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    The Book Pages: The story of an audiobook narrator
    • July 8, 2023

    Gerard Doyle can tell a good story.

    Considering he’s narrated more than 400 audiobooks, that’s probably to be expected.

    The award-winning actor has voiced Mick Herron’s Slow Horses novels, Adrian McKinty’s Sean Duffy books, and Christopher Paolini’s Eragon adventures along with multiple titles in Angie Sage’s Septimus Heap collection. He’s also recorded fiction and nonfiction from Val McDermid, Colum McCann, Timothy Egan and many more.

    And he’s got a couple of new ones on the way: Doyle narrated McKinty’s long-awaited, “The Detective Up Late,” coming in August, and he raves about Herron’s “brilliant” upcoming novel, “The Secret Hours,” which arrives in October.

    “Part of the fun of it for me is just to play all the different characters really; it’s like a one-man show for 12 hours,” he says, adding that he tries to be a vehicle for the author’s intentions. “The big thing always is don’t get in the way.”

    Or lose focus. “Becoming detached from the book,” he says. “That’s what I try not to do. …It’s really difficult to record a book that you’re not engaged in.”

    So yes, Doyle knows how to spin a yarn, which he did throughout a Zoom conversation from his home in Sag Harbor, New York. Doyle, who’s Irish but was raised in England, came to the States nearly 25 years ago to understudy in Conor McPherson’s play “The Weir.” Not long after, he and his wife decided to make their life in America to be closer to her parents and raise their two children here.

    Doyle hadn’t planned to get into audiobooks. And based on his first job, recording “A Star Called Henry” by Roddy Doyle (no relation), he almost didn’t.

    “I was so bad at it that Claudia Howard, who ran Recorded Books at the time in New York City and was very kind, led me through the first 60 pages,” he says.

    But as Doyle worked on the book, he grew confident and finished strong. So he was a little surprised when the producer called him back in.

    “She said, you’re going to re-record the first 60 pages of the book,” Doyle recalls, because the latter half of the book sounded more accomplished, which made the opening pages seem tentative. “We needed the beginning to match up with the end. So we did it and apparently it was seamless. I’ve never listened to it.”

    Really? Nope. “I can’t stand listening to my own stuff,” he says.

    Someone must have been listening, though: He won his first Earphone award from AudioFile Magazine for that project, and he’s since won dozens more, eventually, he says, cajoling Blackstone Audio into installing an audio booth in his garage to make the process easier.

    “For the last 18 years, I’ve been doing that,” he says. “Very fortunate, sitting there in my pajamas and making money. It’s lovely.”

    Doyle recalls some of the unique challenges of the work, such as having to pause while narrating an intimate, in-progress love scene to track down the pronunciation of a rare plant mentioned. It took weeks, but he got the answer from an expert. “That put us both” – he and the paused character – “out of our misery,” he says.

    Or the time he was narrating a novel that had a character who spoke a dialect used by just a few thousand people. After hitting dead ends for how to voice it, Doyle phoned a college located near the book’s setting, asking to speak with someone who might provide some insight.

    Only one professor was available to talk to him. Thankfully, it was the right one.

    “This guy came on the line and he said, ‘Do you realize how lucky you are?’ I am the world’s authority,’” Doyle recalls the scholar telling him. “So I sent him all my questions.”

    Crisis averted.

    Audiobook narrator Gerard Doyle has more than 400 books to his credit. (Courtesy of Blackstone Audio, Simon & Schuster, Recorded Books, Brilliance Audio)

    But it’s not all about pronunciations, it’s acting. He recalled McKinty providing the backstory to an intense scene and the difference it made.

    “I was recording that particular passage and it was just gold. I was almost crying as I was reading it. I remember I had to stop a few times and just gather myself because it was so powerful,” Doyle says, then adds, “He’s an extremely funny man, and I love the humor.”

    Speaking of humor, McKinty provided the following when I messaged him about his go-to narrator: “Doyle is nothing but trouble. I’ll throw in a random Estonian composer I heard once and liked and he’ll badger me for days about the exact pronunciation of the work. Love/hate the guy. Kidding, mostly love, a complete professional and perfectionist!”

    During my conversation with Doyle, I mentioned that the audiobook for Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell,” which kept me company on my drive home when I used to work a late shift, turned me into a fan; Simon Prebble’s narration – rich with nuance and subtle cues that enriched the understanding of the story – sold me on audiobooks.

    Turns out, Doyle and Prebble are friends.

    “He was a huge mentor of mine. He and [narrator] Barbara Rosenblat really took me under their wing. I met them at Recorded Books one November day, and they stood on the street with me in freezing cold conditions and gave me a dialect workshop right there on the street because I was recording something the next day that was problematic,” he says. “We’ve been friends ever since.”

    Doyle, who just retired from his job teaching theater, perks up as he discusses his two children – his daughter is a potter and his son a sound engineer who will be working with him in the coming months.

    He’s looking forward to reading and recording more.

    “I can count on the fingers of two hands the books that I didn’t enjoy recording or that I really thought were not good,” Doyle says. “All I’m trying to do is be true to it. And if I can achieve that, then, you know, I’ve done my job.”

    • • •

    What are you looking forward to reading, or listening to, this summer? Please feel free to email me at [email protected] with “ERIK’S BOOK PAGES” in the subject line and I may include your comments in an upcoming newsletter.

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    Thanks, as always, for reading.

    John Wray says one author towers over Roth, Mailer and Updike

    John Wray is the author of “Gone to the Wolves.” (Photo credit Julio Arellano / Courtesy of Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

    John Wray is the author of “Gone to the Wolves,” “Lowboy” and other novels. He spoke with Michael Schaub about book recommendations and more for the Book Pages Q&A.

    Q: Is there a book or books you always recommend to other readers?

    Incongruous as it might seem — given that my novel is about three teenage metal kids from small-town Florida — the book I’ve recommended more than any other is probably “The Transit of Venus,” by the late, great Shirley Hazzard. It manages somehow to feel both classic (in the best, most elegant sense) and deeply, unapologetically weird. And it has some of the most virtuosic individual sentences, on the level of pure language, that I’ve ever read. Shirley was one of the great ones. I’ll take her over the big men of her generation, like Roth or Mailer or Updike, any day.

    Q: Is there a book you’re nervous to read?

    I’m always nervous to read anything new by Catherine Lacey, whose novel “Biography of X” came out in March. She never fails to do things with narrative and style and structure that I kick myself for not having thought of first.

    Q: Can you recall a book that felt like it was written just for you (or conversely, one that most definitely wasn’t)?

    When I was a child I was complacent in the certainty that “Alice’s Adventures Through the Looking Glass” had been expressly written with me in mind, and I haven’t changed my opinion since.

    Q: Do you have any favorite book covers?

    So many! I’m a big fan of the original edition of “Memoirs of a Shy Pornographer” by Kenneth Patchen, and of the first U.S. edition of “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts” by Amos Tutuola. In terms of recently published books, I was pretty dazzled by the U.S. cover of “Moon Witch, Spider King” by Marlon James.

    Q: Is there a person who made an impact on your reading life – a teacher, a parent, a librarian or someone else?

    For the entirety of my childhood, my mother would go to bed shockingly early — hours before the rest of the family — just to have enough time to read. Her bedside table was always covered by a ziggurat of orange-spined Penguin Classics; I don’t think I ever actually saw what it looked like. “In Search of Lost Time,” “War and Peace,” “The Man Without Qualities” — she read them all, multiple times. That had to have had some sort of effect.

    Q: What do you find the most appealing in a book: the plot, the language, the cover, a recommendation? Do you have any examples?

    I’m a big believer in the first paragraph. I’ll give almost any book a page or so — I’ll stand there and read it right in the bookstore, then put it down and read another first page, and so on, until I find one that I really like. The employees must love me.

    Q: What’s something about your book that no one knows?

    The character of Leslie Z — one-third of “Gone to the Wolves’” central friendship — was directly inspired by a very well-known novelist who happens to be a friend. I’ve said too much already!

    More books, authors and bestsellers

    Summer fiction (and beyond) coming in 2023. (Covers courtesy (Top row): Harper Collins, Penguin Press, Riverhead, Norton, Ecco; Bottom row: Simon & Schuster, Henry Holt, One World, Anchor)

    The Summer TBR list

    15 must-read books coming summer 2023 (and beyond). READ MORE

    • • •


    “Land of Broken Promises” author Jane Kuo. (Photo credit Jon Paris/Courtesy of Quill Tree Books)

    Words and pictures

    Jane Kuo explores an immigrant family’s life in “Land of Broken Promises.” READ MORE

    • • •


    “The Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession” by Michael Finkel is among the top-selling nonfiction releases at Southern California’s independent bookstores. (Courtesy of Knopf)

    The week’s bestsellers

    The top-selling books at your local independent bookstores. READ MORE

    • • •


    Bookish (SCNG)

    What’s next on ‘Bookish’

    Find out about the upcoming Bookish event on July 21 with authors Eliza Jane Brazier and Jillian Lauren and hosts Sandra Tsing Loh and Samantha Dunn. If you missed the previous one with Mona Simpson and Peter Wohlleben, you can watch it here.

    • • •

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