Audiobook Q&A: Laural Merlington

Adam Boretz -- November 20th, 2012

Listen Up’s Audiobook Q&A is back — and we’re delighted to return with a conversation with Audie Award-winning narrator Laural Merlington.

Listen Up: The APA recently released its call for entries for the Audie Award for Distinguished Achievement in Production. You were part of the cast of last year’s winner, The Watch that Ends the Night. What was it like to be a part of that production?

Laural Merlington: The Watch that Ends the Night was different from my usual assignments in that it is a multi-voice work. Also because the book is written in a poetic format it afforded the voice talent and director some creativity in terms of doubling voices, layering them, and also adding sound prompts to add to the drama. I have played many different characters in my career as talent, but this was my first ICE BERG!

LU: On a very similar note, what was it like winning the Audie Award for Distinguished Achievement in Production? Is this up there among the highlights of your career as an audiobook narrator?

LM: It is a privilege to have won the Audie especially sharing it with the very talented cast that performed this work. I don’t know if it is the height of my career, I would love to win on my own, but it certainly is a high moment for me.

LU: Do you think an award for Distinguished Achievement in Production can put an audiobook “on the map” in a similar way to the Audiobook of the Year award?

LM: I honestly don’t know if an award for Distinguished Achievement in Production holds any sway, but winning an Audie of any kind should certainly bring some attention to this piece. I hope it does, as it is well worth listening to.

LU: The Watch that Ends the Night was an ensemble cast. Tell us about the recording process. Did you record your sessions separately or with other actors?

LM: Yes, The Watch that Ends the Night is an ensemble cast, however because the way the piece in written, in long first-person narratives, it did not allow for the various narrators to work together. Each of our individual sections were recorded independent of the others.

LU: Do have a preference between multicast productions and solo narration? How is the process different? And are different skills required for each?

LM: I don’t necessarily have a preference between multi-voice or single narration, they both are performances and both have their challenges. It is fun to work on a multi-voice project, however, because you get an opportunity to interact with other narrators and the interaction becomes very much in the here and now and spontaneous. As I mentioned earlier, however, this particular book did not allow for that interaction.

LU: Do you have a preferred genre of book to narrate? Do you think narrating different genres requires different skills?

LM: I don’t really have any preference in terms of my favorite genres when narrating, it really depends on the individual work. Some non-fiction is very compelling and the author’s message can be so strong that it is my challenge to give the author an equally strong voice. I like that challenge. Some fiction can stretch my reaches in terms of coming up with voices that suit the characters and present a believable person. Above everything, it is my job to find the most compelling way to deliver the goods.

LU: Who are some of the narrators that you most admire? Who have helped you in your own career?

LM: A woman who taught me much about audiobook narration who gets little recognition is Sandra Burr. Ms. Burr has been recording and directing audio books about as long as anyone has in this business. She is a brilliant teacher and truly understands how this craft works inside and out. There are other narrators that I admire and enjoy listening to, but I couldn’t say that I have any particular favorites. Although, Michael Page, Christopher Lane, Phil Gigante, and Angela Dawe are some of the best in the business.

LU: Do you have a dream project? An author whose work you would love to record? A book you would love to narrate?

LM: I don’t really have a dream project, but I have enjoyed most the first-person narrations that I have tackled. I just had a huge challenge last week narrating Stalina, a first person narration of a Russian woman. Tough stuff, and yet rewarding when all is said and done.

LU: Before you step into the recording booth, what do you do to prepare? Is your preparation process always the same or does it vary from book to book?

LM: My preparation is basically the same for most books. Some require more research than others; i.e., finding correct pronunciations, and good doable accents. Accents can be a real challenge. I always read a book in advance of recording and make notations in the margins to help identify characters, and also how certain words or phrases are spoken; i.e. he said angrily, sadly, with hesitations, etc.

LU: What are the three biggest challenges of audiobook narration?

LM: The three biggest challenges of audio book narration. Mmmm. Stamina is one. Having an ability to mimic, and that is all that I can do, as many accents as possible, and having as broad a vocabulary as possible. Understanding how a sentence should be phrased and where to take a breath, if at all. Breath control can sometimes be a huge challenge in delivering the strongest message.

LU: Do you have any advice for aspiring narrators?

LM: Advice for aspiring narrators. Read aloud to yourself whenever you can, it’s good practice. Develop accents. When you are in the studio, don’t beat yourself up when you make mistakes, everyone who does this work makes mistakes, and yet narrators can be so hard on themselves, sometimes to their own detriment. Don’t be arrogant. Know when you are not up to the task and be certain enough to know when to say no. When I was younger I thought that I could do anything, and if anyone asked me that is indeed what I would say. I still don’t shy away from projects, but I am not so arrogant as to not recognize when I am in over my head. READ THE MATERIAL BEFORE GOING INTO THE STUDIO. So many young narrators, actors, don’t appreciate the importance of knowing the material. This is not a 30-second or 60-second radio spot. This is many hours of concentrated listening. Do your homework.

LU: Do you ever have any interaction with authors prior to recording audiobooks? Do they ever offer tips? And, if so, is this helpful?

LM: Occasionally I have an opportunity to speak with authors to get pronunciations that I could not find on my own. The authors that I have spoken with have not offered any character development tips or anything like that.

LU: What are you working on next?

LM: I just finished recording a non-fiction series on verbal abuse, am about to record a 16-book series by Ann Rule, and lots of others equally important projects in between.

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