Insight Into Audio

Have you ever wondered what goes into making an audiobook? Read on!

It’s my big pleasure to welcome Australian actor Ulli Birve to my page today to share her insights into the narration of audio books. More than thirty years ago, Ulli and I were classmates and great friends at Clare High School in South Australia. I often stayed on her family’s sheep farm north of Clare, little realising that some of my experiences there would help me write one of my novels many years later. Our paths headed in different directions after we left school, and then reconnected several years ago when Ulli began narrating books for Bolinda, my audio publisher. She has now narrated three of my novels, At Home with the Templetons, Hello from the Gillespies and Those Faraday Girls.


Here’s my Q&A with Ulli:

1. How did you become a narrator of audio books?

My career has been largely in theatre and television but I also do voice overs for various advertising agencies. Narrating audiobooks is the ideal combination of both skills with the added bonus of not having to dress up or wear makeup! I auditioned for Bolinda some years ago and my first job was ‘At Home with the Templetons’. It was a nice way to start.

2. How many times do you read the book before you do the recording?

Minimum two but sometimes three and then I may re-read chapters the night before depending on the content. The first time I read just for pleasure and to be taken on the journey because this is the essence that one wants to recreate. The second time is a technical breakdown. I take notes on all the characters, their age, their occupations, their unique qualities, their philosophies, their relationship to one another and of course their country of origin as this will determine the accent – always relevant with Monica’s books! I then read again and take notes in the book so I know who is speaking to whom. This is not always necessary as sometimes it is obvious but it can help when there are multiple characters in conversation.

3. How do you decide on each characters voice?

There are clear indicators – age, gender, nationality. There is an obvious distinction between an elderly Polish woman and a young Australian boy. But the details come from the first read and the layers that the writer has given the character. I think everyone reads a book with a voice in mind for characters, just like one has an idea of what each character looks like. That’s why it’s often so confronting to have one’s favourite book turned into a film. One has already envisaged the character in all its detail, vocal quality included. So I try and recreate the voice that I envisaged when I first read it.

4. What happens on a typical recording day?

The day starts at 9am. I do a vocal warm up before I arrive. I take in a peppermint tea with honey and lots of water. The producer will do a sound and level check while I read a few warm up paragraphs and then we begin. I read until I may stumble or perhaps have a cough, in which case we stop and then pick up where we left off. I usually take my first break after a couple of hours because my tummy always starts rumbling and the producer can hear it! So I always take something to snack on. I either do full recording days which finish at 4.15 or half days which finish at 12.30.

5. How long does it take to record my novels?

I generally do 105 / 110 pages a day so depending on whether I do half days or full days it may take from one week to sometimes two or three.

6. What’s the hardest part of doing the narration?

It’s always tricky when there are several family members who are very close in age, the same sex, and having an argument. Most siblings have similar vocal qualities but one needs to denote the differences plus pay homage to the passion of the debate and of course not stumble. Having said that an argument between an Irishman, a New Yorkian and perhaps a New Zealander presents another dilemma.

7. What’s your favourite part?

Mmm, that’s difficult. I have characters I feel I know so well, perhaps because I identify with them and so they feel like favourites but I have to say I just adored little Ig from ‘Hello from the Gillespies’. I just loved his independent spirit, his lack of judgement, his sense of freedom and his deep attachment to the land and to his Mum and of course to his little imaginary friend. He brought back so many memories of my own childhood growing up on a sheep farm. Reading ‘Hello from the Gillespies’ was like revisiting the family home, packed full of memories, some comforting, some a little too sad.

Many thanks, Ulli, for answering my questions and for your beautiful narrating work.

Ulli has performed for various companies in Australia including Playbox Theatre, Melbourne Theatre Company, Hit Productions, Sydney Theatre Company, Red Shed and the State Theatre Company of South Australia. She performed in the production ‘Oceans and Utopias’ in Lisbon for World Expo (directed by Phillippe Genty) and on television Ulli played Helen Virtue in the ABC series ‘Something in the Air.’

For more details or to hear samples of Ulli’s narration of my books, please visit the Bolinda website here:…