In the world of audiobooks, there aren’t many better or more prolific than Gordon Griffin.
Bringing a real warmth and enduring quality to more than 700 stories, Gordon’s tireless work has even been noted by the monarchy, as earlier in the year he was award an MBE for his services to audiobooks. We had a chat about favourite authors, the Queen and his thanks to Penzance Library.
How did you get started narrating audiobooks?
I’d done a lot of radio including reading stories. I’d also done a stint on Playschool and as a Guest Storyteller on Rainbow. I even presented a BBCTV Schools programme about books for children so when ‘talking books’ started up, I applied as I thought it was something I could do.
How do you prepare for narrating audiobooks and has that changed since you first started? Preparation is the most crucial thing about recording an audiobook. There’s no such thing as too much of it. Preparation involves reading and re-reading the book, marking up the script, checking pronunciations etc so that when you come into the studio you know the book really well.
What are the challenges when narrating an audiobook?
I really enjoy the recording process. I love telling stories. If you have done your preparations well, then there should be few challenges in the studio. You are putting into practice all the preparation you’ve done.
Throughout your career you’ve narrated books from a variety of different genres. Do you have a favourite genre to narrate?
One of the pleasures of my situation is that someone else is choosing what I record so that I get a wide variety of books; fiction, biographies, classics, historical books. I would hate to be tied down to one particular genre.
Does it help if you’re a fan of the author?
It helps but it’s not vital. I have to be as good as I can be whether I like the book or not.
Is there a particular author you enjoy reading?
I enjoy books where the dialogue is realistic. It makes my job so much easier if people talk like real people. Of the writers I regularly record I’d put Kate Ellis, Pauline Rowson, Martin Edwards and Ann Cleeves in that category.
Is there anything you’d wish authors would do to make narrating easier?
I don’t think authors should worry about narrators. Just write their books. Although when a writer describes a character as having ‘a gravelly, gruff voice’ I dread it! And sometimes (through no fault of the writer really) there can be situations which can be challenging. I remember a scene in one book where a young woman from Belfast was having a blazing row with a middle-aged Italian in the back of taxi. That scene demanded a lot of concentration!
Is there a book you’d wish you could narrate?
Because I am recording a lot of books I get very little time to read any other books. Some years ago though I did enjoy reading Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, which I found very funny but also very moving. I’d have liked to record that.
Is there a book narration you’re particularly proud of?
I am huge fan of Dickens. A narrator’s dream. You don’t have to think, ‘what voice do I use’ as it’s so obvious from the writing. One of the first books I recorded for Soundings was A Tale of Two Cities. I won an award for that recording and it made me realise that maybe recording audiobooks was something I could do. I am also proud of recording and co-producing a biography of Lord Collingwood because it was written by my brother, Andrew.
You’ve now narrated well over 700 audiobooks and been awarded an MBE for doing. Do you think one day you’ll narrate your autobiography?
It’s funny you should say that. A couple of years ago I was approached about writing a book based on the talks that I give throughout the country. It’s the story of how a young Geordie lad growing up in the 1950s became the guy who recorded nearly 800 audiobooks! In other words my autobiography! I have just finished the first draft. It’s called SPEAKING VOLUMES and It’s anecdotal and (I hope) funny and if it gets a publisher and becomes an audiobook, you bet I’ll record it!
What was it like receiving your MBE and did the Queen say whether she enjoyed audiobooks?
It’s still all rather unreal. It was an amazing experience. The Queen has lovely eyes that she focuses of you. And she really listens. I explained how many audiobooks I had recorded which seemed to surprise her and we both agreed how much benefit visually impaired people get from them.
Away from the microphone, what do you enjoy doing?
I relax by playing the piano and singing- as long as no one is listening! I love to travel. And (luckily) I love reading!!
As Ulverscroft we distribute your audiobooks to libraries around the world. Have you got any fond memories or thoughts about libraries that you’d like to share with us?
I love libraries. I remember so clearly longing to be old enough to join my local library. I was so proud when I eventually did. I even remember the first book I took out – Alice through the Looking Glass. Some years ago I produced an audiobook version of that classic for an audiobook studio in Hamburg. I was preparing a book once that had some Cornish in it and I don’t mean the accent but the language, which I had thought was a dead language. This was before the internet. I had a brainwave. I found the telephone number of the Penzance Public Library and a very nice lady answered. I tentatively asked if anyone there spoke Cornish. She said, “I do. Well, at least I am learning to”. She was able to translate the sentences and give me the pronunciations. Thank you Penzance!!