Earlier this year I drove to Ocracoke Island to speak to the Friends of the Library annual gathering. I say ‘drove,’ although about a third of the journey was spent reading a good book on a ferry. But for those hours in the car I decided to take along the audiobook of my novel First Impressions, read by Jayne Entwistle. The audiobook, and Jayne’s narration, had recently won an award from AudioFile Magazine, so even though I knew how it was going to end I was interested to listen.
My first impression (if you’ll pardon) was one of feeling the reality of my having written a novel. No matter how good the sales figures look, no matter how many people stop me in the grocery store to say, “I enjoyed your book” (presumably if they didn’t enjoy it they don’t stop me), it’s still hard to get used to the idea that, after decades of trying, I now have published novels out there being read by tidy numbers of people. Somehow hearing a complete stranger read my words for over ten hours really brought that fact home.
But my deeper impression came from Jayne’s brilliant narration. I know, intellectually, that each reader approaches a text differently and therefore has a different experience with a book, but in listening to the audiobook, I could actually hear this particular experience happening in real time. Granted, I don’t know what Jayne was thinking as she read or in what way she personally connected to the text, but I did get to hear through her reading some of her own impressions of what was going on. As an amateur actor and playwright, I found this fascinating—because Jayne doesn’t just read First Impressions. She, like most audiobook narrators these days, performs it.
One scene will suffice as an example of what I’m talking about (and I will be vague to avoid spoilers). Sophie has an encounter with another character that turns into an argument and when I wrote the scene I imagined the volume of her voice increasing throughout the scene, until she shouts the last line. Jayne, however, rendered the last line as a whisper. It was not at all what was in my mind, but it was a perfectly legitimate interpretation and furthermore it was extremely effective. I loved it. It was like going to see a Shakespeare play and hearing an actor give a reading of a line you’ve never heard before that suddenly makes the scene richer.
So, my thanks to Jayne Entwistle (and to John Bedford Lloyd who read the audiobook of The Bookman’s Tale). And if you are an audiobook fan, I hope you’ll enjoy her performance as much as I did.