By August 19, 2009 3 Comments Read More →

Inside the Audiobook Studio: Naxos’ Nicolas Soames

The Complete Sherlock Holmes

10 years + 60 CDs = an amazing achievement!

The Complete Sherlock Holmes – 56 stories and 4 novels – is longer than War and Peace… so the magnitude of David Timson’s achievement in having recorded the whole Holmes canon for Naxos AudioBooks deserved special recognition. And it came in a sizable box set of 60 CDs containing everything from The Study in Scarlet which chronicles the first meeting between Mr Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson to The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes, the final collection. In the box, making it a real collector’s item, is also The Adventure of the Wonderful Toy, a new Holmes story written (and read) by David Timson himself. With the CDs comes a thick booklet containing background information on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and his most famous detective who, residing at 221b Baker Street, became a legend in his own lifetime – even though he never really lived! This booklet was written by David himself, for in addition to being a master reader, he has become something of an expert on Holmes… so much so that there is a commentary on every individual story.

Naxos AudioBooks combines the best in classical and modern literature with their huge catalog of musical productions, creating rich aural soundscapes that enhance and expand the listening experience. Equally wonderful are Naxos’ productions of audiobook originals: non-fiction works on history, philosophy, the arts, biography, and more – even a bird-watcher’s guide with audio clips of birdsong. Educators will welcome the new Young Adult Classics line, which include an abridged audio production of frequently-taught works along with a CD that contains PDFs of both the original and abridged texts and a study guide. I enjoy Nicolas Soames’ chatty and informative blog, chock-full of behind-the-scenes audiobook information from the co-founder and publisher of Naxos AudioBooks. I was so intrigued by his post about Naxos’ The Complete Sherlock Holmes quoted above that I HAD to do this across-the-ocean interview with Nicolas from the Naxos headquarters in England. Nicolas answers my every-Wednesday “Inside the Audiobook Studio” questions below, PLUS you will find MANY links to Naxos videos, podcasts, and audio clips at the end of the interview – and FREE downloads from The Complete Sherlock Holmes.

1. What’s on your MP3 player?

We are doing so much unabridged audio that it is a constant battle to play catch-up. So, I have just finished Tristram Shandy read by Anton Lesser, and it was such a delight I keep going back to listen again to my favorite bits. Similarly The History of English Poetry by Peter Whitfield, read by Sir Derek Jacobi – it a script with some very acute insights (it starts with a wonderful quote from Emily Dickinson. But also Sharpe’s Triumph, a Napoleonic war historical series…and all the Matthew Shardlake novels – crime in Henry VIII’s England.)

2. Tell us about your role in the audiobook community.

Here’s this week’s schedule: I have met and talked (ok, ok, publisher’s lunches and drinks) with Clive Stanhope, independent audio rival and colleague, and we chew the cud – good readers, good and bad buyers, the pitfalls and the delights; then there were drinks with Rodney Troubridge, a key figure in the Waterstone’s UK bookstore chains, who has a passion for audio. He listens in bed and is so engaged sometimes that he can’t sleep! But he still listens! That’s commercial side. I took an active role in the first day’s recording of The Exploits of Brigadier Gerard, a wonderful Napoleonic war (again) character full of Gallic dash and bombast by Arthur Conan Doyle. The AMAZING Rupert Degas read it with an endearing French accent…different from his American (Cormac McCarthy’s The Road) and English (Restoration / Kafka’s The Trial). What a talent. I prepared for The Mayor of Casterbridge which Anton Lesser is reading unabridged this coming week; talked to my CD manufacturers about new plastic CD boxes; prepared the final details of the Q1/Q2 2010 releases…titles, covers, readers etc; and worked with our editor on The Essential Remembrance of Things Past which is coming next year. Neville Jason has taken the highlights from the 39 CD set, and, with Roy McMillan, introduces each excerpt, with music setting the scene. Sometimes, I even got to sleep and I went to my wife’s chamber concert (Mendelssohn and Haydn).

3. What was your most interesting/embarrassing/hilarious moment in the audiobook studio?

Sara Kestelmann, a grande dame of English theater, was recording George Eliot. Sara is a wonderful reader and strong character with decades of spotlight work on the finest classical stages. But there was a regularly re-occurring noise in the studio which we couldn’t pin down. Eventually I realized. ‘It is your leather skirt,’ I said. And left a questioning silence…  would she suffer for her art? ‘NO, NICOLAS,’ Sara said in her best Lady Bracknell voice.

4.  What future trends or changing perceptions or technologies do you think will have the greatest/worst/revolutionary impact on the audiobook production field?

Digital download is transforming audiobooks, there is no doubt about it. And it is wonderfully convenient. But with it comes an acceptance of a lesser quality in sound, in production value and even in performance. Plus, being squeezed financially because of lower income, we are all having to take short cuts. Most important of all, it means there is no financial room to be original in audio. Almost every audiobook is just a recording of a book – not very imaginative. We try to do original audio making the most of the medium, such as biographies of Chopin or Beethoven, or the History of the Theater, where we can make the most of the fact that when discussing Chopin composing a Nocturne or Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, you can HEAR it! More audio originals please!

5. What’s new and exciting in your part of the audiobook community?

The History of English Poetry is a perfect example of something special for audio – a look at the development of poetry from Beowulf to the beginning of the 21st century. It starts with a quotation from Emily Dickinson saying that you know it is poetry when it feels ‘…As if the top of my head were taken off.’ Derek Jacobi takes us through the ages, the different attitudes towards poetry (ego and the individual didn’t happen in poetry until the approach of the 19th century), and with scores of extracts read by fine actors, this is a learning, enriching and enthralling experience. Content is important and so is performance! Rupert Degas’s reading of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is so chilling and compulsive that it will resonate for days later…and don’t get stuck in a traffic jam or on a desert island without The Complete Sherlock Holmes read by David Timson, one of the landmarks of the audiobook genre. In the 15 years of active audio recording since I started Naxos AudioBooks in 1994, I have NEVER gone on to the business end of a microphone. Why? Because when you work, day in and day out, with performers like Juliet Stevenson, Anton Lesser, Michael Sheen, David Timson and many others, you know which side your bread is buttered! Just listen to the free downloads from David Timson’s reading of The Complete Sherlock Holmes:

The Silver Blaze by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1 hour)

The White Company by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (11 mins)

Our Mutual Friend (opening) by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (5 mins)

Thanks so much for being in the interview seat, Nicolas, and for the awesome recording of Sherlock Holmes video below & the wonderful links to more audiobook information:

Sherlock Holmes Podcast:

David Timson Our Mutual Friend Podcast:

Bleak House video:

Juliet Stevenson Austen Podcast:

War and Peace video:

ABC Bookshow War and Peace Podcast:

Neville Jason Sword in the Stone Podcast:

The Road video:

John Calder Samuel Beckett Podcast:

Reflections on the art of audiobook production and narration from the Oxford Literary Festival:



About the Author:

Mary Burkey is an independent library consultant in Columbus (OH). An enthusiastic audiophile, she has served on all four of ALA's audiobook award committees as well as the Audies. In addition to writing the "Voices in My Head" column for Booklist, she is the author of Audiobooks for Youth: A Practical Guide to Sound Literature (ALA, 2013). Follow her on Twitter at @mburkey.