The Chomolungma Varieties: struggles of an apprentice audiobook narrator

At the end of last year, I mentioned that I would be slowing down the blog to concentrate on other writing projects. In case you’d forgotten I exist or were wondering if I’d boarded the Mars probe for an attempt on Olympus Mons, I’m thinking that it’s time I updated you on the progress of at least one of those projects.

Mark Horrell: podcaster, DJ or audiobook narrator?
Podcaster, DJ or audiobook narrator?

You will see from the photo above, of me sticking my face into a giant microphone, that I’ve been temporarily heading off in a new direction.

Now, in case you’re thinking I’ve abandoned the written word and have joined every other man, woman and their dogs by starting up a podcast – a trend that seems to be spreading across the planet more rapidly than a new variant of COVID-19 – then don’t panic.

I’m very much a reader, not a listener. I don’t watch much telly; I don’t listen to the radio; and I don’t really do phone calls. I like a good conversation down a pub or restaurant, but I prefer not to eavesdrop on someone else’s.

IMO, not only is reading more peaceful, but the written word tends to be more succinct and free from waffle. In fact, this is what most postcasts and radio shows sound like to me:

You can relax then: I won’t be joining the podcast stampede. It’s just not my thing.

So if not podcasting, what on earth am I doing in the photo?

I might not like listening, but plenty of other people don’t like reading. Until recently, books passed these people by like jokes in a Christmas cracker, but not any longer. The growing market for audiobooks means that all books now have the potential to reach a much wider audience.

Last year I had the pleasure of working with experienced stage and screen actor Philip Battley on the audiobook versions of my two travelogues Seven Steps from Snowdon to Everest and Feet and Wheels to Chimborazo.

Philip’s melodious baritone and talent for voices really brought the books to life, but hiring a professional actor to record and produce several hours of audio doesn’t come cheap. Although I’m on track to recoup the costs of Seven Steps before very long, Feet and Wheels is less popular and it’s going to take much longer to break even.

I’d like to release my six published travel diaries as audiobooks too. Philip is the Rolls Royce of narrators, and if I were Bill Bryson, I would happily hire him again. But I’m not going to be catching up Mr B’s sales in this lifetime, so different measures are called for.

There are cheaper narrators than Philip, but you get what you pay for. Experienced, professional actors are where they are not just for their sophisticated vocal talents and dashing good looks. They make fewer mistakes. There wasn’t much of Philip’s narration that we needed to re-record. By contrast, many of the other auditions I received were full of gaffes.

Working with cheaper narrators would have been far more time consuming before we got it right, and this got me thinking – if I’m going to go down that route, then why not give it a go myself?

So that’s how I found myself in a recording studio with my book The Chomolungma Diaries.

Well, I say ‘recording studio’, but actually that’s my office-cum-bedroom. Had I been doing this a couple of years ago at my flat in London on the Heathrow flight path, there would have been the sound of an aircraft passing overhead every 90 seconds.

But here in the Cotswolds, we’re blessed with a quiet home away from the road and the sound of traffic. My room at the back of the house is quite nicely sound-proofed.

And in fact, I’m not that bad at reading aloud – much better than I am at pedalling bicycles or scaling vertical surfaces. I don’t make too many mistakes. And although I don’t have the mellifluous rich baritone of Philip, I do sound more like me than he does, and that’s no bad thing in a first-person memoir.

I’ve invested in some decent recording equipment and the audio is sounding pretty good. It hasn’t taken me long to learn the quirks of the editing software, and I’ve quickly become expert in spotting things like this:

The sound of a man taking a big gulp of air
The sound of a man taking a big gulp of air

That little white highlighted segment is the sound of me taking a big gulp of air in the middle of a sentence, the sort of sound that isn’t needed on the finished audio – unless it’s a book about free diving or staggering along in the death zone (oh, hang on a minute).

Of course, I’m not as good as Philip. I’ll never be able to do voices quite like he does. Kiwis will doubtless consider my New Zealand accent a ‘butt shut’. But on the plus side, it’s been fun watching YouTube clips of Flight of the Conchords in the course of my research.

The Chomolungma Diaries is the diary of my expedition to the North Ridge of Everest in 2012. It was a year that ultimately proved controversial (well, I guess that seems to be every year on Everest nowadays). For several weeks we remained blissfully unaware of the trouble brewing as we enjoyed ourselves at base camp and made acclimatisation rotations up the mountain. Then came summit day. I was suddenly aware of my own mortality as I trod the delicate tightrope between life and death.

It’s been interesting to live through it again from the comforts of our cottage in the Cotswolds. There’s still some work to do before you see the final audiobook frisbeeing off the shelves, but you’ll hopefully see it sometime this year, with my other diaries to follow soon after.

In other news, I have a couple of actual writing projects on the go too. I’ve lined up my regular editor Alex Roddie to help with one of them later this summer. This one should also see the light of day towards the end of the year. The other project is still in the research phase and has involved a lot of background reading. I will be providing more details of both projects in due course.

In the meantime, here are some nice bookstore links.

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7 thoughts on “The Chomolungma Varieties: struggles of an apprentice audiobook narrator

  • March 24, 2021 at 6:41 pm

    Could you post an audio sample here for ruthless Socialist criticism? No, not a sample of ‘main (sic) taking a big gulp of air.’

  • March 24, 2021 at 7:33 pm

    Haha, well if it’s socialist criticism you’re after then you need to set up a committee to decide if my spelling mistake is deliberate 😉

  • March 24, 2021 at 9:34 pm

    I think this will be very good Mark, after all you have got the voice of an actor. There is a thing worse than a Podcast. It is a programme called ‘the BBC Podcast Hour’. A sort of review of Podcasts. Can you imagine? Wishing you success with your new venture, Chrystabel.

  • March 24, 2021 at 9:48 pm

    Mark, best of luck with it all…I’m sure you’re going to knock it out of the ballpark. All of your projects!

    Okay the Twitter post is hilarious. I didn’t realize it had looped, and I was still………listening…….

    I confess I clicked on the image of the big gulp of air, hoping for audio! I’m sure it’s true: we’d have some really good suggestions for you, helpful tips, etc. Are you sure you don’t want to post?

  • March 24, 2021 at 10:15 pm

    Once you’ve finished this(!) take a quick pass at the YouTube phenomenons who can’t talk randomly at the camera without slurping gulping and bubbling noisily. Your efforts will I have no doubt shine by contrast.

  • March 25, 2021 at 12:05 am

    Hi Mark,
    Well, I love reading and love reading about mountains .I think the fascination started when I was dragged up assorted mountains in the Lakes as a child by my parents – Striding Edge in the snow was especially memorable! They climbed in the lakes as part of a club- starting as teenagers in the 1950’s – when even getting to The Lakes from Lancashire was a bit of a challenge. They are now in their 80’s and still ( pre covid) walk in the Lakes every weekend. I still enjoy hill walking too,( along with my kids and husband) – Ben Cruachan is the highest I have achieved !.Visiting the Himalaya is a dream I will struggle to realise ,at least at the moment ,but reading your books helps me travel there virtually! I have read all your books and thoroughly enjoyed them all- thank you.

  • March 25, 2021 at 3:21 pm

    I am glad you are making audiobook versions of your work. I agree that it is hard work – harder than most people might think. Best of luck. And, I laughed at your line: “I do sound more like me than he does”

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