Friday, 21 June 2013

Interview with Narrator Julian G. Simmons

Something a bit different today, we have an interview with Julian G. Simmons who narrates the audiobook version of the M/M romance novel Widdershins (my review of that will be at a later date.) We will also have an interview with the author tomorrow :)

About the narrator:

Julian G. Simmons lives in Los Angeles, where he has worked as an actor, writer and producer, and is also a  voice-over artist.

Julian studied Shakespeare and Classics at the British American Drama Academy at Oxford University, England, and technique with Joanne Linville in Los Angeles.

Do you plan everything or just let the story flow?

As a narrator I do a lot of preparation so that the story flows and the characters each have their own personality without going over the top.  The first thing I do is read the story and get a sense of the mood of the book.  As I’m reading I list each of the characters and whatever information I can derive so I can begin to create a personality for each character.  “Widdershins(Whyborne& Griffin)”is delightful because it has just about every type of character you can imagine. None of the characters are terribly young; Whyborne is probably the youngest and he’s in his 20s. He was so much fun to create a voice for as what he’s thinking is often not related to what he’s saying. He’s very human that way and very layered. I can’t remember the actual character count, I’m sure Jordan could tell you.  I think it was somewhere in the area of about 15 main and supporting characters and they are across the board. Most are men.  I think there are four female characters whom actually speak. So the trick is to then come up with a unique essence for each one without your voice range running amok. Reading in advance also helps make the story sound more natural; like someone telling a story and not reading words off a page.

Do the character voices ever want to take over the story?

Honestly, Jordan has written some pretty unique and wonderful characters and as far as one over the other?  I think they are all pretty balanced in the overall story. I have some favorites. As I said earlier, I love Whyborne because I related to him a lot.  Though most people wouldn’t think it to look at me, I have always felt awkward in public.  That’s probably why I like acting and narrating, because it gives me a chance to be someone else.  The other thing about Whyborne is that he stutters and when I was a child I had a mild stutter and had a special tutor to help me with that. Whyborne is also very endearing because you either can relate to him or you just have sympathy for his struggle to free himself from his emotional chains.   There is also a character named Dr. Christine Putnam, whom I adore.  She is this very strong female with an advance degree in Egyptology; a world that was dominated by men in the 1800s.  She has this toughness to her, but the surprise about Christine is that she has this very sensitive side to her that makes her so acutely real.  I think a lot of women today could learn a thing or two from this woman from the 1880s about self-esteem and worth.

What drew you to narrating a M/M romance, paranormal novel?

Several things. The first is the quality of the writing in this book. It’s a well-crafted tale. It has all the elements of a great murder mystery with some awful looking creatures, and it also has this incredible love story that gets very erotic, but never tawdry.  I guess one has to first imagine what it would be like to be homosexual in 1800s New England, if you can even imagine it. Lots of people can’t comprehend what it’s like to be gay in the 21st century! The relationship between these two has all the pain and struggle, doubt and fear you would expect for that time period, but they have no hatred for who they are sexually, but for what it does to their lives.  They are two very healthy (mentally and physically) young men, who mange to endure all those negative things and fall in love.  You are routing for them every step of the way.

Beyond that, I know that a lot of gay fiction is centered around sex, it’s poorly written and just how many times can you read about sex if there is no story to back it up? Sex is everywhere in today’s world, but where are the good stories, the good books?  They’re few and far between.

You are an actor and voiceover artist as well?

I recently did the voice of Roman Polanski for a film by the Scottish director, Mick Davis.  Doing accent work is one of my favorite things to do.  In fact, in “Widdershins” there are some Irish characters.  That terrified me because I’ve always found difficulty with the Irish accent.   I practiced and came up with a few I think work okay, but I was in a cold sweat doing them. 

Other than that I recently acted in a commercial for Samsung Asia, and I’ve been doing some commercial and corporate videos for companies like AMP in Australia and Pepsi in the U.S.

When do you like to record your narrations?

Most times you don’t have a choice, but if I have a choice I like to start mid morning because my voice isn’t all that clear first thing.  And if I have been recording for eight hours straight, I begin to get hoarse.  Most people don’t think about reading an entire book aloud. “Widdershins” is just shy of ten hours of recording. And when you’re recording there are lots of stops and starts and often recording on different days, so then you also have to remember the voice levels for all the characters for continuity.

Who or what has influenced you in your career?

I was very fortunate to be accepted into an intensive Shakespeare and Classics program that was conducted at Balliol College, Oxford.  I had some amazing teachers there, but there were two in particular that had a tremendous influence on me.  The first was William Gaskill, who was a founding director of the National Theatre and the artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre . He also directed for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Bill was teaching us Beckett and we actually performed some scenes from “Endgame” and I played Nagg, the father of Hamm. The character Nagg lives in a dustbin and has no legs and Bill made sure we thought about the characters we were playing so they would be as authentic as possible.  He could be very curmudgeonly if you didn’t get what he was saying, but he was also so lovable.  The other person is an actor and teacher name Bill Homewood, who interestingly is also narrating audiobooks now.  In a Shakespeare class I had with Bill, I was doing a monologue and to say I was overwhelmed would be an understatement.  I was very self-conscious doing Shakespeare and Bill was intuitive enough to recognize that, instead of berating me.  He said, “You know, Julian, you could be really great if you just get out of your own way.”  Those words stayed with me for years, and I knew if I wanted to be a successful actor I would have to figure out how and why I did that and then either grow from what I learned or do something else.  I did learn a lot and Shakespeare is an incredible way to build up a firm foundation as an actor.  I did get to spout off about the relevance of Shakespeare’s work in a new documentary produced by Kevin Spacey that recently aired on Showtime in the U.S.

What are three words that describe you?

Actor. Passionate. Grateful.

What’s your favorite book or who is your favorite writer?

Gee, I can’t name just one, but I can name a few! I love “Widdershins” (Whyborne& Griffin) and not just because I was lucky enough to do the narration.   In addition, I just finished a book, “The Jannisary Tree,” by Jason GoodwinThat is exceptional. I love the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Walt Whitman, Dickinson, and I just started reading “London,” by Edward Rutherfurd. I may have to add that to the list now as well.

Anything you would say to someone who wants to become an audiobook narrator?

Try reading a book you like aloud in its entirety and see how you feel afterward.  Most people don’t realize how much work goes into not just reading a book aloud, but making it interesting to hear.  I’m not sure about in the UK, but it would be worthwhile to look for classes offered by audiobook narrators about learning the ins and outs of the craft.

What are three words that describe you?

Actor. Passionate. Grateful.

Any websites/places readers can find you on the web?

Absolutely.  I have a website: www.JulianGSimmons.com
I have a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/juliangsimmons2013,
And I can be found on Twitter at: @juliangsimmons


Widdershins (Griffin and Whyborne 1)
by Jordan L. Hawk
Narrated by Julian G. Simmons
M/M Historical/Paranormal
Audiobook available from: audible | itunes
Running Time: 9 hours 15 minutes

Blurb:

Some things should stay buried.

Repressed scholar Percival Endicott Whyborne has two skills: reading dead languages and hiding in his office at the Ladysmith Museum. After the tragic death of the friend he secretly loved, he's ruthlessly suppressed any desire for another man.

So when handsome ex-Pinkerton Griffin Flaherty approaches him to translate a mysterious book, Whyborne wants to finish the job and get rid of the detective as quickly as possible. Griffin left the Pinkertons following the death of his partner, hoping to start a new life. But the powerful cult that murdered Glenn has taken root in Widdershins, and only the spells in the book can stop them. Spells the intellectual Whyborne doesn't believe are real.

As the investigation draws the two men closer, Griffin's rakish charm threatens to shatter Whyborne's iron control. When the cult resurrects an evil sorcerer who commands terrifying monsters, can Whyborne overcome his fear and learn to trust? Will Griffin let go of his past and risk falling in love? Or will Griffin's secrets cost Whyborne both his heart and his life?

1 comment:

  1. So interesting to read about your narration work, Julian. It's something I've always wanted to do, so I appreciate the knowledge you shared. Whenever I've listened to an audiobook, I've always thought it was a tremendous amount of work to do it well, and as anyone of us knows who's listened to bad audio work, it's not just reading words on a page.

    Although I picked up Widdershins last month, it was in e-book, not audiobook, but I'd love to give a listen sometime to how you performed it all.

    Thanks so much for the great interview, Julian and Annette.

    Carolyn

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