Friday, August 5, 2022

Meet the narrator!

Anybody ever thought about the voice behind the audiobook?  Here I caught hold of one such a person and I questioned them about their rather special talent. 

When your audiobook is in the hands of somebody good, it's fabulous.  I confess that if I don't like the voice, then I can't listen to it.

Here is one of the best in the business, being interviewed especially for MIE.

Kat Harrison.


  1. Kat, how to you deal with the mechanics of reading? 

The mechanics of reading when you have two young kids at home is always fun.  Bless their hearts they have developed a patience for having to be quiet when mum is working thanks to the pandemic. It’s definitely easier now they are older but often it comes down to reliable and loving babysitters who allow me enough space and quiet to get the work done.

 Otherwise there’s always a random blooper of them suddenly giggling or causing mischief!


How many read throughs of a book do you need before you start the process?

I love this question! So when it comes to how many reads, if time is a luxury I do three, first one for fun, to get the joy of being the reader. The second one to understand it - I go through and triple check pronunciations and definitions, and the third is when I start recording to play with it.

But there’s been occasions where time has been of the essence and the first read has been the recording, checking definitions and pronunciations as I go. It can be a slower recording process as I inevitably need to re-do lines to correct the tone or who is speaking but still seems to be effective - touch wood no one seems to have noticed which was a third read and which was a first!

Have you ever thought that your voice is just not suitable for that book, or is it your job to make the voice fit? 

As for when do I ever say no, there’s really only two reasons for that, either

a)    I really just don’t have the time and wouldn’t want to keep an author hanging; or

b)    it’s material I don’t believe has any artistic merit or is written by someone as charming with such a shining moral character as Bo Jo.  If it goes against my own morals or principles it’s a no….. although I’m now imagining reading said book with a scathing tone of sarcasm and that sounds Delightful!!

I’ll rarely put myself forward or be asked to do something that doesn’t fit my voice because it is such an essential part of the job I think.  For instance I’d never be asked to read for a book where the main character is a male… if nothing else it would just be exhausting trying to keep that up.

How much input does the author have? 

I have found myself in an interesting situation right now, as I’m narrating a book where the central characters are Scottish/Indian.  I myself being a cis white Scottish female I did discuss with the author if she might be better finding a narrator with this background.  In the end as I’d narrated for her before she felt more comfortable going with a voice she trusted and in the current economic climate I couldn’t really afford to say no to the work. Thankfully the author agreed wholeheartedly that the voice should be Scottish and not an attempt at an Indian accent.  So I sincerely hope no one in the community will find it offensive.  It’s a tricky one when it’s voice but I strive where possible to send work suitable for minority performers where it should go. I’d be lying if I said this one wasn’t eating at my conscience a little though. 

It really depends on the author how much input they have when working with me.  I’m happy to work on my own steam but I do encourage authors to listen back and make notes of any changes they would like in terms of delivery or intonation.  Authors will usually give me a bit of a synopsis about the characters or how they think they should be and some even give me a ‘cast list’ of who they imagine would play them in a movie to give me an idea of the ‘voice’ of each character.  I’ll never forget trying to do my best Russel Crowe!

Do you ever read a book with a view to narrating it and the author has written a character with the most difficult accent to do? I believe Liverpudlian Irish is a very hard accent. 

I LOVE working with accents.  Accent is rooted in habitual behaviour so it’s essential in understanding the character overall.  Again it’s very rare that I’d be asked to narrate something where the main character is not Scottish because it’s so easy these days to find someone with the accent you need.  I do get to play with the odd side character though and funnily enough again, in the book I’m working on now, ‘What I Hid From You’ by Heleen Kist has a couple of American accents in there.  I can only pray I haven’t completely butchered them!

I know Heleen, Dutch/ Glaswegian,  she has an interesting accent all of her own! 

I do tend to pick up accents when I’m with people, but I also just drop into random voices in casual conversation at the best of times.  All I can say is it is never done with the intention to make fun of, it’s always just from a love of the different placement of sounds.  I’m basically still a child and get paid to play!

What happens when you come across a line that’s so funny you know you’re going to snigger?

I just outright snigger!! haha.  There’s a ton of fun bloopers on my computer somewhere.  Sometimes it’s appropriate to give the laugh to the character / narrator and sometimes I have to pretend I’m an adult for a moment and get through it seriously.

How long does a recording session last for? 

Again it really depends on the text.  For instance I have 7 and a half hours of finished audio produced so far and this was edited from over 30 hours of recorded audio.  I’d say the average novel would take a full working week to record.   I can’t speak to other narrators of course, this could be down to my lack of experience, I only have a few audiobooks out there so far, or it could be down to my perfectionism, where I’ll redo a line to death to find the version I’m happy with.

In one of Simon Brett’s books Charles Paris is recording a book and he’s always being stopped for putting in intonation in to the chapter headings. Is it difficult to do the parts of the books that are non narrative?

Saying the chapter titles or numbers is always a little strange but I’ve found I’ve kind of developed a ‘non narrative’ voice that I slip into without really thinking about it.  There are times where I think that needs work though.  I’ll definitely obsess over that now I’ve thought about it, eek!

When I was chatting to you, you made a comment about speed, and that some people speed up your narration to get through the book quicker. Do you think these people should be allowed to vote? 

Caro this is why I love you, you have such a scathing wit! I mean each to their own right?  Personally it affronts me that anyone would speed up a fiction audiobook.  I can slightly understand the need for educational textbooks but for a story! It feels like madness to me.  The author has poured their heart and soul into creating these moments for their readers to enjoy.  Not all narrators think about creating atmosphere and tone with their read, many narrators are, I’ve found, encouraged to be quite technical and dry - which allows for this speeding up when listening.  I often get praised for my ability to emote and create those atmospheres with the appropriate pace and rhythm dictated by the writing but the same reviews will slate me for being impossible to speed up.  To those reviewers I just give a sly grin and think ‘Good! You will enjoy this story at the pace it was designed to be consumed!’  It should be an experience!! Not something you have to get through as quickly as possible.  So yeah, let them vote, but for the love of God someone introduce them to something they actually want to savour, I can only imagine what they are actually listening to that warrants x2 speed.


What happens when you trip over your tongue? Or, come across a word that is difficult to say? 

I create a Blooper Reel that will make me and the author giggle - occasionally that will include a curse to the author themselves for their writing! Seriously though tripping over your tongue is more common than you’d think.  When I’m teaching Voice Over and Narration I always tell me students to just pause, take a beat and go again from the beginning of the sentence.  Without that pause you end up colouring the line with your frustration or amusement and nobody wants that.  It happens so often you just kind of get used to the process after a while.  Though a good vocal warm up can really help reduce the amount of times it happens.


Lastly, as an expert in this sort of thing, what advice would you give to writers who are doing a reading at events. 

 I’d say try to relax and know that nobody is there to judge you.  Not all writers feel the  most confident in reading aloud for people and I find that a great shame. People want to hear what you have to say.  Take a deep breath and ENJOY the story.  You wrote it so hopefully you still like it!  Whenever anyone speaks about anything with passion you can’t help but listen.  So let your love for the story come through. We tell stories to connect with each other, to remind ourselves of that shared human experience - so don’t try imagining the audience in their underwear for heavens sake! Instead take a moment to just connect with them before reading.  Each person there has their own worries and anxieties and have lived their own messy lives - focus on appreciating sharing a moment together and the story should take care of the rest.  A bit sappy perhaps, but more practical advice on the technical aspects will cost ya!

Kat Harrison
Actor / Voice Over / Director / Acting Coach


Thanks Kat, always nice to hear from you!



  1. Yes, I believe a substantial number of authors feel self-conscious about reading their work--kind of like actors seeing themselves on screen. The difficulty I’ve had with the audio versions of my book is that there’s basically one generic “African” accent narrators use. It’s vaguely similar to an East African accent, but even that is not terribly well done. Put yourself in my position. Let’s say I’m narrating a book set in Scotland and I use a bad English accent a la PG Wodehouse in the erroneous belief that “everyone in the UK" speaks that way. How would you react to my narration? Yes, that’s what I thought.

  2. And another thing--sorry to rant this way today--the languages spoken in a country like Ghana are just that--languages. They are not, please, oh please, dialects! Tell a Chinese person that Cantonese is a dialect of Mandarin and watch the reaction. Yes, that’s what I thought.

  3. I have a reasonable voice for a recording, BUT I don't think there is an adjective that adequately describes how bad I am at accents. I can barely do my own accent. It's a good thing that there are pros like Kat round.

  4. Your own accent?! 😂😂😂😂

  5. Kwei I’m horrified to discover you’ve had such a limited experience of hearing the many African accents - as you say it’s not dialects it’s languages, the sound placements would be in completely different places. I hope narrators do better in future.