Writer in Residence

Writers Working With Actors

By Lesley Krueger


Prep for the audio book: it was fun for me to Skype about my characters’ accents with narrator Pascal Langdale before the recording sessions for my new novel. Few people are interested in such arcane detail. Who cares as much about writing as a writer?

As someone who works in film as well as books, I can tell you that actors do. You get a closer reading from actors working on your script--or in this case, your audio book--than you do from anyone else. Maybe academics? But that's about it.

Pascal had a series of questions about narrating Mad Richard--asking, for instance, which modern actress I could see playing Elizabeth Gaskell, who was the great friend of one of my main characters, Charlotte Brontë. Charlotte's story takes up half the book, and throughout, the two women are closely in touch. 

Who would play Mrs. Gaskell? When I'm writing scripts, I cast big, at least in my head. The younger Meryl Streep, I replied. Elizabeth Gaskell radiated intelligence. She was a tall woman, reddish-blond, unconventionally beautiful and invariably commanding. Also mischievous, which Meryl Streep can do nicely, and one of the worst gossips of her age.

That led to a couple of questions of my own. What type of actors are interested in doing audio books? And why had Pascal, with his lovely English accent, come to Canada?

When we sat down to chat, Pascal told me he was born in Brighton, England, and started his education at the Royal Ballet’s junior school, planning to be a dancer before switching to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London.

“My mother was furious after all that time and effort in ballet when I wanted to switch to RADA,” he told me, chuckling as he said she’d come around.

After graduation, Pascal moved north to work in the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, where he appeared in everything from Restoration plays to A Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Later, at the National Theatre, he had parts in Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials, meanwhile doing TV shows and—significantly for his move to Canada in 2011—getting married and having two children.

“The best reason for moving is always a lot of reasons,” Pascal told me. “A big one was the quality of life for the children. London is a city that doesn’t give a shit about you. It’s hard to raise children there without a lot of money. You can’t afford to live in the proper catchment areas to give them a good education, and you’re crowded into a small house.

“My wife is American, so we tried New York and Los Angeles, but the problems were the same as in London. After LA, we went to Vancouver, but everything there is defined by the outdoors rather than the arts.

“Toronto has a much deeper range of media. I’m a jobbing actor, and I enjoy working on a number of things. Obviously, it’s not as big as London, but you get a similar depth of opportunity. I’ve done videogames, TV, voiceover commercials, and now an audiobook. Some theatre, as well. The arts are supported here. It’s a good place to be an artist.”

And with his wife a Pilates instructor who now owns her own studio, Toronto has provided a soft landing for both partners.

Just as well for us. As the recording rolled on, Pascal rolled out excellent versions of the novel's many characters. (Who knew I had written so many characters?) Meanwhile, audio engineer Bobby Singh monitored every word and technical director Jessica Albert kept on top of the pacing, which in an audio book, is set at about ten per cent slower than normal speech.

It’s fun to work with a group of people who are good at their jobs, especially when you’re a writer who usually works on her own.

The audio book of Mad Richard will be available this fall on multiple platforms.

(And FYI, the photo shows Pascal Langdale in the recording studio.)

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.