Interview with Nicola Victoria Vincent – Audio Book Narrating Wizard!

I recently finished listening to the Dark Peak audio books and, like quite a lot of folks, I absolutely adored the way that Nicola Victoria Vincent narrated them. When I wrote to her to do a bit of shameless fangirling, I asked whether she’d take part in a Q&A because I was fascinated by the whole recording process and I wanted to know more. She very kindly said yes and didn’t run a mile when I sent her a ton of questions.

I definitely owe her a brew for this…

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How did you end up as Bold Strokes’ go-to girl for British lesfic? How on earth did they find you?

I was simply looking on a site for audio books to narrate and happened to audition for a book Bold Strokes were producing. After I did the first one they gave me a shot with a few other titles that I ended up doing. So, right place right time, really. I was chuffed when I was given the Dark Peak Series. They told me they had some books set in Northern England and I thought, ooh great! I’m going to get the chance to do lots of accents I love. Then when I got the script and read the dialogue, I got excited because there are so many funny expressions and characters in there, I knew it was going to be so much fun to do.

How do you prepare to record an audio book? i.e. do you do multiple read-throughs of the text? Make notes on the novel itself? Draw some kind of intricate plan with lots of symbols and coloured codes?

Yeah, kind of. I start with a read to get a feel of the world of the story and the characters and their natures. Then I go through the story again chapter by chapter and make decisions about characters’ voices, based on the info gathered in the first read, and list when and where they appear. Then I record each voice in my voice memos on my phone. It’s really handy because it allows me to move about, improvise and get a feel for the character. Plus it’s an easy way to refresh my memory of how a character speaks. If, say, they’ve been in the first chapter and then we don’t hear them until chapter 6, I can do a quick check and get back to that character quickly and accurately without having to look through other recording sessions. So the voice memos app is my continuity tool.

I used to print the scripts out and put post it notes in different colours all over everything, but I was prone to getting it all in a muddle and it would take longer to find passages and use more ‘stuff’ than I needed to, so I do it all in notes on my laptop now. It’s much easier and quicker.

For how long do you have to rehearse and play around with the accents and characters before you finally hit the red button? (I like to think there’s a red button because I’m a child of the late 70s brought up with tape recorders!)

Ha! There is a red button! (YAY!) But it’s an on-screen one in pro tools.

no good reasonWhen I start looking at a character, I start with the text and their journey from the beginning of the story to the end and look at what’s driving them through. I take a bit of time with each character. Some I find quicker than others because I might need to do more research, so how long can vary. I’ll improvise around a scene and the dialogue, hot seating the character. Y’know, asking them questions. I use the info in the script to talk about their background or home life, whatever is relevant. I ask things like, who are they? Where are they? Why? What do they want? Then get them to just chat about their life, their past, their opinions, home, work, hopes and dreams, every possible thing that’s in the script, and a bit of imagination too, based on what sort of person they seem to be emerging as.

By the time I start recording the book and I’ve made all the decisions about the way the character speaks and the quality of their voice, I can get back to that person quite quickly then. I think because I’ve improvised and moved about the house as them, it becomes a natural shift and one phrase can help me to ‘feel’ like them again.  (Ha! I sound like a nut job, I know.) It’s important to get this ‘feel’ for a character, though, because in some scenes the voice will change depending on who they’re talking to and what they’re doing.

The books in the Dark Peak series have a large and varied cast. How the hell do you keep the characters in order? I can barely remember them all as I’m writing, so how do you remember which voice/accent you’re doing for which and manage to switch between them all so seamlessly? Are you secretly a magician?

Fun fact: I used to do a comedy magic act with a mate of mine called the The Trudy and Judy Show. I played Trudy the magician!

I knew it!

I keep track of the characters by listing them as they appear, and I make a brief synopsis of each chapter so I know where the next leg of the story is leading to and who drives it there. It’s a similar process to rehearsing scenes in a play.

I know you get some preliminary pointers from authors but are you otherwise left to your own devices in terms of dialogue delivery, pacing and tone? How much do you worry about getting stuff wrong and upsetting the author?

I do worry about getting it wrong. If I can ask the author about the characters, that makes the process easier and more accurate. Sometimes, though, I just have to guess. I always ask the production company for any character notes on accent, pace and tone. Sometimes I get them, sometimes I don’t. I try to imagine the world the writer has in mind and how they heard the characters. Sometimes it just clicks – I have an instinct for a character and I get a feel for the world the author has created. That could be for a number of reasons but mainly I think it’s easier when the character and the world they inhabit resonates with you.  You just get them. Sometimes it takes more research and you have to make a leap.

My wife is tickled pink that you, like her, pronounce “scone” to rhyme with “gone” and not “bone”. Not a question. Just thought you’d like to know that she’s been smug as hell for weeks now.

Ha! Yes, and bath and path without an ‘R’ sound!

Oh no, she’s a southerner so she’d definitely put the “R” in barrrth!

Do you ever get embarrassed when you have to narrate explicit scenes? Or are you sitting with your feet up, having a cuppa and just getting on with it?

I don’t get embarrassed doing explicit scenes. I suppose my actor training must kick in. At drama school they made us do lots of quite intimate scenes and you get past any embarrassment and concentrate on conveying the emotions to the audience. One director used to fetch her dog, Sunday, to rehearsals. I remember doing a scene where my character was supposed to be in bed with another actor’s character, but we didn’t have the set at that point so we were on the floor, and at the point in the scene where we kissed, the dog came over and started licking us, and the director burst out into raucous laughter and said “Well, Sunday likes it!” So after that experience I feel perfectly comfortable creating the atmosphere of intimate scenes.

On that note – do you actually sit or stand up to record? Is it quite a static process or do you get so involved in a scene that you end up gesticulating along with the lines?

I can sit or stand and it’s good to have the option. With the long form jobs like audio books, when I’m in the booth for hours, I mainly sit. I say sit, I have a posture seat so I’m sort of knelt up. When I’m doing shorter jobs or character dialogue, though, say like when Sanne is chasing suspects, it’s good to stand. Whether I’m sitting or standing, I’m always gesticulating. When I’m talking in general I’m usually gesticulating!

The Dark Peak books have averaged about 8 hours length on audio, but how long would that take you to record? And how do you organise your sessions? “I’ll do this chapter and then have a break?” or “I’ll carry on until I’m croaking?”

Cold to the Touch smallerI aim to finish 45 to 60 minutes of audio every day when I’ve got a book to do. That can take me between 4-6 hours to record, process and upload. That leaves time to do other general bits and pieces like social media, marketing and any auditions I might need to record. I can take most of the month to do an 8-10 hour book, though, if I have any other VO or acting jobs in. I sort out a work diary and fit my recording sessions around the other bits. I don’t stop for a break in the middle of a chapter in case it changes the energy or intensity of the chapter, but I do take lots of breaks to stretch and just step out of the booth for a bit. I find it counterproductive to carry on if my voice is tired. It won’t sound good if I do. Also I make more mistakes if I’m tired, which means it takes me longer.

Do you fret about feedback or reviews? Have comments on your performances ever changed the way you’ve done something for subsequent books?

I don’t fret too much about reviews because it’s subjective. What one person likes, another might not, but it is nice to get good reviews and know that people have enjoyed it.

One of the first books I narrated, I had left too much space at the beginning and the end of the chapters, so as part of the round of corrections I ended up reprocessing a load of chapters. After that I left very little space. Then I saw someone commented that there wasn’t enough space between chapters and that the next chapter started too quickly after the last one had finished and was spoiling the effect. So I found an in-between limit that has seemed to work for everyone. So feedback is valuable when I can do something about it and it helps to make the experience better. And reviews are also great to use for the whole marketing bit, which I’m trying to get better at.

Which of all your accents is your “use at home” one, and which do you find the most natural to read in? Conversely, which is the most difficult to get right?

A Quiet Death finalMy “use at home voice” is probably somewhere between Sanne and Meg’s voices. That’s probably the closest to it. I did worry while I was narrating the series that because I do sound a bit like the two main characters, and they sound alike as they’ve grown up together, that it would be hard to tell who’s speaking. Ultimately when I’m recording, even if the brief says they want a natural northern voice with a regional accent, I smooth it out so it doesn’t sound too muscular. I think that’s something you tend to do if you have an accent. For me it goes back to when we first got a phone at home. We always used to laugh at my Mam’s telephone voice.

The voice I use to narrate the Dark Peak Series in is my most comfortable and natural voice to read in. The most challenging UK accents for me are Welsh first, then Geordie. Most others I’m all right with. I spent the last year of school talking in a Brummie accent. I blame Rik Mayall’s Kevin Turvey!

Will you carry on narrating mine, please? If I ask really nicely and buy you a brew?

Yes please! It was a pleasure to narrate your work. And I never say no to a brew!

 

Many thanks to Nicki for letting me pick her brains. You can keep up with all of her audio work via her website or her Facebook page.

For links to my books on Audible, head here audible.com and here audible.uk.

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Dates for Diaries and BSB Book Sale!

This is your Autumn is Coming, three in one bumper book post!

First up, a couple of diary dates. Diva magazine are holding their inaugural Literary Festival in Birmingham 3-5th November. Loads of authors are signed up to attend and I’ll be there on the Sunday chatting about genre-hopping with the BSB crew, and Romance with a bunch of very familiar lesfic faces. The programme and ticket information can be found here.

A bright and early heads up abo ut the annual BSB event which is being held in Nottingham, May 5-6th, 2018. It’s earlier than usual because a whole host of authors from the US and beyond are flying in to make merry with the regular UK crowd. So far, Carsen Taite, VK Powell, oh, and Radclyffe are scheduled to attend. More on this as I get it, but keep an eye on the UK BSB Blog for updates.

Last but not least, BSB have a big sale on Romantic Suspense e-books going on till Monday 4th September. Snowbound, Desolation Point, and Tumbledown are all a third off at $6.99, and there are tons of other books you might want to take a peep at. Check this link for details.

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New Book ‘Alias’ Due for Release in Spring

Well slap my arse and call me Mary! I finally have some new book news 

Alias – my seventh novel – is scheduled for publication in spring, 2018. It’s a standalone thriller/mystery with a complicated and somewhat prickly relationship bubbling in the background, and it’s set in Manchester and Snowdonia. I can’t give much away, hence the deliberately vague blurb, but oh my, I do so love its cover…

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A car lies crashed below a Welsh mountain road. One of the young women inside it is dead, the other badly injured, with no memory of who she is or what just happened. All she has is a bus pass showing her photograph and a name she doesn’t recognise.

As she struggles to recover from her injuries, a startling revelation shatters everything she thought she knew, forcing her into an uneasy alliance with Detective Bronwen Pryce. With danger closing in from all sides, the two women must work together to uncover the truth—even if it kills them.

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Happy Valley Pride Event!

A quick heads up for anyone living within shouting distance of the lesbian mecca that is Hebden Bridge (that’s in Yorkshire, UK, for those not in the know!) I’ll be reading and chatting about book stuff as part of a Happy Valley Pride event that’s being held on Tuesday 8th August from 7pm. Jen Silver, Brey Willows, Lise Gold and Robyn Nyx will be joining me in the hot seat. It’s a free for all in a very pretty village, and you can find out more details at this link.

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Audio Book Giveaway!

It would seem that audio books are a bit like buses – you wait for ages for one to come along and then two bolt up in quick succession. Yes, hot on the heels of Desolation Point, No Good Reason is now available on ear-book! Both are whisper-synched with Kindle so you can add the audio versions to a Kindle purchase for only a few quid.

To celebrate, I have five freebie Audible codes to give away for both releases. Just comment on here or head to my Facebook page and “like” or comment on the post, and I’ll pick a bunch of winners on Monday.

(Artist’s impression of cover courtesy of Snarkky Breeches and her very rudimentary Paint skills.)

Posted in Audio Books, Desolation Point, Free stuff!, No Good Reason, Novels | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

‘A Quiet Death’ Released Today!

A Quiet Death finalIt’s finally here! A Quiet Death – the third in the multi-award-snagging Dark Peak series – is now available to buy from pretty much anywhere that sells books and e-books. And, according to a big bunch of early reviews, it’s really, really good 🙂

From the get go, every situation, every plot development, every red herring thrown up, every false or true lead chased down, every little (or big) plot twist–it all adds to that all-important build-up of tension that’s an absolute must to keep the reader on the edge. This is a given in mainstream thrillers but is a relative rarity in lesfic as authors often struggle in balancing the romance and the tension and almost always end up favoring the former over the latter. – Jem, Goodreads review.

If I could give it 10 stars I would!Kitty Kat, Goodreads review.

A Quiet Death is more than just Romantic Intrigue. Sure, there is a lovely romance featuring the ongoing relationship of Meg and Sanne. Theirs is a friendship which has bloomed throughout the series into this beautiful, sweet, often amusing love affair. – agirlcandream, Goodreads review.

When it came to the mystery/thriller part of this book, it was really well done. It had that heart pumping feel that book 1 had. The climax of the book was chew your fingernails off exciting, and I loved every minute of it. Lex Kent, Goodreads review.

Oh man, I really like San and Meg. And Eleanor. I really do.
Also, my brain is probably gonna keep reading english sentences with a british accent for a few more days. – Penny, Goodreads review

If that’s got you convinced, buy the (e)book here at Bold Strokes, Amazon.us, or Amazon.uk. Enjoy!

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Out with the Old… – New Year’s Eve on shift with a Paramedic

New Year’s Eve 2016 falls on the third of my four weekend night shifts, which means I wander onto station in a pleasant haze of sleeplessness, with a nonexistent short-term memory. Festive cheer has bedecked the main table with assorted foodstuffs, while the generally inedible company-issue sandwich packs (for morale!) have been rammed into the fridge. I’m working with K, my best mate, who recently qualified as a paramedic. We stock up on essentials – chocolate, crisps, more chocolate – and, since the only other option in the garage is a shitty Fiat, we bagsy the Mercedes. Signing on takes place amidst a frantic frenzy of provision stowing – “Where can the dips go?!” – and the day shift controller wishes us luck before sending us straight out to a fall in a residential home.

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Pre-sign on. The only chance we got to put our feet up!

Our octogenarian patient has fallen from standing, sustaining a small nick to her head that won’t require further treatment. It’s a standard call from residential homes, where the staff are duty bound to phone 999 for even the most minor of injuries. Our patient is happily demented, and we sit and share a tray of chocolates and a brew with her while we complete our paperwork. She’s deemed safe to stay at home, so we leave her in the care of the staff and clear on scene.

We’re immediately sent to a “Red back up” – a two-year-old female fitting. There’s a rapid response paramedic already at the address, requesting urgent assistance. The job is out of our area, so I put my foot down, hoping it’s a febrile convulsion, something simple and easy to remedy.

We walk in to a pale, unresponsive child with a fixed gaze and no muscle tone on her left side. Her seizure has lasted for at least twenty minutes and she’s not running a temperature. Her young parents are understandably distraught, and we try to reassure them while we attempt to figure out what’s going on with their baby. Certain that she’s still fitting, we administer diazepam on the ambulance and put the hospital on a red standby. I’m driving, and the Mercs are nippy little beasts, but New Year’s Eve traffic means speeding taxis and drunk drivers, and although all the other cars stop for me at the first red light I come to, a white van bombs through the junction. I let him go, wondering whether he can lip read, and apologise for any harsh language that may have filtered into the back. The hospital has a full paediatric team waiting for us. The baby is more responsive upon our arrival but she still isn’t moving her left side properly. We later find out that the doctor was querying encephalitis, but beyond that we never get to learn her prognosis.

The rear of the ambulance looks like a bomb’s hit it, so we take a few minutes to tidy up and decompress, then it’s straight back out for a bread-and-butter weekend night job: a thirty year old female, domestic assault with a head injury. The police are on scene and the patient is drunk with a wound that’ll need sutures. She’s hard work: refusing treatment, refusing to go to A&E, and repeatedly begging the police not to arrest her boyfriend. She eventually consents to travel and spends another twenty minutes getting dressed and finding her keys. While we’re waiting, the police tell us there’s been a fatal hit-and-run in our area; one young girl has died at the scene and a second is critically injured. Our patient apologises profusely for wasting our time and then buggers off back into her bedroom because she doesn’t have the right shoes on.

As usual, K and I are swapping driving/attending duties around, so she gets to attend to the ninety-three-year-old septic chap who’s hypotensive and erring on the side of unresponsive. We start IV fluids and pop him off to A&E on an amber pre-alert. Sepsis is the current NHS phrase that pays, with a massive campaign to improve early recognition of the condition so that it might stop costing the service a fortune save lives by preventing multi-organ failure and subsequent ITU admissions. We all carry cards listing discriminators, dutifully follow flow charts and go through bags of saline at a rate of knots. We’re taking bets on what the next big thing will be. The smart money is on AKI: Acute Kidney Injury…

It’s ticking on towards eleven p.m. and K has started to trip over her words: “I can’t even speak proper!” she wails. Strangely, though, I understand everything she’s saying in spite of the mangled grammar.

Our last patient of 2016 is a tiny little boy with a life-limiting genetic condition. He’s had a high temp and diarrhoea since noon, and he’s poorly, with a feeble cry and poor respiratory effort. His parents have already lost a child to the same condition and they seem to know that their son is unlikely to make it out of the hospital this time. I sit with him on the stretcher, cooing at him and stroking his cheek as K flies us in on our second red paeds standby of the night. I hand over the baby and reams of paperwork, including end-of-life care wishes, to the waiting team, and stagger out of Resus, adrenaline fading fast.

“Right, drunk people only from now on,” I say, back in the cab and through a mouthful of chocolate. “Drunk people being smacked in the head.”

“But not puking.”

No. Absolutely no puking.”

2017 is ushered in with cocktail sausages and plastic cups of Cherry Coke. K plays Auld Lang Syne on her phone and we wander into A&E to hug nurses and other crews. Midnight means we’ve gone out of the system for our meal, so we trundle off to station for a half-hour break, eschewing the manky sarnies for handfuls of crisps and homemade sausage rolls.

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Dead on thirty minutes, our radios go off in synch. Apparently keen to give the start of 2017 an international flavour, Control send us off to the south (the south of our area, that is – we didn’t get to go to London or anything!) on a transfer. Our transferee is pissed, and he’s also pissed off at travelling fifteen miles for plastic surgery, but he fell onto a glass whilst drunk, so it’s hardly the fault of the NHS. At gone one a.m., the receiving hospital resembles a war zone, crammed with staggering, intoxicated minor injuries. A half-naked man wearing blood like tribal paint is booking himself in at the desk, as ambulances queue with stretchers full of skimpily-clad, insensible patients. In a nutshell, New Year’s Eve is much like any other night shift, except that it comes with dips and crudités, and the midpoint of the shift is marked by a few rubbish fireworks.

Our two-thirty a.m. city centre job is my favourite of the night. A twenty-eight-year-old chap has taken a shed-load of ecstasy at a house party. His “friends” have watched him roll around in mud for ninety minutes, punching the grass and attempting to scratch off his own skin, before they finally phoned for help. The rapid response para has been there a further hour, waiting for us to trot along and scrape the patient up. She’s breathed in so much passive cannabis smoke that she has the munchies, and the patient is hypothermic and quite shamefaced, between episodes of MDMA-induced gurning and lip smacking. He’s also been doubly incontinent and he’s covered head-to-toe in mud, which makes the trip to A&E a bit of an eye-waterer.

After disposing of him and spraying copious amounts of air freshener, we spend the next two hours chasing shadows. Persistent drizzle and a prolonged wait for an ambulance is a surprisingly effective cure-all; our “abdo pain” outside a kebab shop and our “short of breath” at a bus stop have both given up and gone home.

Trying to time a finish, we volunteer for a final job, backing up a St John’s crew who’ve arrived on scene at a fall to find two patients, one of whom is complaining of chest pain. The elderly couple are living in poor conditions with little social support, and the husband is struggling to cope with his demented wife. He’s the one with the chest infection and pleuritic pain, so we bundle them both up and take them to A&E. Phoning through a safeguarding referral brings us to our twenty-minute break and the end of our shift. It’s still raining and the roads are quiet, with fewer taxis whizzing about, just us and the odd police car. It’s been a weird night, busy but not manic, and we realise that this has become the norm, that we so regularly deal with this level of calls that New Year’s Eve has passed by without seeming extraordinary.

Back on station, we hug the day crews and chuck our keys and radios at them. I’ll spend New Year’s Day sleeping and its night back on shift. Out with the old, in with the old. It never changes, and it never stops.

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