Spoken Word

You’ve likely listened to your voice on a recording and thought, “I didn’t know I sound like that!” It’s a bit strange, and unsettling.

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Voice-over actor Violet Phillips

I recently learned that it’s equally strange to hear someone else’s voice reading words I’ve written. Strange in a good way, though, especially when the voice belongs to professional narrator, Violet Phillips.

I first heard Violet’s voice on an audition tape forwarded to me by Homebound Publications. stack of books (1)Violet was one of the four finalists in the press’s search for a narrator for my memoir, Hiking Naked: A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance. My job was to listen to all four tapes and choose the reader I wanted to record the audiobook.

When I learned that Homebound planned to produce an audio version of Hiking Naked, people asked if I’d do the voice myself. While I’ve read short excerpts from the memoir many times at author events, I suspected recording the entire manuscript required skills I don’t have. I’ve also been interviewed for radio programs, and I know for that medium, microphones and soundproof rooms are best. Although I have a home office ideal for writing, it doesn’t include recording equipment, and it’s in no way soundproof.

All the narrator candidates had strong, professional reading voices. With two, I detected slight southern accents. Although I grew up in southern Illinois and Indiana, if I have any accent, it’s more of the nasal tone of my birthplace of Chicago; hearing my words with a bit of a drawl didn’t sound right to me.

Ultimately, there was something about Violet’s straightforward, warm voice that resonated for me. And then, there was her first name.

violet crayon

I couldn’t resist hearing “Violet” read “Iris.” I notified publisher Leslie Browning that Violet was my choice.

I was surprised—and delighted—that Violet asked to talk with me before she began recording. Prior to our phone conversation, we each made lists of words and place names that might need pronunciation clarification. After comparing notes, Violet offered her perceptions about some of the characters. She was right on.

Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about why she’s such a skilled narrator. Violet grew up in New Jersey and earned a BA in English from the University of Pennsylvania. She began working as a writer and editor, focusing on health care, and was an editor at Rodale Press. Now, she’s a voice-over actor, a writer, and a creative director. Violet has been doing corporate voice work for the past 10 years, voicing all types of videos, instructional pieces, industrial assignments, and audiobooks (including mine and How to Be a Healthy Vegetarian).

Once the recording was completed, I wanted to know more about this art form. The following interview with Violet takes you behind-the-scenes of an audiobook.

Iris Graville: You told me you’ve been doing “voice work” for some time. I’d like to hear more about what that involves and what drew you to it.

Violet Phillips: Voice work is interesting because either it’s something people come to, say, with being on the radio, or people are told they have a beautiful voice. I was told that by an actor about fifteen years ago, so I just started exploring it, taking classes, and working with a coach. I worked in an advertising agency and did a lot of videos as well as hiring voice talent and auditioning people. I really began to understand how it works from the other side of the glass [of the recording studio].  

 IG: When did you start narrating books?

 VP: This was the first project like this I’ve done. My voice teacher encouraged me to audition. I loved your book so much, and I really wanted to do it. So when the email offer came in from Leslie [Browning, publisher], I was sitting at my desk just beaming.

IG: I did the same when I listened to your audition tape! How do you find out about narration opportunities?

VP: Audiobook Creation Exchange (ACEX) is a clearinghouse for people to have audiobooks produced. It’s also a place where narrators get work–all books are posted there for narrators to search. The staff at ACEX are very helpful about how to make it work. ACEX is owned by Amazon, but now there are also producers of audiobooks who are responsible for the whole production. And some large presses have their own production companies.

 IG: Please describe the process of recording a book.

 VP: A voice actor I know describes it as the “marathon” of voice-over work. There are many components to it. First, there’s prep work with the audiobook—I had to read the book, then I had to work on pronunciation of place names and figure out the characters. The actual recording requires a lot of concentration and time. There’s pacing involved, because your voice gets tired. Your book had a lot of variety for me as a narrator and a wonderful sense of purpose. I worked with an audio engineer, so I went to a studio he works in, and we recorded there.

 IG: What are some of the challenges of recording books?

VP: A lot of things happen when you’re reading. You may have to stop and correct something, take a break. So many cognitive and physical things are going on at the same time.

 IG: And the rewards?

VP: When the book is complete and I’ve worked on all these different aspects, it’s like I’ve been on a big storytelling adventure. To be that voice that’s in the room or the car with someone is very rewarding. And there are long-lasting rewards, too, because people could be listening to this book years from now. It’s very personal, and it’s delightful to be in that close of a position with people listening.

IG: I’m delighted with your voice narrating my memoir, Violet. Thank you for auditioning and then doing the work to record the book.

VP: You’re welcome! It’s a wonderful art form, almost like producing a film or a play. I love the idea the voice is helping to sustain a story. All of my teachers, coaches, and sound engineers talk about how the sound and the voice do something that very few other things can—they create a vibration in someone’s body that can directly influence their feelings. I think sound is fascinating because this is a human being reading to you, and what is lovelier than that? Voice is connecting, is bringing humanity to people.

IG: What’s next for you with voice work?

VP: I’m finishing another audiobook!

I imagine there will be more of those in Violet’s future.

You can decide for yourself if Violet was the right choice for narration of Hiking Naked by adding the audiobook to your favorite device (you can even listen to a sample if you follow the link). I know I couldn’t be happier that she’s the one who spoke my words.

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    1. Thanks, Lorna. I don’t know the answers to your questions. The recording is 6.5 hours, so I know it was well over that, and I’m sure Violet didn’t read straight through. I’ll ask her and will post more when I find out.

  1. A fun interview! I ‘read’ many audiobooks, and it’s interesting to hear about the role of the reader. Thanks!

    1. You’re welcome, Jan; glad you enjoyed the interview. You’re one of the people who inspired me to “read” audio versions. As much as I love to hold a physical book (as I know you do, too), the audiobooks sure are handing for long car trips, flights, gardening, and working out. I so appreciate that Homebound thought Hiking Naked would work well in this format.

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