An Inside Peek Into Recording ‘Unbreakable’ on Audio

It’s no secret that I wasn’t really involved in the production of my first six books on audio. I dutifully submitted voice notes for the narrators, but that was as far as things went. Terrified of the books being mucked up, I didn’t even listen to them for months, until my wife gently prodded me with a “Cari, this narrator is actually very good.” On the way home from a holiday, I started to listen to A Quiet Death to distract me from my terror of flying, and I quickly realised that, yes, this narrator is very bloody good.

This narrator is Nicola Victoria Vincent, a lass who hails from my neck of the woods. A classically trained actress with twenty-plus years of voiceover and theatre experience, Nicki is adept at juggling a diverse cast and can spin an accent out of the ether at the drop of a hat. To date, she’s narrated all but one of my books, and from Alias onwards the process has been a far more collaborative one.

When Nicki signed the contract to narrate Unbreakable, we chatted about Bold Strokes letting me proof the book, as they had done with Breathe. This in itself is a bit of a no-no; authors aren’t usually allowed to proof their own stuff in case they start quibbling over the way a line has been delivered, rather than simply checking for errors. The usual process is to do the proofing right at the end, but Nicki told me that she prefers working with the author as she goes along and asked whether I’d be okay with that. Always game for new experiences, I gave her a thumbs up, and away we went.

Well, in truth, I sat and waited quite a while, because this was all ages before she was set to start recording.

Fast forward to the end of August, and I get my first sample of Unbreakable, a fifteen-minute scene from the start of the novel that introduces two of the lead characters, Elin and Grace. It’s always a weird combination of exciting and scary to hear your characters given actual voices, and Nicki and I had a short chat about Elin sounding a little too rough. Nicki reminds me that Elin has been shot in the chest and isn’t exactly at her best in this scene, and assures me she has her voice worked out for the rest of the novel. I concede the point, approve the sample, and sit on tenterhooks waiting to get going on the recording proper.

The first two chapters drop into my inbox a few weeks later, along with a note to have a listen to Detective Sergeant Safia Faris’s voice because Nicki isn’t entirely happy with it. Safia is British Pakistani, born and raised in London, and Nicki is worried about her accent. By the time I’ve listened to the chapters and spent half a night shift googling various accents for Nicki to mimic, she’s sorted everything, settled on a voice she’s comfortable with, and re-recorded all of Safia’s dialogue. We agree that it’s miles better and Safia is cute as a button: sweet and funny in her exchanges with her work partner Suds and her wife Kami. I proof both chapters using a table similar to that for proofing a book, except that this one comes with a timestamp to mark the errors. If something needs further explanation, I add a comment or an apology if I think I’m being a pain in the arse.

We settle into a rhythm. Nicki sends me chapters as she records them, together with short notes if there is anything in particular she wants me to lend my ear to. I sit with the Kindle version of the book, reading along to the text as I’m listening to each chapter. Mistakes are few and far between: the odd missed word, a name switch here or there. Safia’s police partner Suds uncaps his pen “in an unsuitable signal” instead of an “unsubtle signal.” I proof, Nicki amends, and I get the amended files back to check. The corrections are edited in seamlessly, the adjustments leaving no trace that they were ever made. The technology and the skill going on behind all this regularly blow my mind.

In the fourth chapter, numerous text messages are exchanged between the characters. Nicki records the texts in her regular narration voice, but, being familiar with her previous work, I make a note of all the timestamps in case she switches to using the sender’s voice in future chapters. It’s a job well done. Come chapter ten, she starts using the sender’s voice, and we have a chat about which is more effective. Having decided on the sender’s voice, it’s easy for her to go back to chapter four and pinpoint the texts from the timestamps I’d saved. The changes make a big difference; all the texts are from the main villain of the piece, and they’re far more chilling in his harsh northern accent.

Meanwhile on WhatsApp…

We chat in emails as we go along. I’m thoroughly enjoying every minute of this, and I tell Nicki how much fun it’s been. Her reply hits the nail on the head:

I’m glad you’re enjoying the process, it’s much better for me too, it’s good to know you’re happy with it and it’s how you want it. I worry when the author only gets to hear the entire audio at the end that if they don’t like something they might feeling that it’s too late or too much work to put it right. 

Can you imagine if we’d got to the end of the book and I’d decided on a final proof that Safia’s voice wasn’t right? Would I have asked for changes, or settled because I didn’t want to make a fuss? Going through the recording together, we were able to identify issues or uncertainties and fix them as they occurred, preventing them from snowballing into something insurmountable. And, while I appreciate that not every narrator or author wants to work like this, it’s certainly been a bonus for this book and for an author who loves being involved in stuff.

The proofing for chapter 11 prompts a flurry of WhatsApp messages. I’d asked whether a quote from Suds describing how Safia’s cooking had “opened him up to a world of possibilities” would be funnier switched from narration to Suds’s voice. Nicki politely tells me that she’d considered this, but the pronoun in the quote wouldn’t make sense if he was the one saying it…

Two sets of eyes and ears on this thing are definitely better than one, and this is a good example of something that works in the text but needs a simple adjustment to make it work on audio.

As the story progresses, the action leaves London and heads into our usual turf: The North. Nicki comments that she’s far more confident now, and I realise what a challenge this damn book must have been for her – multiple southern English accents, a Pakistani lead with a Bengali girlfriend, a large cast, and so much going on in terms of emotions, action scenes, and police-type tech speak. She makes it all seem so effortless that it’s easy to forget the expertise involved, though I don’t actually ever forget. I’m constantly in awe, especially when she nails an entire chapter – everything perfect, every line of dialogue either the way I’d imagined it in my head or given a new spin that makes it even better. I leave her feedback and bouquets in the proofing tables, and take the piss out of her for repeatedly saying “say-leen” instead of “say-line.” She has no idea why she does that either, but she gets a round of applause when, third time lucky, she gets it right.

As the end of the book approaches, we come to some of my favourite scenes, I take to checking my inbox every half hour. I feel like a reader promising themselves one more chapter before bedtime. I listen to the files as soon as they come in, even when I’ve not got the computer on and I can’t proof them. My edits are few and far between now, the occasional tweak here or there, but Nicki is in her element with the big emotional stuff, and she’s sailing through these scenes. I’m genuinely gutted when it’s all over. We choose a sample for Audible and that’s that. I email Nicki to tell her we have to meet up sometime, because I definitely owe her dinner. She bargains that down to a brew, which doesn’t seem like nearly enough, so I promise to add a scone. But only if she pronounces it properly…

The Unbreakable audiobook is now available to buy from Audible US or Audible UK or via Amazon.

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Unbreakable Audio Now Available!

The audio version of Unbreakable has just been released onto Audible/Amazon whisper sync with the marvellous Nicola Victoria Vincent narrating.

Nicki and I worked together throughout the recording of the book and I couldn’t be happier with the final result (keep an eye out for a blog detailing the process!)

You can buy the audio version at Audible US or Audible UK or via any of the Amazon sites.

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Seems Like a Good Time…

…To remind folks old and new that I have a book discussion group over on Facebook. I’ve never done the whole “invite every man and his dog” lark, so the group is small and friendly, and currently chatting about who they’d cast in Unbreakable and what the hell Salad Cream is. All my book news tends to go there before it goes anywhere else.

If that sounds like your kind of thing, head here.

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‘Unbreakable’ Now Available Everywhere!

It’s been a long time coming but Unbreakable is finally available to buy from pretty much anywhere and everywhere 🙂

Thanks to all the early readers who took the time to rate and review it. Kind words are always appreciated.

The audio version – with Nicola Victoria Vincent doing an absolutely brilliant job of narrating – is done and dusted and we’re just waiting for Audible to load the bugger up, so hopefully that won’t be too much longer now.

Amazon US link here.

Amazon UK link here.

Enjoy!

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‘Unbreakable’ out now from Bold Strokes Website

Like Her Maj, Unbreakable will have two birthdays and today is its first! You can now buy the e-book (all formats) or paperback directly from the Bold Strokes website a whole 12 days before you’ll get it anywhere else.


NB: Her Maj hasn’t read it. At least, I don’t think she has. She’d probably like it if she gave it a try though. She might be waiting for the audio…

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When Characters Sneak In

Sometimes I feel bad that I’m not one of those authors whose characters run the show. The ones who sit down to write an action scene, but end up writing a sex scene because their characters demand it. So many people say this that I feel like I’m missing out, but my own writing process is far more prosaic – I’m the author, and I know exactly what my characters are going to do, because I’m the one with the pen in my hand. On occasion, however, I do have characters who sneak up on me. Bit players who become larger players, gaining page time and backstory because they’re so damn entertaining.

My new novel Unbreakable (out tomorrow via the Bold Strokes site) features one such character. The book was supposed to be a double-header, a standard, dual point of view story that I almost immediately realised wouldn’t work. While Grace and Elin’s half of the plot was clearly the focus, I knew the story needed another element, something to ramp up the tension and keep the pace kicking along. Enter Safia Faris, a Detective Sergeant tasked to investigate a seemingly simple murder, who gets pulled into a case that’s anything but simple.

Initially conceived as a tertiary role, Safia stole into the story proper. Her scenes, particularly those featuring her police partner Suds, and her girlfriend Kami, provide an opportunity for some much-needed light relief, while her character gives me the chance to play with parallel timelines where the reader knows a hell of a lot more than she does, because they’re privy to what’s going on between Grace and Elin. This was something I’d never done before, and keeping Safia one step behind my other two leading ladies, without making her seem daft, was a challenge I relished. Far from being a minor concern, her character and her investigation became a fully fledged part of the novel, with her methodical unpicking of the clues and piecing together of the mystery allowing me to develop her background and her personal life.

Looking back at how Unbreakable came about, Safia was far too polite to demand more page time. She didn’t strut into the novel with a list of scenes clutched in her fist, and kick someone else off the page. She earned her place by creeping in beneath my radar, and by having courage, perseverance, a sweet nature, a loving girlfriend, a stupid dog, and a daft mate. I often say my leading ladies are a joy to write, but there’s something even more joyful about finding one you never intended.

Unbreakable will be released October 1st via the Bold Strokes Books website, and October 12th everywhere else. An audio version is currently being recorded and will be hopefully be out hot on the heels of the print release.

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Bold Strokes Upcoming Releases Event

The next BSB preview event is scheduled for Saturday 25th September, and I’ll be taking part in the first hour reading from Unbreakable and answering questions (audience questions welcome.)

The event is set for 5pm EST (which I very much hope is 10pm UK time!) with a second hour running straight after. I might well be in my PJs because it’s way past my bedtime but I will be there.

These events have become a regular feature of the BSB new release schedule, and you can register for free at the link in the image or hey, just hit this link because it’s easier 🙂

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Bent But Not Broken…

A lot of things broke in 2020. Life as most of us knew it came to a screeching halt, and everything changed. Everything. All the little things I’d taken for granted – nipping to shops with fully stocked shelves, walking past people in the street without dodging into the road to avoid them, going out for dinner or a day trip beyond our front door – were suddenly gone. Then there were the big things I’d never had to think about before. How long would it be until I could see my family again? If I got ill, how ill would I get? Would I give it to my wife? Would I lose someone I love?

As a paramedic, being at work was scary as hell and weirdly comforting in equal measure. Unlike millions of people, I could still do my job and keep to a routine, no matter how odd that routine had become. Neither I nor my colleagues had ever been through anything like this, and the sheer madness of those first few weeks, where PPE was in short supply, the guidance was ever-changing, and no one understood what the hell we were dealing with, made a traditionally tight-knit workforce even tighter. I did get ill, but I slowly got better, my wife somehow stayed well, and life settled down into this strange new normal.

For a while my writing also ground to a halt, with the story I’d been working on stalling through no fault of its own at around 20,000 words. Try as I might, I couldn’t put my finger on the problem, but I was distracted and struggling to find a rhythm, and I reluctantly conceded that – for the foreseeable future, at least – this one wasn’t going to happen. Strangely, I did still want to write, and a new idea wheedled its way into my brain, a simple big-bang-style concept – a doctor kidnapped by an injured woman – that tempted me with its potential and instantly engaged my desire for distraction and entertainment.

That simple concept became Unbreakable, a thriller/police procedural which is my first book in a little over two years. Reading it, you might spot a few of 2020’s overriding themes. There’s plenty of heartbreak and loss and loneliness in there, but there’s also the joy of finding love and support when you’re at your lowest ebb, and the strength brought about by unexpected friendships. It was tough for me to write in places, and some of those places may be tough for you to read, but my heroines – Elin, Grace, and Safia – were strong enough to carry me through a tumultuous year, and I very much hope you’ll get a kick out of meeting them.

Unbreakable will be released October 1st via the Bold Strokes Books website, and October 12th everywhere else. An audio version will be hopefully be out hot on the heels of the print release.

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Unbreakable Giveaway Winners

Annnnnd the winners of the Unbreakable giveaway are: Sharon Davis-Lewis and Miira Ikiviita 😃 Congrats!

Given that I have a UK and a European winner, which won’t break my bank in terms of postage, and more than 160 people who entered, I’ve thrown another copy into the draw and that goes to Brooklyn Graham who commented on here. My thanks and love as ever to everyone who took the time to chat and generally be enthusiastic. It is always very much appreciated.

Keep your eyes peeled for an audiobook giveaway as soon as I get my codes.

Unbreakable will be released October 1st (via Bold Strokes) and October 12th everywhere else 🙂

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Unbreakable Giveaway!

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My author copies of Unbreakable arrived nice and early which means I have two brand spanking paperbacks (signed or unsigned – winner’s choice) to give away 🙂 

Just leave a comment on this post – or head to my Facebook page and enter there – and I’ll add you into the hat. Closing date is Saturday 4th September, 9am BST. 

Bonne chance! 

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