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Q&A with Audie-nominated narrator Claire Bocking

Claire BockingWhat goes into creating an Audie-nominated audiobook? Readers talked to Claire Bocking, the Audie-nominated narrator of the Escape to New Zealand series, to find out.

From Rosalind James’s Facebook page, April 2015. Some content has been edited for clarity and organization.

Q: Will you be going to New York for the Audie awards?

A: Aw, I WISH! My baby girl is due May 14… even if she comes early, I’m just not sure I could make it to NYC for the black tie gala. I find some comfort in reminding myself that I wouldn’t have a thing to wear! (IS there such a thing as a post-baby evening gown?) I admit, knowing I can’t make it hasn’t stopped me from practicing goofy acceptance speeches!

Q: What did you think when you received the news of the Audie nomination?

A: I couldn’t believe it! JUST THIS ONCE [the nominated book] was my first audiobook. How amazing to get such high praise right from the beginning of my audiobook career!

Q: What type of voice training do you have to come up with your wide range of inflections for the different characters? It amazes me how you switch back and forth.

A: I went to drama school in London, and completed a 3-year BA in acting. I think I was in the last year of students to take phonetics and dialect class – they don’t actually do it any more (most casting directors now just opt for actors with the real thing). I love dialects, languages and silly voices though, which helps! Perhaps also because I moved around a lot when I was a kid.

Q: How did you get started in acting, and is it your full time job?

A:. I focused on film, TV and commercials when I got to LA in 2006, but switched to voiceover after my son was born in 2010. Rosalind’s books do keep me very busy these days, absolutely – particularly now that I have taken on audiobook production as well. The books need to be turned around in around a month, so yes, it has become a full time job. I do still have a manager who sends me out on film and TV stuff though. Having said that, I’m about to have a baby any day now, so I think that might be my full time job for the next few months.

Q: How and why did you get into doing narration?

A: Not long after I made my commercial demo reel for voiceover work, I was contacted to audition for JUST THIS ONCE through a website. I’d never done an audiobook before, but I love it! It really is liberating being able to play all those characters without worrying what you look like. And really, who else would cast me as a 300-pound rugby player?

Q: How many times do you a read the book before you begin the narration?

A: I actually just read it once to prepare the script (with different colors for each character). Rosalind does this brilliant thing (which I recommend for all authors thinking of making audiobooks) where she gives me the character breakdowns. If I know who’s speaking, and have a good grasp of their character, the words tend to play out from their point of view, if that makes sense. Unfortunately there’s just not the time to rehearse it like a play, but there is something really challenging as an actor, just reacting as the words come up. I have a pretty good idea of what is happening in each chapter, but how the responses come it is quite live.

Q: When doing the Narration, I assume it’s in script form?

A: Actually, I work off a good ol’ document… and then I highlight it, and then turn it into a PDF when I’m about to record (in case I delete stuff while I’m scrolling – learned THAT the hard way). The highlighting is really important, so I know when and which character is about to speak.

Q: How long does it take you to record an audiobook?

A: It does depend on how long the books are, of course, but if I’m just reading it takes roughly two hours of reading for one hour of finished audio. I also take a bit of time to prepare the script (a different color for each of the characters) and practice the place names and Maori words.

Usually I take a bit of time at the beginning of a new book to work out the voices of the main characters too, so they feel second nature

Recently I’ve taken on the production side of things too, so from start to finish, including all the editing, mastering and so on it takes me around two months, if it’s a long one, like JUST MY LUCK.

Q: Do you have to re-record anything? Something that you didn’t like the sound of once you heard it in playback?

A: For the first four books, I worked with an engineer, and I really didn’t get to hear it played back until it was finished. I have now taken on the production side of things too, which has been fantastic for my narration – sometimes I do different takes, if I don’t like the first one, and I can be the “director” and choose which one to use. It’s so great! The main challenging thing now is sticking to choices and not being too pedantic – I have deadlines, after all!

Q: if someone were wanting to be a narrator, what advice would you give?

A: My advice would be not to make the mistake of thinking you are just reading words, or to just focus on saying the words without making mistakes. I would say you should tell the story as you hear it in your head. Telling a story is so personal, just trust that if the story is coming alive for you, it is for the listener as well.

Q: With all the books you’ve narrated, and with all the different characters you’ve done, how do you keep them separated? In JUST ONCE MORE, you have every character in this one book. How do you remember the voice that you give to each character?

A: Keeping the characters separated is definitely a challenge – especially with so many rugby fellas in one scene, and American ladies in the WAG section these days. What helps is having a strong visual to each character, and a very thorough idea of what they are like. Hannah, for example, is quite sweet and bright. Kate is a bit deeper and more sassy. Rosalind’s writing helps, of course, but I hope that as long as I can reflect their personality a bit in how they’re speaking it comes across.

Q: Rosalind’s books, while not graphic, are very sexy and steamy. Does it bother you to read the steamy parts?

A: I was a little awkward at first! When I got home after reading my first steamy scene in JUST THIS ONCE, I told my husband I wasn’t sure if I could do it – it was so surreal. He looked up and said, “You’re an actor, though, right? Isn’t it your job to make that work?” Very sound advice. It’s not about me, and me being awkward, it’s about the story. So I just try and tell it the best I can.

It’s just about putting myself aside and being committed to the story, which is never hard to do with Rosalind James’s books. Her characters are always so well filled out, you’re usually so happy for them, and the sex scenes come from a good, fun place. I did turn down narration on one book, which involved a sadist and lots of violent rape scenes. I just didn’t want to go there.

Q: You have the Kiwi accent down. How hard is it to go to an American accent?

A: I actually think Kiwis might disagree with you… it’s a very tricky accent. American is much easier, because it’s so easy to hear… it’s everywhere. NZ accents, not so much. What you hear is my Australian, which is very similar, (a bit like Canadian is similar to American) with a few NZ vowel sounds thrown in. I WISH I were better at it… but I can understand the Kiwis who get upset, ‘cos I’m not a real Kiwi. I’ve made my peace with it, and decided I can’t let a few wobbly vowel sounds get in the way of a good story.

I  did reach out to Kiwis on the “Kiwis in LA” Facebook page, asking for help with Maori pronunciation. Lots of people were happy to help, and they were all so friendly! I think my favorite NZ line was Nate saying, “All I know about business could fit on the head of a pin” which in NZ is, “fut on the hid of a pun.”

Q: Where’s your home town in Oz?

A: I was born in Adelaide, South Australia. I grew up more in Canberra though. Go the Brumbies!

Q: Did you like rugby before you started narrating Rosalind’s books?  Especially since you are doing the All Blacks and you are an Aussie?

A: Actually if I can be honest, I wasn’t a huge rugby fan growing up – the big boofhead boys going out to play rugby couldn’t be more different than me, headed to drama with my copies of Shakespeare. During university I worked at Bruce stadium, home of the Brumbies, and they had a great season, so I guess I cheered for them by default. I certainly got to know a lot about rugby, and the guys, their speeches, and the fans… but I wouldn’t say I was a fan until I started reading Rosalind James’s books. She writes these guys with so much depth and internal conflict… it’s nice to think of them as big softies at heart.

Q: Which of the books you’ve narrated so far is your favorite?

A: I really went places emotionally in JUST FOR FUN [her fourth audiobook]. I think I finally started hitting my stride with that one.

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MJ Guidry
MJ Guidry
8 years ago

I hope Claire had as much fun as we did!

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