Born in the eighties, her formative years in the nineties, Rebecca McKernan‘s taste in music and fashion never really had a chance. Fortunately, you can’t tell these things from her writing or voice over work. Her first novel, Trespasser, is as dark as her neon is bright, and you’d never guess from hearing her that she’s narrating science fiction in nothing but unicorn pants.
Currently residing in London, Rebecca is passionate about travel, and has a good- albeit sometimes dubious- ear for accents. She graduated from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama with a degree in something or other, has a background in musical theatre, a past career in burlesque, and is a classically trained opera singer. Oh, and she likes greyhounds. And wine.
How did you become interested in performing audiobooks?
I was ready for a change. I’d been performing burlesque for a number of years, and knew it was time to do something different. One afternoon, I left a voice note for a friend on WhatsApp, and she said to be, “Bec, you have a really nice voice. Have you ever thought about narrating audio books?” And that was that!
What did you do to be able to reach that dream?
I Googled, “narrate audio books”! It really was that easy. I found a fantastic platform, ACX.com, where I could set myself up with an artist profile, audition for work, get experience and make contacts, and it blossomed from there. Fortunately, all I needed to get started was a laptop and a headset with a microphone, plus some editing software. I’m totally useless at anything technical, so was really pleased to discover that this was within the realms of my capabilities.
Although you perform different genres, you do a lot of romance, set in different time periods. What about romance novels draws you to them?
I’m not sure that it’s me who is drawn to romance novels, but rather, they seem to be drawn to me! I think the reasons are twofold. I’ve developed a really good relationship with a romance publisher in the US whom I tend to do quite a lot of work with. As well as this, I’m not averse to a good steamy scene here and there, and my voice can be quite gentle and expressive, which I think lends itself quite well to the romance genre. I wouldn’t say I love romance above the other genres I narrate, but I do love books which are poetically written, whether that’s fantasy, or thrillers, or a biography.
What books from your audiobook career stand out to you the most?
The first book which springs to mind is Johanna Craven’s Forgotten Places. It’s an absolutely beautifully written book, based in real history, dark and gorgeous. It was a fabulous challenge — I had to speak Gaelic, learn an old Irish folk song, speak in a good number of different accents, and remember the nuances of quite a lot of different characters’ voices. Johanna was so fabulous to work with — she had a clear idea of how she wanted the book to sound, but allowed me real artistic liberty when I was creating the audiobook. This is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read, let alone had the pleasure of narrating.
How do you prepare to record a book? Do you have any tricks while recording to make it easier or more effective?
It took me a lot of trial and error to get to the point I’m at now, which is a much more productive place than I was in a year ago. I now record a chapter in a whole take, and edit out errors, rather than a stop-start process which takes a lot of editing together. Where possible, I read the entire book before beginning recording, and then I can ask the author/ rights holder any questions which come up straight away. As well as that — water. Lots of water. And tea.
Of what in your audiobook career are you most proud?
As well as some of the individual projects I’ve completed (Johanna Craven’s Forgotten Places, A. E. Radley’s Huntress, Chris Ward’s The Tube Riders: Revenge, to name but a few), I’m proud of the relationships I’ve built with authors and publishers over a short amount of time, and the work profile I’ve built up over the time since I began narrating, back last July.
What character whom you have performed have you most enjoyed? What character has been the biggest challenge?
Ooh, that’s a really hard question to answer! I have a habit of falling in love with a lot of my characters. I keep mentioning Forgotten Places, but I love the character of Alexander Dalton. I love his soft voice, and his tortured soul. I love the agonised fire inside him. I love the strong leading ladies in Patrick Hodges’ The Wielders of Arantha trilogy. I also love his bad guys. I do love a good bad guy. Martin Schiller’s Blackbird series has a host of fabulous characters, including one of the most challenging I’ve portrayed — an octogenarian professor, with a rich BBC English accent. Martin told me he saw the character as taking inspiration from Richard Harris’ Dumbledore, which involved me producing the deepest, raspiest voice I could. It was painful! And I’m pretty sure it wasn’t great for my throat. But I’m pretty pleased with the end result. Also quite pleased I get a break from it for a while.
What other narrators have most inspired you in your own performances?
I’m not sure about individual narrators, but as a genre, I am really inspired by sleep stories at the moment. A lot of us are raised with the tradition of having a bedtime story to send us to sleep every night. When we become adults, we lose this, and a lot of other elements of play, from our life, which I think are so important. I love that sleep stories for adults are becoming more and more popular, and I’d love to get into this area. I’ve heard some beautiful stories read by Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley- I’d love to hear one read by Morgan Freeman!
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