Winner of more than a dozen Audiofile Earphones Awards and a five-time Audie Award nominee, Bernadette Dunne has been honored to narrate the work of some of the finest fiction writers of our time including Margaret Atwood, Joyce Carol Oates, Shirley Jackson and Anne Rice. In the non-fiction arena she has recorded the work of Sandra Day O’Connor, Ayn Rand and Lorrie Moore, Elizabeth Edwards and the autobiographies of Barbara Walters and Katharine Hepburn.
Bernadette is the voice of countless best sellers including Wild, Memoirs of a Geisha, The Devil Wears Prada and Betty Smith’s classic, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. She studied at The Royal National Theater in London and lives in New York.
What inspired you to become interested in audiobook narration?
I graduated from college with a B.A in theatre, and while I loved working in live theatre, it really wasn’t paying the bills. So audiobooks started out as a secondary career, but I soon realized that this type of work was much better suited to my personality. No more stage fright, yay!
How did you get your start, and what were your earliest days like?
I started in the mid-nineties. I got my start as a lot of people did, with the invaluable help of Grover Gardner, who has narrated hundreds and hundreds of books and won all kinds of awards. A gentleman and a scholar, that Grover. Seriously, he not only taught lots of us about the technicals of audio, but he set a standard of performance and professionalism that stays with me even now.
I positively love your performances of the Meg Langslow series by Donna Andrews. Some of the scenes are so funny that I can’t help but laugh. How do you deal with such funny scenes that you want to laugh?
Oh, I pretty much don’t deal with it! Life is too short to pass up on a laugh! If the material makes me laugh, as Donna Andrews always does, I just let it happen and just go back and correct or edit as needed. There’s no use fighting the laughs. In fact, it’s a good sign if I am having fun. Comedic performances really require a degree of relaxation and appreciation of a good laugh.
You do excellent interpretations of the voices of the characters in the Meg Langslow books. How do you come up with the voices you use?
In many cases I mimic the voices of people I know or have met. This helps consistency and helps the character match up the voice you choose. The character of Meg’s father, for example, sounds like a guy I met on a ferry many years ago who didn’t stop talking for the entire hours long ferry ride. Very pleasant and intelligent, very ponderous, very open and his voice had a scratchy qualitiy. I knew as I was listening to him that it would stay with me. But I believe I wasn’t even doing audiobooks at the time. Distinct character voices in humor or comic fiction are usually a more interesting choice than neutral sounding voices. Usually in non-fiction, you want to tone that down. In this case, Meg is often the straight man so her voice is the more neutral one, forever trying to bring order to the chaos around her.
You have almost 300 books listed on Audible. Of all your many books, which ones stand out as particularly memorable?
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom, We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson, Robber Bride by Margaret Atwood. And I love the biographies. Joan Didion, Rosemary Kennedy, Katharine Hepburn, Shirley Jackson, Barbara Walters. And for pure fun, of course I’ll take any Donna Andrews book, with The Finch That Stole Christmas my favorite thus far.
You have received a lot of awards throughout your career. What are the most meaningful to you?
I’d have to say it wasn’t an award. It was an email I received from Shirley Jackson’s son. I was blown away.
What advice did you find especially helpful as you started out performing audiobooks that you like to share with new narrators now?
There’s a lot of stuff to know and practice about voice, about technique and delivery. Be honest in evaluating your own skills and weaknesses. But in the end it’s all about telling the story. I think, always come back to that. How can you best tell the story that the author has written? Don’t forget to hold that goal as the primary objective.
What characteristics are necessary for a person to have in order to make that person an effective audiobook narrator?
Analysis of the text is the most useful skill to start. A great voice is a fine asset to bring to the table, of course. But really try to find what the author is trying to convey and be that. Read between the lines, think like a director, a scene designer, a musician. Unlike most acting gigs, you aren’t just one character or many characters, you are the entire narrative.
What is your favorite part of audiobook narration?
I love the sound of words and phrases and the peculiar way people express themselves. It’s like a mental hobby. Yesterday I spent several minutes thinking about the phrase “inclement weather.” I get to indulge this ridiculous mental hobby as part of my workday. That might sound absurd but being predisposed to a fascination with language makes this job even more of a pleasure for someone like me. I just naturally or subconsciously gravitate toward word pondering. So here I am.
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Read my review of How the Finch Stole Christmas