Stig Wemyss reads books. Out loud. Lots and lots of books by all sorts of people like Andy Griffiths, Paul Jennings, Margaret Clark, Tim Winton, Stig Wemyss (himself!) and … well, HEAPS more. You might know him as the voice of The 13-Storey Treehouse audiobooks (he even reads the ‘audio illustrations’. Cool.). Stig Wemyss is someone we have wanted to interview for a long time … and what better month to do it in than June — to celebrate Hear a Story!
So — what’s it like to be an audiobook narrator? Read on!
Where do you live?
I live in the back shelf of Andy Griffith’s fridge, behind the relish. Wait — Andy’s not going to see this is he? I really don’t want him to know I’m in here. Maybe it’s better if you just put “Melbourne, Victoria” and don’t mention the whole fridge thing … Um, can you close the door, the margarine is starting to melt.
What skills do you need to be the narrator for an audiobook?
People underestimate how difficult it is to be narrator. Like, you have to be able to read, for a start. You have to have a whole range of different voices, you have to spend hours at a time locked in a little glass booth — so if you’re claustrophobic, forget about it — and you have to be a bit of an idiot. So as you can see, I tick all the boxes.
How did you find a job as an audiobook narrator?
I started narrating books about 25 years ago. Somebody recommended me to Vision Australia as an actor that might be good to narrate books for kids and young adults because of the youthful quality of my voice. And the fact that I would do it for free. I can’t remember what my first title was and I suspect I was probably not very good but for whatever reason, the producers loved it and continued to get me back. Not long after that, I narrated Tim Winton’s That Eye The Sky [a book for adults] which went on to win a number of audiobook awards and the rest, as they say, is history.
Do you discuss a book with its author and illustrator before you record it as an audiobook?
Most authors are happy to let narrators bring their own spin to a book. Andy Griffiths has given me a license to play around and be creative, providing I’m true to the text. I remember getting a letter from Nan Bodsworth after I had narrated one of her books saying how much she loved my performance. That was really nice, usually you never hear from the authors … unless it’s to ask you to move out of their fridge.
[Listen to an excerpt of Stig Wemyss narrating The 52-Storey Treehouse.]
Do you get to choose which books you record?
Bolinda are fantastic at matching the right voice for the book. I’m lucky enough to have been asked to narrate over 150 books for Bolinda and I said yes to all of them. These days I even do live shows in schools and libraries around the country. (You can find out if I’m coming to a library near you on the internet. Just look for Stig Live @ The Library.)
You wrote The Tripp Diaries specifically as an audiobook. What’s different about writing a book that’s intended to be an audiobook, rather than one to be read in traditional fashion?
Audio is a whole different medium, it is theatre of the mind. With audio, you can create fantastical, larger-than-life scenarios using music and sound effects so you can take the listener on a journey well beyond what you could just with the written word. It’s sort of like animation with your eyes closed.
When you read in your own time, do you prefer to read books the traditional way or do you prefer audiobooks?
I love reading and I love listening. The great thing about an audio book is you can read it anywhere, anytime … and while you’re doing something else. Driving, cleaning, exercising, knitting, shearing a sheep, painting a house, doing homework, pretending to be asleep, on a bus, on a train, at the beach … these are all things I’ve done while listening to an audio book. Reading I tend to do in bed.
Do you have any tips for young people who would like to record audiobooks (or perhaps podcasts)?
Go for it! Make up something crazy and outrageous and record it. Make up silly voices and crazy sound effects. There is no limit to the fun you can have with audio, it’s a playground for your imagination.
This post is part of the celebrations of Hear a Story … and Hear a Story is part of the work of the Australian Children’s Laureate, Jackie French. You can find out more about Hear a Story on the Australian Children’s Laureate site. And check out our other interviews this month with an oral storyteller (Glenn B Swift), and with Jackie French herself.
For more about STIG WEMYSS and his audiobooks, check out his website!