Listen to the episode on Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine.
Jo Reed: It's a bonus edition of Behind the Mic AudioFile Magazine. I'm Jo Reed.
[Clip from Rosalyn narrating Julia Quinn's TO SIR PHILLIP, WITH LOVE]
You just heard an excerpt from Rosalyn Landor narrating TO SIR PHILLIP, WITH LOVE. It’s book five of the Bridgertons series by Julia Quinn. Winner of an Audie award, numerous Earphones awards, as well as AudioFile’s Best Of awards in Fiction and Romantic Fiction more than half a dozen times. Rosalyn Landor is a prolific and accomplished narrator. She has an astounding scope, navigating multiple genres as comfortable in fiction as well as nonfiction. But she is perhaps best known for her narration of historical fiction, and historical romance. Narrating many of Julia Quinn’s novels, including all of the Bridgertons audiobooks, as well as other series by authors like Lisa Kleypas, Julia MacLean, and Julie Garwood, to name only a few.
She’s also one of my favorite narrators. She has an uncanny ability to give voice to a range of different characters of various ages, and just as importantly, her narrative voice for me is always spot on. Additionally, I just love her voice! I love its timber, and its intonations. I first became acquainted with Rosalyn Landor when she narrated THE CHILDREN’S BOOK, by A.S. Byatt. And that’s exactly where I began my conversation with her.
Jo Reed: I am going to begin with one of my best audiobook listening experiences, which is your narration of A. S. Byatt's THE CHILDREN’S BOOK.
Rosalyn Landor: Oh, lovely.
JR:And it was a while ago, because I heard that on CD, but oh my god, what a narration. That was amazing, and I always talk about it as one of my absolute favorite audiobook experiences.
RL: And one of mine, because I loved narrating it, so...
JR: I know it was a while ago, but what do you remember about narrating that book?
RL: Well, I have to tell you, that was back, believe it or not, in 2009. So that's how long ago I recorded the book. And why it was exceptionally interesting for me is not only because I love that period, but I had played for BBC television, when I was about 13 and a half, 14 maybe, the illegitimate child of Edith Nesbit's husband, and her name was Rosamund. And as you may have read, Byatt based a lot of this book on the story of Edith Nesbit and her husband. So for me, the book kind of intertwined something that I'd had experience and knowledge of way back in my past. And coming to narrate this book, it was so full of characters, and it's such a rich book. Her descriptive narrative, her characterizations. So it was an enormous pleasure to get to be asked to do that book. It was lovely.
[Clip from Rosalyn reading A.S. Byatt’s THE CHILDREN’S BOOK]
JR:Oh, and so lovely to listen to. When you first get a book, what is your process? How do you prepare for narrating?
RL: You have to read the book cover to cover, because if you don't, you can get caught out. And I've known people in the past who started narrating a book, only to find that halfway through, the leading man was not Australian, but American, or vice-versa. So that's something I think most narrators will say, is that they do check through the entire text before they want to start prepping and narrating it. And I think what happens is, characters speak. If you're doing a fiction book, the characters speak to you. They give themselves a voice. They are so beautifully delineated most of the time by an author, that you can see, you can feel, in the case of a lot of the romantic fiction books that I'm offered to do, there will be very specific descriptions of the characters, so it's not hard to find voices for them.
JR:How long do you typically have between getting the book and then actually getting into the booth to begin the narration?
RL: Well, that's very interesting. Sometimes the lead time is as much as two to three months. It can depend partly on when an author has actually finished a draft or an acceptable, as they call it final pass. I could receive a book, or at least the advance pass of a book, back in January, February, so that they’re ready for publication for example in May. But sometimes they're very busy writing right up to the last moment. So in the past, it's been literally three days, maybe a week before. So I will spend as much time as I can getting into gear with it and knowing what I'm going to do with it.
JR:You’ve narrated a range of books, but you often return to historical romance, and I wonder, first, what attracts you to that genre? And then, why do you think you're so well suited to it?
RL: Hmm. That is more to do with publishers and what they offer me, to be honest. I'm open to any kind of genre, and have actually performed, other than westerns, I have probably narrated every genre. I've done sci-fi, romantic fiction, fiction, mystery, romance, children's books, which I love doing, nonfiction. It's really what I'm offered by a publisher, and I cannot think of one book I've turned away, not one.
JR: Do you have a particular affinity to historical romance at all?
RL: Well, I'm very lucky, because living in England, we have so many places of historic interest across the country. For example, when I was narrating the Alison Weir Six Wives of Henry VIII, I have actually been to quite a few of the locations that she's used, simply because I love going to see palaces and, you know these very beautiful houses that have been built across hundreds of years. And they have that sense of history to them. And you can feel that when you start a book, based in a certain period. I just have to go to my time spent in Bath or in Wiltshire, and all of these houses come alive for me. And the authors have written them beautifully. So very often-- I just have to walk onto a page, and there they are, they're there for me to use.
JR: I was going to say, particularly in historical fiction, whether it's romance or not, the setting really is another character.
RL: Oh yes, absolutely.
JR:And it would seem that in historical romance, the tone is so important. I mean, on one hand, we know it's going to end well. That's part of the joy of reading romance, or listening to it. But at the same time, our hero and heroine, they don’t know that.
RL: I love the fact that there are so many different ways that the characters interact with each other. And when there are scenes where there's a very fast exchange, it's very, very easy, to play a scene out, because that's how we speak naturally. Over in England, I think we tend to speak a lot more quickly than you in America do. So those exchanges can be very snappy and very quick, and I love doing those. They're great fun. Particularly, obviously, Julia Quinn, who, as you know, is responsible for the wonderful "Bridgerton" series. There's a lot of fun to be had with her dialog.
JR:Oh yeah. I think the thing that I love about Julia Quinn is, her characters are just so likeable.
RL: Yes, aren't they? Absolutely, yes, yes.
JR: Yes. And her women are very smart.
RL: I love that more and more and more, as I'm getting involved with other authors, this is becoming more and more the way that our authors are writing romantic fiction. They give women a very positive aspect, even the ones that are a little shy, and they bloom as the book goes on. As you say, they're written in a very positive-- it's charming, I think is the word. It's very charming.
JR: I would agree. I'm wondering what's needed to narrate historical romance, as opposed to Alison Weir's historical fiction, for example.
RL: I think there is-- there's a lot of affection between characters. This is something that you've already brought up. The interaction between, for example, the female characters, sisters. We're not talking about people who are in a true rewritten aspect of history, where people were very much more careful how they interacted, and even in Alison Weir's books, it's a very correct interaction, and her language is very specific, not necessarily period diction, but definitely something where you can tell it's a very proscribed way of talking to each other. There was a dance that people did in those days with language, that you don't have to have for romantic fiction, because obviously it's not real, and we're not having real characters speaking to each other, a lot of which can be taken from transcriptions of the period. But these are made up and these are able to play with much less intensity for that reason.
[Clip of Rosalyn narrating Alison Weir’s KATHERINE PARR, THE SIXTH WIFE]
JR: What about the narrative voice itself, which is just as important as the characters? How do you come to that with each book? For example, your narration of Alison Weir's Wives of Henry VIII is quite different from the narrative voice of the "Bridgertons", which is different from THE DIANA CHRONICLES, or THE CHILDREN’S BOOK, for that matter.
RL: That's a very interesting question, and I cannot answer it, because all I know is, I get swept into the story and the narrative, the text versus the dialog seems to lend itself back and forth. You know, you kind of catch the flavor and you go into the text from a dialog perspective, and it just carries you through. I have variously worked with, for example, Lisa Kleypas, obviously Julia, Julia MacLean, various other writers who are writing in a similar timeframe, time period of history, and all very differently. And they have that similarity, which is that you can be swept into a period which they somehow bring alive, even in the text, with descriptions of gardens or the beautiful rooms, you know, the furniture, the drapes, the bedding, whatever. And it just pulls you on into the narrative, and then you're back into the scene with the dialog. It just works seamlessly, and I don't quite understand. That's why they do it and I can't. I just read it for them. I can't do what they do, but they do it brilliantly.
JR:But you do have to give voice to the pacing of the book, for example, which is always important and completely vital in longer books. And I'm curious about that. Okay, so there's the historical romance, but then you also do, as we said, you do a range of books, and you've done, what, twenty mysteries by Charles Todd, the Bess Crawford series?
RL: Mm, yes.
JR:And is the pacing for those a little bit different than romantic fiction?
RL: That is another good question. I think simply by dint of the person bringing you in as a writer, they open the story. Maeve Binchy, for argument's sake. Now, all of the stories that I've done with her were set in Ireland, obviously. And there's a flavor, and I can't put it better to you than that. There is a flavor to each and every specific author. There's something quite sedate about reading for somebody like Alison Weir, or indeed, the Todd books, or Dame Antonia Byatt, because there is quite a solemn aspect to the storyline itself in all these cases. And I think the reading of text, and just the presentation has to allow for that solemnity, because that is what there is. Talking about World War I, even in a mystery story, can be quite dramatic and quite sad. The Todd books are very specific. Each one is a mystery, initially set at the outset of World War I, and carrying through they’ve now done a series that carries you on and through into post World War I.
[Clip from Rosalyn narrating Charles Todd’s AN IRISH HOSTAGE]
RL: There's a reflective quality to the text, very often, that you might not have in the dialog, but it's certainly the overarching part of the book. So I kind of follow that guideline. If I'm seeing that from the outset, I can tell that's the way the story is going to go.
JR:And does the way you approach nonfiction shift somewhat from your narration of fiction? And I'm thinking of "The Diana Chronicles" by Tina Brown, for example.
JR:Someone as famous as the late Princess of Wales, I mean, we can conjure her voice in a second. Was that daunting?
RLr: It’s interesting, I had met her when I was in my early 20s. So, coming to that book was something of a personal issue for me, and to tell a story that is a real life story, there has to be some kind of motion to a story like that, particularly her story. She had a lot of joy about her. There were some very sad parts of her life that were described in the book. But overall, this is somebody who was very much of this past century, and somebody who was full of life. A lot of life and joy to her, as well as the very dark parts as well. And the book reflected that, and so again, you honor that intent. That's how you play the book out. So it was somewhat interesting some years later to do a book about Prince Charles, and I've done a book about Queen Elizabeth, which was the Sally Bedell Smith, and when you're listening to somebody else's life story, there are the highs, the lows, there are the parts that we can all relate to, and it drives you forward. You're listening and you get driven by a story. And again, the vogue is now to have a person tell their own book. More and more you're getting the real person to read their own, Michelle Obama, for example.
JR:Mm-hmm. You narrate so many series, like the "Bridgerton" series, and I wonder what your process is, and how you keep track of those voices throughout the books?
RL: So I work with a wonderful gentleman called Neil Rosser, and we do voice references. He will take a voice when I perform the first few lines of a new character. He will take that voice for me, and we lodge it in the computer in a sort of library, and that really helps me. This is something I learned from Jim Dale, many, many, many years ago, when he was narrating the Harry Potter books. And he had something-- wasn't it about 400 or 500 characters?
JR: So many.
RL: It was quite a stupendous amount. And he explained that he had to keep a little handheld recorder with him, because he wouldn't have been able to remember. And it's hard, you know, if you have that many. And I usually, for any of the romantic fiction books that I've had, there are countless numbers of characters, some of whom appear only once, but we keep those as a library, because it's very, very useful to have that immediate recall. And Neil will very kindly play it for me and then I'm able to put the appropriate voice to the appropriate character.
JR:You do so many series. You're working with authors like Julia Quinn, like Charles Todd over, a vast number of books. Do you have relationships with them? Are you able to talk to them before you narrate?
RL: I'm very lucky, some of the authors do become friends. There are people that I talk to from time to time. And then there are other authors who I think aren't comfortable, or as comfortable, interfacing with the person narrating the book, because they actually don't listen, necessarily, to the finished product, the audiobook itself. Some of them write with very specific voices in their mind. Others don't ever hear that, and are surprised at the voices I give those characters, and then go, "That's exactly how I would have wanted it." So, you know, it's swings and roundabouts. Some authors will be very clear with me about how they want somebody to be, and others, I will write to and say, "How would you like this name pronounced?" If it's an unusual name, I'll say, "Do you want it this way or this way?" and they're always wonderfully kind and get back and say, "Yes, this is how I'd like it to sound." Yeah, I'm very lucky. There have been quite a few authors in the past that I've been able to be in contact with, and obviously, I welcome that because I find it a very collaborative thing to work on an audiobook. If an author is willing to talk to me, it really helps me understand the flavor that they're looking for.
JR:And I'm very curious, have you watched the "Bridgerton" series? It's been a very big deal over here. I don't know about England.
RL: I have watched some. One of the things that I was very intrigued by is how very, very different it is from the books themselves, and indeed, there are people who've written, having listened to my audio versions, who will say, "Oh, this is so different to hear just one person voicing all the characters and then look at the television series and see that it is quite different from the books."
[Clip of Rosalyn narrating Julia Quinn’s audiobook _____(need to confirm which)]
JR:You began acting as a child, as you said. You were seven. Your father was also an actor and a broadcaster, so it was sort of in the blood, isn't it? You've had quite a career.
RL: I've been really blessed. I was very lucky. I've never went to drama school and I have never had an acting lesson, per se. I was very lucky to learn from all the people that were around me as a child, as I grew and worked on different television or film productions. I was very lucky to work with some extraordinary people. So that's where I learned. Anything I bring to the table today is what I've learned watching other people who are amazing actors, and taken on board some of the stuff that I've learned from them.
JR: And how did you get into the audiobook biz, Ros?
RL: A-ha. Right, so I had come to live in Los Angeles and been very lucky to get some television parts. And certain guest shots on various different bits and pieces, and then there was a lull, and there was no work. I had had two children, and I was raising them as a single parent. And somebody who was a very good friend on the east coast said, "There is a wonderful thing called books on tape," which in those days it was called, and suggested that I should audition for Random House and their office was over in Los Angeles. So I auditioned, and I heard nothing for several weeks, and then the months went by and I thought, "Oh, it's not going to happen." And it turned out that the audition tape was in a box under a desk, and a lovely lady, who happened to direct me some months later, was going through all the auditions and she heard my voice and they had a British book coming up, and she decided to invite me to come and audition in the studio, to see how that worked. And that's how I started my audio career. It was literally a friend saying, "Why don't you try this?" and I thought, "Hey, that sounds like a good idea. I'd love that. Sit all day and read a book. That's what I love to do."
JR: Well, I was going to ask you, what was it about narrating audiobooks that felt right?
RL: Mm, that's a good, good question. It felt right from the point of view that I was able to be acting, which I was not able to do, outside of sitting in a studio with a book. To begin with, that was the beginning. And then I really found that there was a way of bringing these books alive in a way that I'd always done reading all my life. If I'd read an Austen book, I had those voices in my head anyway. So being presented with any of the accents that I'd never, never, never had an opportunity to put forth in my work generally, suddenly I could play anything. I was a Duchess, aged 82. I was a child of five. In the last few years, I've been a cow, a dog. I've also been a parrot. In one of Alison Weir's books, I had to be Anne Boleyn's parrot. I think that's the joy. The joy is never really knowing what I've got to confront in terms of interpretation, but it is always, at the end of the day, for me, entertaining somebody out there who may not be having a good day, who may be in a prison or a hospital bed. There is someone I can play to, and I have an audience. I may not be able to see them in front of me as I'm working, but I know that if I really do the very best I can do, I will be entertaining somebody. And that brings great joy, in the reading of a book, to play out a story, or as I said, you know, if I'm doing nonfiction, telling a life story. That's something that is out there for people to enjoy, if that's what they need in that moment, and I have personal experience of that, which is somebody who was actually very, very unwell, and had heard a book, and wrote afterwards and said that it had taken them away for that period of time, which was lovely. That made everything very clear to me.
JR: Audiobook narration takes focus but it also takes more sustained energy than people realize.
RL: I think it's a very, very different kind. I think Robert Bathurst said the same thing to you. It's a very different kind of marathon. So if you're in a play or a television show or a film, you have a very specific period of time when you're not doing anything. Then you come to it and you do a short burst, and then you leave it. This requires literally putting yourself in front of a microphone for several hours at a time. You get breaks, but no, it's a very different discipline than anything else we do as actors, in my opinion. Very different.
JR: I'm curious about how acting, I guess, shifts, or doesn't perhaps, when you only have your voice. You have no physicality to be able to express or color in a character. It's just the voice.
RL: [Laughs] Neil will tell you that I move. So I'm not sitting still all the time. There are times when I move around and I have to make myself sit still. So yes, you're right. There are restrictions about narrating dramatic scenes when you're in an audio situation, and you have to use your voice to convey a lot of anger and so it's quite wearing on your voice, vocally, because you're using-- as you said, you can't use your body necessarily, but you have to use your vocal cords to portray the strength, the shouting, the crying, emotion, anything like that, in a day, is very, very exacting. And it can be very tiring too, yes.
JR: What's your favorite part of audiobook narration?
RL: Getting in front of the microphone and just enjoying myself. And if I had a word for anybody, and it's the thing I've learned over the years I've been doing this, have courage. Just go for it. If you find that there is a scene that you're really scared of allowing yourself to let go, let go. Just be there, do it. It took me a long time to get to a place where I was able to have that courage, a long time.
JR:And I think that is a good place to leave it. Ros, thank you so much for giving me your time.
RL: Oh Jo, thank you so much for inviting me to talk, and it's been a pleasure, and I'm so glad that we get to talk about something that you and I are both so passionate about.
JR:I agree. It's really been fun, and I have to say, prepping for this has been a pure joy.
RL: Oh, and it's been lovely to talk with you. Thank you so much.
JR: Thank you.
That’s award-winning narrator Rosalyn Landor. You can find reviews for well over a hundred of her books at AudioFileMagazine.com. Go check them out, and then follow Behind the Mic wherever you get your podcasts. And leave us a rating on Apple, it helps people find us.
You’ve been listening to a bonus edition of Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine. I’m Jo Reed, good listening.
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