You know, almost a bit more like a radio play. And I think that there’s certainly scope for that. And I think, the more colour and the more different tones of voice that you can get into a story, ultimately the richer it is.
RS: And how do you read your books? Audio or print?
HP: Generally print. I do, obviously, listen to quite a lot of podcasts and listen to the radio a lot, but I suppose I’m quite old school when it comes to reading. I like to let my own imagination in my head fill the words a little bit and create the sounds in my own head.
RS: And finally, have you read a book recently that you’d like to share with the Read On listeners as a recommendation for their summer holiday?
HP: Well, I recently re-read Papillon, actually. Which is the Henri.....
HP: Henri Charriere. Yeah. Which, obviously I’m sure a lot of your listeners will know, but I love the story and the adventure in that. I think it’s... yeah, one of the best books I’ve ever read.
Aside from that, I’ve just finished reading a Brené Brown book called Daring Greatly. Which, obviously is non-fiction but it’s Brené Brown’s fantastic anchor(?) and all about harnessing the power of your vulnerability. And seeing vulnerability not as a weakness, but actually as a strength which helps you understand what’s important in your life. I thoroughly recommend that. I think it’s a really great read.
RS: Well, there’s a couple of great recommendations to put in the suitcase alongside The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris. Huw Parmenter, thank you so much for bringing a wonderful book to life for me and many other listeners. And for being a guest on Read On.
HP: Absolute pleasure. Thank you very much.
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