Narrator Simon Vance is the critically acclaimed narrator of possibly a thousand audiobooks, winner of 66 AudioFile Earphone Awards, and a fourteen-time Audie® Award recipient. Simon was recently named as an inaugural inductee into the new Audible Narrator Hall of Fame. He’s an AudioFile Magazine “Golden Voice,” and Booklist Magazine named him its very first “Voice of Choice.” Some of his best-selling and most critically acclaimed performances include Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (An Audie winner and of which the author herself said: “No author could hope for a more faithful and imaginitive audio version”), and Rod: The Autobiography by Rod Stewart (who tweeted: “It’s hilarious. The tone of his voice is perfect!”). Other well-known titles include The King’s Speech by Mark Logue and Peter Conradi, Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander series (all 21 titles), the new productions of Frank Herbert’s original Dune series, Stieg Larsson’s Millennium series of books beginning with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Alan Moore’s magnum opus Jerusalem (10 years in the writing and over 60 hours long in audio). In addition to his extensive narration work, Simon also worked for many years as a BBC Radio presenter and news reader in London and he currently lives in Los Angeles where he still has pretensions to be a film/TV actor.
How did you get involved in audiobook narration?
Back in the 1980s I was working as a presenter/newsreader for BBC Radio4 in London. Because of the strange shift pattern, I had a number of days to myself in the week and wanted to do something useful with my spare time. I’d had a friend who had spent time recording books for the Royal National Institute for the Blind’s Talking Book Service and I offered my services. I was accepted and for the next several years I spent one afternoon a week in their studios … I see that now as my ‘apprenticeship’ (there was no pay). When I came to the US I was looking for a way to earn money (theatre was not going to be adequate), and since I already had experience in the field, when a relative mentioned commercial audiobooks I offered myself to Blackstone Audio in Ashland, OR. . . and the rest is history!
Incidentally I recorded under two other names in those early days (using other names is what many narrators did then): Robert Whitfield and Richard Matthews.
You have 648 books active on Audible! Plus I imagine there are plenty out of print. In fact, I have 18 books of yours just in my own Audible library. How long have you been doing audiobook narration to have such a large portfolio?
As mentioned above I’ve been ‘in the business’ for at least 33 years – 25 of those here in the US where those books available on Audible have been recorded. (and, yes, many have been withdrawn, or lost to rights issues and companies going out of business). There are also a number of books under my two previously mentioned names still available which brings that total up to almost 750 . . . But who’s counting? J
You seem to specialize in performing extra long books. For example, The Complete Sherlock Holmes is 58 hours, 4 minutes. David Copperfield is 33 hours, 53 minutes. Our Mutual Friend is 31 hours, 21 minutes. Bleak House is 33 hours, 2 minutes. Do longer books pose unique challenges in performing, or are they easier because you are sticking with the same characters and the like?
What makes a book good or bad is the quality of the writing, I don’t think the length comes into it. I do love big books if they’re well written, and yes, because you are dealing with the same group of characters throughout, that helps (but it’s no different than doing a series). – You missed out one of my recent favorites which is Alan Moore’s Jerusalem at 60 hours (and which won me the Audie for Best Male Narrator last year!). Took me a whole month to record!
You also have become a specialist in Charles Dickens, with 14 titles by him. What draws you to his works?
Your question suggests I have a choice in what I record, but I am actually at the whim of the publisher. Being British, I imagine that’s why I was offered my first. . . and I impressed enough to be offered the many subsequent ones. That said, I do love Dickens . . . but who wouldn’t? I grew up with adaptations of his works in film and television, and it has been a joy to have the original works to narrate. . . . I wish he were still writing! J
What books stand out as memorable from over the years and why?
So very hard to highlight a few from the hundreds I have had the privilege to narrate. I love almost everything that I get to read and if a book stays in the memory it may be more because of the positive or negative things that happen around the recording. I loved the Aubrey/Maturin series of books by Patrick O’Brian but they cannot be downloaded currently because Blackstone Audio lost the rights (they may still be in libraries). I enjoyed the original Ian Fleming Bond books (but again, rights lost). I have had great interactions with authors like Christopher Priest (The Prestige) and Chris Ewan (The Good Thief’s Guide . . . series and others). I was fortunate enough to be contacted by Rod Stewart who loved my reading of his autobiography Rod (and which led to two memorable meetings with this rock icon). For Jerusalem I flew to the UK to meet the amazing Alan Moore – an incredible experience. I suppose if I were to name the very best experiences (and whose authors I have met and have a great relationship with) I’d have to highlight anything written by Brent Weeks or Guy Gavriel Kay.
What is your process for preparing to perform an audiobook?
Erm. . . reading it? I don’t mean to be facetious but that’s fundamentally it. Preparation beyond that can differ widely from book to book: from researching the pronunciation of names and places to talking to the author about characters and the story and so much in between. I flew 6000 miles to Northampton to talk to Alan Moore in person to have him show me around his home town – the book was so heavily reliant on the city of Northampton it felt the right thing to do – to get the real experience of the places Alan wrote about (a mutual friend, Neil Gaiman, suggested it – and if Neil had the idea then it’s a good one).
You have received a boatload of awards for your narration. Which ones mean the most to you?
I think being named the very first Booklist magazine ‘Voice of Choice’ back in 2008 – and after that this recent elevation into the new Audible Narrator Hall of Fame. . . .
Would you ever perform a book you absolutely hated? Could you make it enjoyable to listeners if you did perform it?
There’s something to love in every book however bad the writing. Every single book that makes it into my studio has an audience and I should not judge what people want to listen to. There are many books I wouldn’t have bought or read voluntarily, but I immerse myself in them and try to tell the story just as if the author were, say, Charles Dickens. Of course, if I really don’t get anything from the narration I may ask the publisher not to send me any more of those books. . .
I’ve read that you are a big fan of playing X Box with your sons. Have you ever narrated a video game? Does the possibility appeal to you?
Sadly(!) I haven’t played Xbox in a long time (my ‘boys’ are 27 and 22)! I have in the past provided a couple of voices for video games, but they don’t generally have a ‘narrator’ of the style that I might be a good fit for. The character voices are often way too ‘shouty’ for my vocal health – I provided some pirate voices for the movie Peter Pan many years ago and ruined my voice for two days! – so I tend to avoid those auditions
Something you have in common with most of our Fangirl Nation readers is a love of Dr. Who. You give AudioFile an interesting comparison between Dr. Who and narrating audiobooks. Can you tell us about that?
I’ve heard others use the comparison since I first mentioned it in my acceptance speech for the ‘Voice of Choice’ award back in ‘08 and it’s still true. I don’t need to explain that the TARDIS is the vehicle Doctor Who uses to travel through space and time (it stands for Time and Relative Dimensions in Space). In that speech, I likened my little 7x6x4 foot studio to the TARDIS since it enables me to do just what the Doctor does – cross the universe in the blink of an eye and return home in time for tea. I close the door to my studio, open the book, and I have no idea where I’m going to end up: Victorian London; Ancient Rome; aboard an 18th century sailing vessel; planets on the far side of the galaxy . . . these places and more are all perfectly possible.
You can visit Simon at these sites: