Tuesday I reviewed The Thing About December, my second Donal Ryan audiobook narrated by Wayne Farrell. I loved them both, so I asked Wayne to join me here on Literate Housewife. I hope you enjoy getting to know him as much as I did. If you haven’t had the opportunity to listen to his work, ask Santa for some Audible credits! You’ll want to pick up The Spinning Heart, too! I know you’re going to enjoy what you here. Then, be sure to visit him on his Facebook page and follow him on Twitter as well.
Literate Housewife: Thank you so much for joining us! Please tell us a little about yourself. You were born and raised in Ireland, but where has your life taken you after that?
Wayne Farrell: I was indeed born in Dublin. Over the past twenty years I have lived in London, Lyon, Berlin, Tokyo and most recently in Muscat, where I work in the aviation sector for the Omani government.
LH: Have you met any interesting people along the way, such as, I don’t know, Michael Stipe?
WF: Funny you should say that! I have indeed met Michael Stipe, who for those readers unfamiliar with him, is the lead singer of the US band R.E.M. The band were doing some recording for a new album in a very charming village in Ireland called Dalkey, and I happened to run into him in a coffee-shop there. It was a very pleasant conversation and Michael is great company. Being involved in the National Theatre of Ireland from an early age, and also being well-traveled, has opened up a lot of opportunity to meet people. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet quite a few interesting ones from Hollywood actors to Nobel Prize winners.
LH: How long have you been narrating audiobooks? How did you get started in the business?
WF: I’ve been narrating part-time for two years now. Audiobooks are my second job. My day-job involves a lot of down-time. A lot of waiting around and I wanted to find a way to make all that free time have an element of value.
While working as a production assistant for the National Theatre, I learned a lot about the acting process, and it was here that I was introduced to traditional Irish storyteller, or ‘seanchaí’ Eamon Kelly. He could mesmerize a crowd with a story. No music, no props. People used to sit in silence and just listen. He enthralled me, and from there on in I was hooked on the art of storytelling.
Spending a lot of time traveling, I used to buy audiobooks on CD and listen to them mostly on long flights. This was in the days before mp3, and now Audible.com, allowed me to bring my whole library with me on an iPhone. I’d say I’ve listened to hundreds of them at this stage.
A twist of fate had me searching for the recorded version of “Good Omens” by Neil Gaiman, and I came across a link where Neil was talking about the ACX platform, which allows authors to work with narrators to make audiobooks. The process seemed like something that I could do, even with my limited knowledge of what I knew about audio recording, so I dug a little deeper to find out what makes a good audiobook narrator. The same answer kept coming back. Listen to as many audiobooks as you can. I had. And when I thought about it a bit more, I could see the value in that.
There comes a time as an audiobook listener where you begin to see the almost invisible threads of magic in that mist that surrounds the storyline and the narration. You kind of know how long of a gap the narrator is going to leave between sections, how they paint a picture of an environment, or how they build tension. The process rubs off on you to an extent.
I decided to give it a go and recorded my first audiobook in a small room in my house. The feedback was positive and I realized that I did have an ability to tell stories but had a lot to learn.
Two years later, that room has been exchanged for a professional recording space with a separate editing suite and an even more separate mastering engineer who lives thousands of miles away from me in Switzerland.
I still find it all a bit daunting that I’ve managed to make a success out of this, and still half expect someone to come along and say: “Sorry. We made a mistake. You’re actually terrible at this. Go home, son!”
LH: Do you record at home or do you record at a studio?
WF: I sometimes record in external studios but mostly use my home studio which consists of a recording booth and a separate editing suite. It’s taken me about a year to get it into the shape that it is in now. The main task was finding the right equipment that works with my voice and creating a workspace where I could provide a quality product.
LH: What are your greatest challenges as a narrator? What are your greatest joys?
WF: The challenges are numerous, however the major one for me is doing justice to the author’s words. This is always in the back of my mind. Have I understood what messages the writer wants to send? Am I passing that on to the listener in an effective and elegant way?
The greatest joy for me is having an impact on listeners. I seldom read reviews on Audible, but getting emails from folks who say that my narration has had a positive effect on them is always great.
The same goes for authors. I had one come back to me the other day saying “…it’s as though you’re narrating from inside my head.” It’s statements like that which keep me moving forward. Getting it right means a lot to me.
LH: Since the beginning of the year I’ve had the opportunity to experience your work on Donal Ryan’s novels The Spinning Heart and The Thing About December. They are such gorgeous, tragic novels about Ireland. These books spoke to my heart despite the fact that I’ve never been to Ireland. I can only imagine the impact that they would have to those who call Ireland home. Did the thought of narrating these novels intimidate you or did you feel these characters’ voices in your bones?
WF: Donal Ryan has been compared to JM Synge and Patrick McCabe – two authors who are household names in Ireland and across the world. When the opportunity came up to audition for The Spinning Heart, I knew I had to give it a go. It had won the Irish Book of the Year Award and was on the short-list for the Man Booker Prize, so it was a huge deal for me as a new narrator – and a big gamble for the publisher who was putting a world-class author potentially in the firing line. None of which was lost on a very nervous me! When they came back and said that it was me who’d been chosen, there was a mixture of elation and terror for all of us I think.
LH: The Spinning Heart tells one central story through the many smaller stories of a group of townspeople and I must admit that I was amazed at the way you pulled all of that together for the audiobook. What process did you go through to prepare yourself for recording? Were there any people who helped you along the way?
WF: The twenty-one characters in the book are all very different and it was challenging at first to be able to sit down and work out each one for voice, while making it such that each character stood out from the other. I ended up with whiteboards full of notes and arrows and lines and I used to sit in front of it visualizing each person and creating a life for them. To be honest, I don’t think that the audiobook would have been as successful as it was without Donal’s ability to write with the nuances of the language as it is within this that I could find the keys to each character. It’s been an amazing experience.
LH: The Thing About December was very different from The Spinning Heart but packed another huge punch. I found myself wanting to dive into that book and help Johnsey so many times. What do you remember the most about that recording?
WF: The Thing About December was written before The Spinning Heart, and being asked back and trusted to narrate the second of Donal’s books was an honor. To be associated with him in this capacity is still a pinch yourself thought.
Johnsey Cunliffe is only mentioned once in The Spinning Heart but he is vital to the whole story.
There were huge challenges in bringing Johnsey to life for audio. He’s slow and quick at the same time. He’s distant and yet ever-present. The whole book is written as a third person narrative so I had to read it in-character. It’s a very moving manuscript in many ways and is also laugh out loud funny at times. I really enjoyed “being” Johnsey for the twelve months of the book. The end for him is both sad, and a relief all at the same time.
LH: Have you had the opportunity to work with the author at all through this process? If so, what has that been like? Have you received any feedback from him about your work thus far? Is there any chance you might be working with him again in the future?
WF: Donal is incredibly busy. Book signings up and down Ireland and also a tour of the USA. We had a brief chat at the beginning of each book, and he was willing to allow me to just get on with it myself. He has really enjoyed what he has heard of both audiobooks and has been very encouraging.
If and when he writes another book, I will be the first in the queue with an offer to narrate it, of course. We’ll just have to wait and see.
LH: When you’re not milling about with famous musicians or recording audiobooks like a rock star yourself, what do you like to do with your spare time?
WF: I don’t get a lot of daily spare time with my audiobook and aviation schedules combined but I am very strict about blocking out vacation days. I try to take a week off every three months and then a six week block of leave once a year. The single weeks off are more of a review-time where I can fly to Europe or Asia, sit with a notebook and take stock of where I am in life. The six week block is for travel and fun with my beautiful wife Roselle, who is an absolute joy to experience the world with. We will be heading off to the US in September so who knows…we may see you there!
LH: You’re on! You’re always welcome at my place.