Flyaway is now out, in the USA, Australia and as an audiobook (at the moment, it’s on Audible in the US and as a Bolinda CD in Australia —
I’ll update that as I know more Edited to add: and now on Audible in Australia, too!).
When I reposted the New York Times review of Flyaway on Instagram, I received a lovely comment from Felicity Jurd, the narrator of the audiobook! It was our first contact, but I cheekily went straight ahead and asked if she’d like to talk a little bit about the audiobook, and she generously agreed.
Kathleen: Felicity! Thank you so much for narrating Flyaway. I was so glad you were able to do it — I love your warm, laid-back tones. So perfect for the light I was trying to capture in the book.
Felicity: Kathleen! I am so honoured to narrate Flyaway – it is breathtaking! [K: Thank you so much!]
Kathleen: I read a book in very different ways depending on whether I’m reading it to illustrate, or for research, or just to enjoy it as a reader. What sprang out of Flyaway (or if you prefer, what springs out of any book!) to you, when you read it as a narrator?
Felicity: Congratulations on your NY Times review! [K: Thank you!] I have to say I really agree that it was an unforgettable tale. It is so original. You’ve captured entering another world, a sort of parallel magical world which makes the listener think it could actually exist alongside our everyday world. What really sprang out to me was the way you wove the chapters and time shifts as well as the rich descriptions of the Australian landscape and the animals and plants. When I found out that you were an award-winning illustrator it made so much sense because it felt like you were doing a coloured sketch with words!
Kathleen: A voice actor brings such a feeling to a book — you’re the way a reader experiences the audiobook, after all, and it’s more than just speaking the words on the page. How do you tell the story, or — more specifically — what choices do you make doing that for (for example) Flyaway?
Felicity: I feel that part of my job is to give space to each of the thoughts and concepts in the book so that the audience has time to absorb. It’s so different to reading silently at great speed on your own. I feel listening to and absorbing an audiobook is a personal and sometimes emotional experience. I try to find the balance remembering that many people listen to audiobooks on a train or in the car or before going to sleep. So I make a choice to be a soothing narrator at a steady pace and hopefully that comes across :) I make a choice to choose the age, size, energy and personality of the characters as it helps me make vocal shifts for the characters that stand out from the narration throughline.
Kathleen: I always wish that we could get cover designers and audio narrators (and translators, and…) together onto panels at writing festivals to talk about how they helped make specific books a certain way, and how they understand a book. You get as close to the text as anyone. And voice actors are actors after all (not disregarding that you are a screen actor too!). How do you like to describe what you do with audiobooks, and what most charms you about it?
Felicity: I’m just the vessel and try my best to let your imagination live through mine. I try to imagine what the author might sound like if they were reading the book aloud. I also look up examples of the author’s other work and with you, Kathleen, I did a lot of research by seeing how art and illustration was such a part of your process and how detailed the book cover was. There were so many images and they were layered and there was a sense of Celtic art to it. I always feel like it is such an honour to read a book before it has even been published. I’ve been so lucky to have that first moment with you and with a number of other authors. I did a lot of reading about new subject areas to feel ready to record. I don’t want to give anything away, but there were words and concepts I had literally never heard of before reading the manuscript! I find that part of my job fascinating and it forces me to learn more all the time.
Kathleen: I wrote a lot of twisty sentences in Flyaway — it’s very much a book for people who like sentences! But I worry there were tongue-twisters as a result. How do you narrate a book that’s admittedly in love with its own words versus one that’s more about action and momentum?
Felicity: I love sentences, it’s true. Total book worm! When you have a book that focuses on action and momentum, the narration needs to work much more delicately with pacing and energy pushing under the layer of the throughline for the author’s story. This helps to drive the pace of the book and if you get it right, it really helps the story and suspense to live in the imagination of the listener. With novels like yours that explore its world in poetic, detailed descriptions, I tend to do individual word research. One of the things I do is read complex passages several times at home and then find the key words and look up their origin in etymology sites or books and explore the multitude of meanings. I often have so many questions about passages and usually the team at Pan McMillan/Picador are able to check with the author and I really loved receiving your audio file with pronunciations.
Kathleen: Is there anything people should listen for in this audiobook — something you tried to bring out in a particular way, for instance, or a professional choice you needed to make?
Felicity: Oh goodness! I hope I’ve done your incredible novel justice! It’s a beautiful work of art. I really tried to work hard to keep the mystery by staying in the scene — a good actor’s note I try to remember — as the story does move quite rapidly at times. I found that helped me so that I didn’t give away the surprises. I also did my best to focus on the emotion that was in the subtext of the character’s dialogue. I love it when dialogue is underwritten so that the characters are clearly saying more with their bodies and therefore the reader has to really imagine more. As a narrator, I try to address this by emotionally loading each line of dialogue with the right intonation and mood so that it subtly communicates the whole meaning, not just the words on the page, but the whole vibe!
Kathleen: I’d actually love to know how you’d describe Flyaway! (It’s been a bit of a Rorschach Test of a book.) Where does it fit into the types of stories you like (to read, or to work with)?
Felicity: It’s like a beautiful embroidery! Really rich in texture, and colours emerge as you explore the length and breadth of the fabric. It really reminded me so much of two other books. Hive by AJ Betts [audio] for its creation of a parallel world and unusual exploration of nature and also The Geography of Friendship by Sally Piper [audio] for its clear passion for the landscape, flora and fauna of Australian bush. I always love reading beautiful descriptive passages about nature & animals. And I especially love reading about each character and the way an author describes and reveals their character. I loved how deep the understanding was of each person with all their flaws, but how it seeped out like the sap of a tree rather than being delivered on a platter. I also really loved the way you wrote such a wide spectrum of female characters, all of whom departed from expectations/stereotypes.
Kathleen: What else do you do, and how do people find you and your work?
Felicity: When I’m not recording audiobooks, I am responding to sample requests for other audio projects and have been lucky to be doing all sorts of interesting projects from my home recording studio. I am lucky to have just finished work on the first children’s fiction podcast done by ABC ME. It’s called Mackeroy Uncovered – it was such fun! If people are interested in having their book narrated, I always love doing audio samples so that they can test it out! They can contact me via the incredible team at SCOUT Management.
Felicity Jurd’s website: http://www.felicityj.com/
Edited to add this tweet from Scout Management, because I just realised the book in progress is Flyaway: