Writer in Residence

Hearing Your Words Come to Life

By Lesley Krueger


Bobby Singh is the audio engineer in charge of recording the audio book of my new novel, working out of an audio studio on Dufferin Street near the tracks in Toronto’s west end.

I love audio studios: the hermetic feeling of safety inside the thick walls, the magic of the boards and lights, the medical-looking oscillations on the monitors. My son is a sound mixer, an audio engineer who puts together the voices, music and sound effects for film and TV that make us feel we’re right there with the actors, whether in an operating room or a half-wrecked pod on Mars. Between Gabe’s job, the film work I do and the fact I used to work for CBC Radio, I’ve been in more than a few audio studios and feel entirely at home there.

Bobby tells me he began working on audio books eight months ago. He started out by editing takes together that had been recorded by another engineer. Two months later, he moved onto recording the sessions himself, working under producer Kevin Bonnici and in conjunction with my publisher, ECW Press.

“I’ve done close to twenty-five books now,” Bobby says. “It’s the first time I’ve done anything in long form, and I’m finding the extent to which it requires attention to detail. You need to read every word.”

Bobby speaks in a pleasant baritone, with a soothing quality I associate with sound engineers used to working with actors through the glass of the dialogue recording booth. (Not to mention over-caffeinated directors.)

“You get to know what the author and the publisher want,” Bobby says. “Some want more emphasis on character, performance and accent”—largely for novels, he agrees. “Others want you to help the narrator to be technically correct.”

Sitting at the rear of the studio last week, I watched Bobby and narrator Pascal Langdale work through the first three chapters of Mad Richard, aiming for a reading speed about 10 per cent slower than a normal speaking voice, which allows listeners to absorb the text without the words in front of them.

It’s valuable when attending audio sessions to have worked in film. You expect the multiple stops and starts, with the narrator unconsciously speeding up at times and having to stop to slow down, or flubbing the occasional word, maybe needing a drink of water, certainly a break. No one can keep up such meticulous concentration for so long. But you know it will be edited together seamlessly in the end.

What does Bobby think of his new work?

“I like it,” he says. “I didn’t expect to. It sounded tedious, but I like the work and I like the actors. I haven’t read so many books in such a short time since university, so that’s been very enjoyable, too.”

Three hours on Monday, forty pages of the book, 10,713 words.

“Good for a first session,” Bobby says, as Pascal walks in from the booth.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Lesley Krueger is a novelist and screenwriter. Richard Dadd’s first cousin-in-law five times removed (if she has the genealogy right), Lesley drew on family information unknown to biographers in writing Mad Richard. The author of six books, she lives with her husband in Toronto where she’s an avid member of a women’s hockey league and a writer-mentor at the Canadian Film Centre. Find her online at LesleyKrueger.com.