“…a truly superb, sensitive performance by Erin Bennett… you will wish it went on forever.” – The Washington Post, Best New Audiobooks 2017. Bennett is a Los Angeles-based voice and stage actress whose passion for storytelling makes her a natural fit for audiobooks. Winner of multiple Earphones and Audie nominated, she narrated one of AudioFile’s “Best Audiobooks of 2016,” and has recorded over 200 titles for major publishers, including Penguin Random House, Hachette, Macmillan, Harper, Blackstone, Recorded Books/Tantor, Brilliance, Dreamscape, and Audible. Her genres vary widely, from literary fiction to mysteries to science fiction to memoir, as well as nonfiction, multicast recordings and romance. Recent on-camera work includes Grandfathered on FOX and Children’s Hospital on Adult Swim, and her voice-over work spans animation, radio plays for the BBC, video games, and commercials for radio and television.
How did you decide to become an audiobook narrator?
I had the good fortune of being in a recording studio – taping a Torchwood radio play (any Captain Jack Harkness fans out there??), and a producer in the next studio I guess was listening in and later asked me if I performed audiobooks. I said absolutely, yes I did (total lie) and then was hired for my first audiobook. Fortunately, I got some coaching from some friends in the business in my efforts not to be a total dork on the first day.
How did you get your start? What were your earliest recording experiences like?
That first day is kind of like being shot out of a cannon. . . in slow motion. Commercial voiceover, animation, video games – nothing quite prepares you for audiobook narration. The pace, the energy, and the demands of longform voice acting are quite different than anything I’d experienced before. I started to reframe it in my head when I realized this was very much like sitting on the edge of a stage, narrating a play for the audience.
One of my favorite series to listen to, and to which I’ve listened many times, is Miranda James’s Cat in the Stacks. I find it ironic that the series is written by a man (Dean James) using a woman’s name, while the audiobooks are performed by a woman reading the narration of a man (Charlie Harris, the main character). How did they select you, a woman, to play a man’s role, and what challenges does performing a man offer you?
I’m so glad you asked about one of my favorite cozy mystery series, featuring the adventures of Charlie and his cat Diesel! You know, I was as surprised as you are to get the assignment. I love to play male characters, but I had no idea that I would be cast narrating the male protagonist! But it’s like anything else – who is Charlie, and where does he sit in my voice, and what are his vocal qualities, and he has emotions like everybody else. . . it’s really the same as if I were narrating any character, young or old, from any location – I just get specific about where “Charlie” lives in me. And he’s so wonderful. . . he’s the best, coolest, crime solving librarian Cat dad ever!
You narrate many genres, “from literary fiction to mysteries to science fiction to memoir, as well as nonfiction, multicast recordings and romance,” as your website states. How does the experience of performing the different genres compare and contrast?
The best part of not being typecast is. . . I am never bored. Always stimulated, always using all the colors in the paintbox. Speaking TOO generally – I love getting intimate with the contents of someone’s head in a memoir as the writer’s thoughts have to be melded with my own. In mystery, there’s always this great moment by moment discovery – fiction can go anywhere and I mean anywhere. Romance is a long game of twists and turns and at last, the settling of where two people ought to be – I’m generalizing of course. Generally in fantasy I get a wonderful action and accent workout, and nonfiction is like taking a stimulating college course – playing the professor, of course!
Besides narrating audiobooks, you have done voice overs for animation, radio plays for the BBC, video games, and commercials for radio and television. How do the different media vary in recording experience?
Commercials are so fast. 30 seconds, 15 seconds. . . snapshots, postage stamps. Audiobooks are an art gallery, a leisurely stroll, stopping at different works of art to absorb. But commercials are quite heightened and . . . concentrated, for lack of a better word. Videogames and animation can be quite taxing on the voice but require even more stretch and often in videogames, a lot of rasp or screaming and yelling. The energy shift is a challenge, and I have to make sure I orient myself properly for whatever I’m doing.
You have 198 books listed currently on Audible. Of the many books you’ve performed, which have been especially memorable to you?
Hoo boy. I loved narrating the very long but incredible Norwegian saga Kristin Lavransdatter, the masterpiece by Sigrid Undset, who won the Nobel Prize. I also loved narrating a mystery that’s just about to come out for Macmillan Audio, called Not That I Could Tell by Jessica Strawser. It has echoes of Girl on the Train. . . the nonfiction book Code Girls, about the female codebreakers of World War Two, by Liza Mundy, which has been nominated for an Audie Award. . . it’s such an important piece of history . . . and also the young adult debut by Kayla Cagan called Piper Perish. . . amazing characters. Also. . . hysterically funny one moment and poignant the next.
Do you think an audiobook narrator needs to enjoy the book she or he is performing? Could you make a book you truly hated seem likeable to an audience?
My job is to help bring the author’s words into your ear. . . and sometimes those words are more challenging than others. I get to embody the words without comment. . . and if I were thinking or judging the words as I read, you’d hear it! So I try to be very open to the author, and reserve my own judgment.
What were some of the questions you had as you just began your career narrating audiobooks?
Will I work again? That’s a big one. The freelance life is. . . full of uncertainty. Also, was I good at it? Should I change what I’m doing? And if I got good reviews or bad reviews, which ones to believe? or should I just keep working and learning and hope that it works out?
What advice did you find especially helpful as you started out performing audiobooks that you like to share with new narrators now?
I think if this is something you’re drawn to – there’s a good reason. Honor it and persevere. Self doubt is part of the process.
What is your favorite part about narrating audiobooks?
I love getting lost in a story. As an actor – a great story, relatable characters, intricate plots, true events, education, whimsy, can lead me places I’ve never been anywhere except in my mind. And that is a great journey worth taking. Every time.