Nancy Peterson, winner of the prestigious APA Audies Award 2018 for Inspirational Fiction, is a 25- year veteran actor of stage, screen and recording studio. Nancy has a penchant for dialects, diving deep into the study of language. Her narration style, summed up by AudioFile Magazine, “creates the sense of listening to a play instead of a straightforward reading.” Nancy resides near the foothills of the Utah Rocky Mountains with her husband and their six children, two rats, two dogs, three fish, one turtle, one snake, a hive of bees, and a gecko.
How did you get started performing audiobooks?
The Short Story: I’ve been an actor for a good part of my life, from the 4th grade play, to the Hallmark movie I did recently. I’ve done voice over work for radio and television for years, so having all the equipment (and being a love of audiobooks for many years), I decided to give audiobook narration a go. I’m very glad I did!
The Long Story: I’ve listened to audiobooks since I was a wee kid. My dad was blind for a time, and he would get these wonderful floppy records with Reader’s Digest, the newspaper, or Time Magazine recorded on them. I’d flop down next to him and listen. Then when I was 11 years old, my dad bought a cassette tape recorder. It was a thing of beauty! I was instructed in no uncertain terms that I was not to touch it. Well, my best friend, Julie Gundersen, and I would sneak the recorder into my room, play a Ferrante and Teicher record in the background, and alternate reading aloud the chapters of Encyclopedia Brown. I was a real ground-breaker in the industry. I suppose that when I began in earnest four years ago, it was a natural progression. I simple Googled, “how to be an audiobook narrator.” The rest is, as they say, history.
What is your process for preparing to narrate a book?
I read the manuscript through once, highlighting words that aren’t familiar to me in yellow, and other directorial or special notes in blue. I don’t mark up the script too much beforehand though. As I read, I “cast” the book. I often take inspiration for the characters from real life, and sometimes from movies. I also highlight each character’s first appearance in the book.
You won a 2018 Audie for Inspirational/ Faith- Based Fiction for Catching the Wind by Melanie Dobson Congratulations! Tell us about the book and what made it special.
If you ask any of my friends what made it special, it was that I totally didn’t expect to win. At all.
In fact, as they were opening the envelope and Claton Butcher, Andrea Emmes, and I were squeezing the life out of each other’s hands, I kept thinking, “This is going to be so hard!” When Two Words Publishing was announced as the winner, I think I went into shock for a minute.
Seriously though, that day, a childhood friend who is dealing with cancer right now, wrote something profound on her Facebook page. She said that we should take time to be in the moment. Appreciate the bird’s song outside, and the blue sky. It really put things into perspective for me. I was able to really focus on everything and appreciate it. I also remembered Tavia Gilbert’s TedX talk she recently did on her Audie win, and how she is choosing to be present in every moment. I purposefully took it all in – the smells, the sounds, the sights, the tastes. I am very grateful for that opportunity. It was very special.
Your degree is in vocal music. Does your music background help your audiobook performances?
Absolutely! Proper breathing and support are really important to maintaining vocal health. I should say that though I studied vocal performance, I ended up switching to Dental Hygiene, which I have loved too. I still fill in now and then for my office.
Your website lists many accents that you can do: RP British and various dialects, German, French, Spanish, American Southern, East Coast, Mid-Atlantic, Russian, Irish, Italian, Greek, and South African. First, what is RP British? And how do you know so many accents?
Many of my audiobooks are narrated all in RP (Received Pronunciation, or basic BBC) British. But there are a gazillion British dialects, some of which I can hardly understand. In that case, just a “flavor” of the accent does the job. I’m comfortable doing RP British generally, though I respect that there is always room to improve.
One entire audiobook was done with a German accent, and as the author is German, she was a great help. I listened to a lot of Marlene Dietrich’s work during that project.
I love to learn dialects. It’s like a puzzle to me, and I happen to love puzzles. My family thinks I’m weird, because I’ll hear a great dialect and I’ll repeat it aloud. Most of what I’ve done, I’ve learned mostly “on the job,” with the help of amazing dialect coaches.
Out of the 80 books you have narrated, which ones most stand out to you?
My goodness, how do I answer this question? I think the ones that stand out most were the ones that have changed me personally, or stretched my ability as an actor. I’ll leave it at that.
You have performed a number of Pride and Prejudice pastiches. Is it a challenge to voice a take-off of something so beloved by readers?
It definitely is. The fan base is very knowledgeable of the Regency era and they can be brutal to both authors and narrators with their expectations. I’ve had the great fortune of working with excellent authors who, despite putting a different spin on Austen’s work, honor the time period and Austen’s beloved characters.
What do you see as your greatest achievement as an audiobook narrator? What has been your most difficult moment?
My greatest achievement as a narrator has to be winning the Audie Award for Inspirational/Faith-based Fiction. I will cherish this! The most difficult was probably the time I lost a week’s worth of work when my computer died, and with it all of my audio files. I literally bawled because the time-line was tight and I was exhausted to begin with. I back-up my files regularly now!
What advice that you were given when you started out in your career do you find most useful to share with new narrators?
First, take time outside of the booth to take care of yourself. Your health and sanity depends on it. Second, always have a coach – always. Third, listen to as many audiobooks by A list narrators as you can. I am always inspired by my colleagues who do excellent work.
What narrators do you listen to for inspiration?
I have a list as long as my arm. Longer actually! Though I will say that the narrators who have impacted me the most in my career choice are Simon Vance (Great Expectations), Jayne Entwistle (the Flavia DeLuce series), and John Lee (The Count of Monte Cristo). Years ago, when I first started listening to audiobooks in earnest, they painted such brilliant landscapes in my mind; they added such a richness to each story. My hope is that I can do the same for others. Audiobooks are magic.
Check out Nancy at the following links: