Interview with a Narrator: Fiona Thraille

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Fiona Thraille is a British narrator and audiobook producer who studied Drama at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth. She has recorded for Audible and Parragon, and also records and produces voice-overs and e-learning materials.

When not recording audio books, she is an active member of the audio drama podcasting community and is an ex-co-host and producer for The Audio Drama Production Podcast. She has written and produced several audio drama shorts and a mini-series, as well as acted in dozens of audio dramas including The Amelia Project, Edict Zero and The White Vault.

She’s a mum, a looker-after of one cat and far too many stick insects, and enjoys trying to grow vegetables and doing a bit of patchwork quilting.

How did you become interested in performing audiobooks?

My dad was a huge fan of radio comedy and I grew up very comfortable with listening to shows, and then audio books from a young age. Later, I ended up studying drama through a love of theatre, and while I still listened to audio books, the penny didn’t actually drop until I had a child and discovered that technology had moved on and people created audio dramas online. I got involved in that, learnt audio mixing and production skills, and then discovered my first audition for an audiobook through that community originally.

Besides being an Audible narrator, you are an Audible producer. What does a producer do?

I do still produce most of my own audio books, although I have worked with other producers. I record using Punch and Roll, which means that the editing is pretty much done whilst recording, though I tighten it afterwards, checking it for mouth noises or anything else odd as well as any errors.

A producer is responsible for getting it to the best quality possible. Extra room tone goes, and I ensure it’s consistent in volume. I tend to listen to audiobooks when washing up or travelling myself and know how vital it is to have a comfortable and reliable volume so you don’t miss an important line!

You also perform and produce audio drama plays. Besides the obvious fact that radio plays contain multiple performers, how else do performing and producing audio plays differ from audiobooks?

In audio drama there may be several voice tracks for all the characters, plus tracks for various effects and music. We change the shape of spaces the characters are speaking in, so that claustrophobic scene in the lift feels really different from the one in the echoing, empty warehouse, whereas in audiobooks it’s about having a natural-sounding vocal tone and minimal background.

In audiobooks the voice is there as the river that the story flows on. The focus is on the action on that river, not the water itself. In audio drama, the voices are much more in the spotlight and more dynamic.

How do you prepare in advance to record a book to narrate?

Ideally a few hours’ session, reading the whole thing in a quiet space with a cuppa gives a real feel for the momentum of the storyline. On a spreadsheet, I note each character as they appear and then fill in any descriptive information as it crops up, or any phrases they say that capture their personality or accent. (As well as comments other characters make about them). Any new vocabulary and sometimes sentences in foreign languages I research in advance and note down phonemically, along with links to authentic sound files on apps like Forvo.

For books with a prominent accent throughout I will listen to that accent as much as possible to tune into it. For a book set in Swansea, I listened to hours of a Swansea City football team podcast for authentic voices in between recording sessions!

I then break the book into manageable daily chunks over a timetable and try to avoid anyone with a cold during that time!

What has been your favorite character to perform?

Granny Smith is absolutely wonderful as a strong and funny character. Her lines are written with such great comic rhythm that it’s all there on the page. But I quite deeply connected with the courageous and self-contained heroine of Engines of Empathy, Charlotte Pudding. Again, there’s a lot of comedy in the text, but she is deadpan, and it took me a few takes to record one part of the book where she manages not to cry under upsetting circumstances far better than I was able to!

I have enjoyed listening to your performances of the Granny Smith books by Gary Dobbs, which take place in Wales. You spend some of your time working on learning Welsh. Has that helped in your performance of these books?

Thank you! I lived in Wales for several years and took lessons back then. The family members I have with Welsh backgrounds don’t speak it, and not being surrounded by a language always makes it harder to learn, though I do still try! But I do think that having a genuine love for and connection to the country and the language means I don’t feel a complete fraud when narrating books set there! Gary Dobbs has been wonderful in sending me files of him speaking any Welsh phrases that occur, which has been ever so helpful.

You have worked on 19 Nocturne Boulevard, which we learned about in my interview with Julie Hoverson. Tell us about this. What role have you played in this?

I have known Julie Hoverson through the audio drama community for almost a decade, and have acted in more than a dozen of her plays. My favourite was playing Pippa in Wax Houses, a classic creepy thriller. I also have recorded a role in her upcoming series, (to be announced!). She writes wonderful roles in such wildly eclectic stories, so there’s always something for everyone.

What advice do you like to give to new audiobook narrators that you found especially helpful in your earliest days of performing audiobooks?

From theatre I knew to warm up (and recently discovered cooling down exercises too). That’s your number one thing: keeping hydrated, warmed up and energised for a good read to be consistent. Audiobooks are marathons – in the best sense – and it’s a physical process. Over time I’ve found it’s more a question of ‘unlearning’ anxieties and tension, as much as learning techniques – although I do also keep learning as much as I can.

It’s all about speaking to that listener right next to you on the other side of the microphone, relaxing into the rhythm of the text, caring about the characters and enjoying the story alongside the listener, as friends.

What kinds of audio samples do you submit when auditioning for a new job, and where do you submit them?

Jobs can come from a variety of places, but mainly I’ve used ACX. The rights holder uploads a 5 minute sample of the book.

If it’s a longer extract, I try to include a piece of descriptive narration and also a few extracts with the main characters involved to give a good overall idea of how I’ll tackle the book.

What narrators do you like to listen to for inspiration for your own work?

I can honestly say that I get inspiration from so many narrators that I couldn’t begin to name them all. I tend to choose books based on author rather than narrator, and I enjoy hearing a variety of narrators and stealing ideas from their performances! I suppose the first narrator I heard who truly made me concentrate on his style was David McCallum. He has a fluidity of rhythm that is very musical, staying tight to the emotion and meaning of the text, which makes for such an enjoyable listen.

You can learn more about Fiona at the following sites:

www.thraille.co.uk
19 Nocturne Boulevard
Gary Dobbs’ Wikipedia page
Engines of Empathy by Paul Mannering
Forvo (pronunciation app)
Audio Drama Production Podcast

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Interview with a Narrator: Fiona Thraille
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Interview with a Narrator: Fiona Thraille
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Fiona Thraille is an audiobook narrator and producer who shares about her career and life with us today.
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Fangirl Nation
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