My first ever audio book project commenced during the height of last year’s Covid lockdowns. I was lamenting how disastrous my book launch had been with all the bookstores being closed and everyone watching public service announcements instead of my social media posts, when an exciting email arrived into my inbox. My editor, Becky at Ladybird Books commissioned me to write ten funny stories for children that would be released as an audio book. The emphasis was on fun, giggles, sound effects and brief musical interludes. My stories would be read aloud by trained voice actors with experience working in movies and television, and the sound engineers were the same wizards who had created audio books for Peppa Pig, Beatrix Potter, Anthony Horowitz and the upcoming Dr Who series.
I jumped at the chance and set about writing ten funny stories to make children laugh out loud over a 90-minute listening period. The audience was targeted at 5+ but I knew that older kids and parents and teachers would be listening in as well.
Luckily, I came very well prepared to this project as I had a number of story ideas inspired by my visit to Disneyland percolating in my mind and patiently waiting for a creative outlet. I mashed up fairy tales and nursery rhymes to create a hybrid universe where Humpty Dumpty hung out with the Three Bears, Cinderella crossed paths with the troll under the bridge, and the Gingerbread Man raced the slow old turtle in a battle of speed versus slow and steady.
I began writing my stories as I would for a print publication, but I soon experimented a little bit by adding scenes that would obviously be very audio and sound effect friendly. In my story the Golden Duckling, a heavy bird swims along with only its long neck visible above the waterline, causing it to look somewhat like a motoring submarine. The iconic underwater submarine ‘pinging’ noises were jotted down in my special effects notes and the sounds used in the final audio track by the engineers are hilarious. Sleepwalking Beauty also presented an absolute potpourri of the most outrageous snoring sounds that could be threaded through a children’s story!
While I was writing these stories, I began reading them aloud and started to wonder if I could do a future audio book myself. This thought quickly dissolved when I realised that I could be acting and recording up to 40 different characters, and that all of my characters essentially sounded the same! (If any author doubts this – try recording yourself voicing multiple characters and play the recording to strangers. J) The hardest part of voice acting is making sure that you maintain each different voice consistently throughout the entire story. This is actually very difficult to pull off and I’m sure that trained professionals find it difficult too. Not to mention that the voice actor needs to slip into third person at times to provide the structure of the whole story.
With all of my stories and their special effects instructions compiled it was now up to the talented voice actors to bring everything to life I was stunned at how good these people were at doing their jobs. Gemma Whelan is a stand-up comedian as well as being a talented film and TV actress. Her comedy timing is impeccable.
RhashanStone is a TV actor and the voice of Doug in Disney’s 101 Dalmatian Street series. He brought to the recording studio years of experience creating funny character voices and he was perfectly suited for this project.
When I first listened to their recordings I was leaping for joy. They absolutely delivered on all fronts.
The sound engineers were also highly inventive and inserted music and sound effects at just the right story moments to enhance the overall comedy experience. I was stoked when I listened to the whole collection in one 90 minute sitting. It’s come out better than I could have ever imagined. Many long hours have gone into this audio book project and I’m extremely grateful to everyone who played a role in producing it.
What thoughts can I pass along after my first audio book experience?
*I think our ears have been pretty much under-utilised for a long time now. Our eyes are spending thousands of hours scrolling web pages and reading documents and phone screens and devices etc. and are generally becoming maxed out. I predict a consistent growth and expansion into audio books.
*I think children respond really well to audio books. They are a creative stimulant that can lead some kids back to books if they haven’t been the greatest fans of print books to that point. They also make a great break from overdoing screen time and make lengthy car trips more enjoyable.
*Audio books will never go out of print and they can be sold and downloaded during the most severe of lockdowns!
*Audio books potentially offer authors a wider range of genres to work in as e-books haven’t really made in-roads into some areas of kid’s books yet. Any level of children’s books (fiction and non-fiction) can be made into an audio book.
*An author could attempt to do an audio book project on their own, but I think the best bet would be to work with a publisher or a team of professionals on their first audio book project.
My audio book is Ladybird Funny Stories For 5 Year Olds. It’s produced by Penguin Random House audio and a free sample can be listened to here on Audible .
Peter Millett is a New Zealand children’s author. His books include the Boy Zero Wannabe Hero, the Johnny Danger: DIY Spy series, The Invincibles and The Anzac Puppy picture book. Visit Peter Millett’s website and Facebook page for more information about his books and writing projects. You can find links to all of Peter’s YouTube videos at the Danger Films YouTube Channel.
May 19, 2021 at 12:35AM DimbutNice