Originally from Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in Northeast England, audiobook narrator Pearl Hewitt currently lives with her husband and two children in Houston, Texas. Over the years she has worked as a customer service rep, a teaching assistant, and a teacher, but deep down there was always a performer wanting to get out. In 2007 her 12-year-old son told her that he believed she was so good at reading stories out loud that she should do that as a job. That was her defining, eureka! moment, and she has never looked back. Pearl discovered the world of voice-overs and pursued a career in voice acting. She attended workshops, training seminars, and conferences, and began volunteering as the resident mystery and suspense narrator for Houston Sight-Into-Sound Radio, where her work earned numerous IAAIS awards for narration and production. In 2012 Pearl decided to focus on audiobooks, and her professional career blossomed while working directly with authors and narrating for a number of major publishers. Pearl’s voice is perfectly suited to British Regency romance and cozy murder mysteries, but her personal favorites are the classics, especially children’s literature.
How did you get involved in audiobook narration in the first place?
Both my lovely children have heard me read many, many stories to them over the years, but my son, in particular, also became an avid audiobook fan. Ten years ago, when he was 12, while enjoying the third book in the Harry Potter series, The Prisoner of Azkaban, he asked if I’d read the next chapter to him because it had been a while since he’d listened to me and he missed my storytelling. When I finished that chapter he literally cupped my face with both of his hands, looked me straight in the eye and said, “Mam, you should do this for a job because I think you’re really good at it!” I honestly felt like a light-bulb went on over my head. It was a life-changing moment for me! Reading aloud was something I loved to do, there was obviously a market for it given the fact that I was a paying customer of audiobooks, and I was tired of teaching computer classes in an elementary school, so I was looking for a different career.
I researched how to become an audiobook narrator, signed up for various classes and training workshops and began volunteering for Houston Taping For The Blind Radio, which proved to be a great introduction to my new career. I became their resident mystery/suspense narrator, recording weekly for the “suspense” hour on Saturdays and Mondays and continued volunteering for about six years, earning numerous awards from the organization for the International Association of Audio Information Services (IAAIS). During that time I was constantly educating myself and developing my craft and became interested in a whole range of voiceover work, not just audiobook narration. I dabbled in commercials, telephone system recordings, museum tour narrations, and corporate training video narrations.
You’re currently working on Pride and Prejudice, one of the favorite books of lots of readers. Has it been daunting to approach such a beloved novel?
I do think that if I’d recorded Pride and Prejudice in my early days as a narrator I would have been overwhelmed because the language and sentence structure in the novel is very complicated, long-winded, and not always easy to comprehend, especially since the terminology used in the story is the speech used 200 years ago and nothing like modern-day speech. It’s difficult to produce the correct intonation and musicality of the narrative and dialogue if you don’t have a full understanding of the text you’re reading. However, at this point in time I have narrated and produced a combination of 24 variations on Pride and Prejudice for P. O. Dixon, four for Abigail Reynolds, and one for Maria Grace, so I think I have become very, very familiar with the plot, main characters, dialogue, and the overall narrative of the novel. That’s not to say it’s easy-peasy to narrate. It certainly is not, but it’s such an enjoyable story that the challenge is actually a joy to undertake.
Unfortunately, the production process is slow-going because it’s a public-domain project that I’m producing myself and which I’ll publish through Spoken Realms publishing once I’ve completed it, but lately, my heavy workload from independent authors and publishers has meant that completing Pride and Prejudice is not my highest priority. I absolutely love the novel. I’m dying to complete it, and there are so many variations with my name attached to them that I think it’s only fair to my fans that I should produce the original Jane Austen classic as soon as possible. So, with that said, I promise it will be published some time this year, for sure!
You have performed a variety of genres, including recency romance, mystery, classics, and general fiction. Is there a difference in your approach to each of the different genres?
I don’t really think I have a difference in approach, but there is definitely a difference in delivery and that is all down to the voice of the author in the writing, the style of narrative, and the time in which the story is set. Every book requires preparation, whether fiction or non-fiction. All books, regardless of genre, require acting and storytelling skills. The clues to the storytelling are in the text and subtext. You find clues about the overall atmosphere of the story and the characters, such as their personalities, relationships to one another, and backgrounds.
Importantly, no matter whether the book is fiction or non-fiction, the book MUST be pre-read in advance of recording. A good narrator will rarely, if ever, just take a book and start recording without first pre-reading, taking notes, and building up character profiles to help create a mental picture of each character. This preparation is key to deciding what kind of voice, attitude, demeanor, and personality a character will have. Non-fiction books still involve acting, and that’s because the narrator is not speaking her or his own words. Rather, the narrator is speaking on behalf of the author. The narrator needs to be familiar with the subject matter of the book before sitting in front of the microphone. We need to know how to pronounce and comprehend the meaning of any and all ’tricky’ words. Being able to have these words sound like they just roll off the tongue is necessary to the success of any book. The author, if giving a presentation about the subject-matter would, no doubt, be proficient at this and would speak as an authority on the book’s content. The narrator has to be that authoritative voice of the audiobook. To do this, the narrator will have to spend time researching pronunciations and practicing how to say them. Audiobook narration is, without doubt, an acting job, and I approach all of my books with my “acting-head” on. Once I pick up a book, I stop being me reading the story, and I become the actor telling the story.
My delivery voice will vary slightly depending on the attitude required. Regency romance and most of the classics require a more formal style of speech to be in line with the polite attitudes of their time in history, whereas a modern-day or futuristic, dystopian, science-fiction space-opera, which often contains lots of profanity, requires a more casual style of delivery, but, as mentioned earlier, clues to that are in the text. Prep-reading allows my brain to build a mental picture, and once that has been created, then a style of storytelling voice just “falls out of my mouth” on its own, a phrase credited to my friend, narrator and professional stand-up storyteller, Maxine Lennon. She uses it when describing how she prepares for and approaches standing in front of an audience to tell ancient folk tales. She knows the stories intimately and doesn’t prepare a script. She just lets an organic process develop in her mind as she recalls the stories, and the words just “fall out of her mouth.” This so eloquently describes what happens when good prepping of a book takes place. Really, it’s the same for any professionally finished job, be it painting the walls in your house or acting as defense in a court of law. Good results come from good preparation, and the job is much easier because of it.
You describe yourself as a specialist in accents, listing on your website “Geordie, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cockney, Estuary English (southern England), RP English (aristocratic), West Country, Welsh, Scottish, Irish, French, German, Italian, Norwegian and Russian.” I’ve never even heard of some of these! How do you pick up all these accents?
I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a specialist. I think I’m just a relatively good mimic and have a good ear for accents. If you asked me to speak in an Australian accent I probably couldn’t right now, but spending time listening to the accent and possibly receiving a little bit of coaching to home in on certain vowel sounds would probably prove successful. Most of the accents you’ve listed are British regional accents, and I can’t really say I’m expert at any of those because each one has its own slight variations, but I’m quite proficient at the generalized versions of each. Of course, if I’m required to read with a specific accent and it needs to sound authentic I will always work with an accent coach or ask someone who is a native of that area to read lines for me so I can learn to mimic the sound.
Do you prefer to narrate the same types of books that you enjoy reading personally?
I think anyone would prefer to narrate books they enjoy to read for their own pleasure, and I have had the chance to do that quite often, but as this is my full-time job, like any actor, I have to perform, to the best of my ability, in whatever project I’m asked to fulfill. I’ve been very lucky, though. I love Jane Austen fan fiction and have read many of those. I also love the series of cozy murder mysteries I’ve worked on over the last year and a half. However, I’ve also recorded some stories that I’ve been a little uncomfortable with. Some have had graphic, steamy or disturbing, violent sex scenes. Others have had violent and gruesomely descriptive horror scenes. They are definitely not my “cup of tea,” and I wouldn’t normally choose to read books like that, but often those scenes are key to the overall story. I don’t personally use a lot of profanity in my everyday life, so it was initially difficult to get used to a series of books that contained lots and lots of foul language. However, as I’ve said previously, I put on my actor-head and become the characters; then the words they speak are part of who these characters are and I find I’ve fallen in love wth them. As it turns out, I’m now gripped by the series and can’t wait for the next book to be sent to me. So, the fact is, my job has introduced me to genres I would never even think about. Plus, it can be very educational. I recently recorded some non-fiction titles, and to my surprise they were absolutely fascinating. They were not subjects I would ever have been interested in reading for myself but they proved to be incredibly educational, and when prep-reading I couldn’t put them down.
Besides audiobooks, you also do voice overs for video games. That may intrigue readers of Fangirl Nation. Tell us about doing this kind of work.
I have performed character voices for a number of video games over the past few years, but you may be a little disappointed to find out that it wasn’t as glamorous as you may think. All my lines were recorded in my home studio and self-directed. I was sent the script with descriptions of the characters and an outline of what was happening in each scene. Most of the games were phone apps but a few were for computer and X-box platforms. One game was Sherlock Holmes verses Jack The Ripper, and I voiced a few short lines for more than 25 characters, mostly prostitutes being interviewed by Sherlock regarding murders in Whitechapel. I did enjoy the work and was delighted to, physically, play the finished product after my son saw the game on the shelf at EB Games. We bought it and he said it was so weird to have characters voiced by me talking to him from his computer screen. I would like to do more video games, but it’s really a specialty that I would need to spend more time marketing myself for. It’s a lot of leg-work, and I’d rather use the time to garner more audiobook work. I decided to focus on this media of voiceovers in 2012 and haven’t looked back. I think I’ll stick with it for now.
Here’s a YouTube trailer of the Sherlock game:
What is your favorite part about narrating audiobooks?
I have always been a a wannabe actor ever since I was a child but never really had the self-confidence to pursue a stage or film career. I went into teaching (computers in elementary school), but after the life-changing comment my son made, telling me I should read books out loud for a living, I realized, with delight, that I get to be an actor after all and the best thing is, I get to play ALL the parts. The work is so varied too. One week I may be working on a non-fiction history book that is fascinating and educational. The next week, I’ll do a cosy murder mystery set in the Oxfordshire countryside full or quirky characters trying to solve the crime. Then another week I’ll narrate a timeless classic packed to the seams with aristocrats in 18th century polite society who are petrified to say the wrong thing or speak to the wrong person out of turn lest they cause a scandal.
And then the next week, I’ll do a dystopian space-opera set in other worlds in outer-space full of vigilante characters trying to save the universe and keeping us on our toes with an action-packed and gripping story but who have no idea what it is to be polite, using the F-word in every other sentence. Then, finally the next week I’ll record a sweet children’s story to delight listeners from ages 5 to 95. I feel so grateful and fortunate to be able to do this job, and were it not for the support of my amazing husband through the early years and to this day, I could not possibly have achieved success. Now, I’m making a living and paying college tuition for both my kids. What could be better?
Check out Pearl at her website
Read my review of A Scone to Die For
Read my review of Tea with Milk and Murder
Read my review of Two Down, Bun to Go
Read my review of Til Death Do Us Tart
Read my review of Muffins and Mourning Tea
Read my review of All Butter and Shortdead.