By September 9, 2009 9 Comments Read More →

Inside the Audiobook Studio: Katherine Kellgren

Katherine Kellgren

As the  Odyssey Honor voice and the 2009 Audies Award winner for Best Solo Female Narration for Curse of the Blue Tattoo, Katherine Kellgren’s talent has been featured here before. But I am so thrilled that Ms. Kellgren has taken time away from the mic to answer my “Inside the Audiobook Studio” questions below.

Now on to the interview…

1. What’s on your MP3 player?

I have just listened to Neil Gaiman’s Coraline read by the author. His reading is so wonderful – simple and straightforward, yet so full of character and nuance. It’s an education for me as a narrator to listen to him. As for the book itself, it’s no wonder it has already appeared as a stage play and a film just in this year alone. I think it’s a modern classic! Another thing that is never far from my earbuds is a recording of speeches from Shakespeare by Sir John Gielgud called Ages of Man. Alas, it’s never been put on CD, but it is available as a download. I was mesmerized by this recording when I was fourteen years old, and I still listen to it all the time. It’s an absolute favorite!

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

As a narrator I do my very best to make a book come to life in the way the author would have intended. I pour as much as I can into this, and spend a lot of time doing research on word pronunciations, working out character voices, & etc. There’s no rehearsal, and often you don’t get a second take, so I find it quite scary (although exciting) at times. Occasionally when I’m very lucky, I’ll have some help from the author. For instance, with the Bloody Jack series that I’ve been recording recently, the author, Lou Meyer, has been talking to me on the phone before I go into the studio. He’s been speaking to me about his vision of the characters, guiding me on the pronunciation of their names, and helping me with the process of tracking down the original tunes to the dozens of traditional folk songs, sea shanties, and ballads that appear in the books.

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

Every once in awhile, something will strike me as funny when I am recording, and I can get a tad hysterical. Once I did a novel about a woman who inherited a fabulous fortune. The book went into vast detail about the various treasures she possessed, describing and listing them for page upon page upon page. It was gobsmacking and yet fascinating, and it kept building up more and more. Finally, when I thought that section of the book was over and the characters were moving on to other topics, one of them suddenly stopped and said something to the tune of “wait a minute, what about the fourteen diamond tiaras in the bank vault?” and I lost it. I spent about ten minutes with tears streaming down my face just trying to record that one line. Every time I thought I might have it, I would look through the glass and see the director’s shoulders shaking up and down, and that would set me off again. Finally, I had to excuse myself and immerse my face in cold water.

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

As a huge audiobook fan (in fact, kind of a geek…), I always find it wonderful when classic recordings from the early days of audiobooks are remastered and made available as downloads or CDs, but I often feel that some of the truly great ones have escaped the net and are sinking into relative obscurity because they are only available on vinyl. Companies like Caedmon and Naxos are doing wonderful work reissuing classic recordings, but I wish lots of other distributors would do the same so the public would have access to these treasures before they are lost.

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

I am excited that I had the opportunity of recording book six in the Bloody Jack series, My Bonny Light Horseman, which has recently been released. Also I am about to finish work on The Death of the Heart (written in the 1930’s by Elizabeth Bowen), and start The Salamander Spell (book five in a series for young adults by E.D. Baker). There is also Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as its companion volume Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. They were both, let’s just say “unusual” literary experiences, and it was a pleasure to have the chance to work on them.

Thanks so much for visiting Audiobooker, Katy! And what a great collection of upcoming titles to add to my listening list!

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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.

9 Comments on "Inside the Audiobook Studio: Katherine Kellgren"

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  1. Sbeauregard@ala.org' Sue-Ellen says:

    Great interview, Mary. Booklist also interviewed Katherine Kellgren in the April 1, 2009 issue for those interested in also reading that interview, I have pasted it below:
    The Booklist Interview: Katherine Kellgren.
    Myrick, Ellen (author).
    FEATURE. First published April 1, 2009 (Booklist).
    Katherine Kellgren is one of the freshest voices in audiobooks. Bloody Jack: Being an Account of the Curious Adventures of Mary “Jacky” Faber, Ship’s Boy, by L. A. Meyer, was recognized as a 2008 Odyssey Honor title, and the sequel, Curse of the Blue Tattoo, also read by Kellgren, is a 2009 Odyssey Honor title. Kellgren has not rested on Jacky’s berth, although her success with the series has kept the popular reader busier than ever. Booklist contributor Ellen Myrick recently interviewed Kellgren at the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville.

    BKL: How many Jacky Faber adventures have you recorded?

    KELLGREN: I’ve recorded four titles in the series. After Bloody Jack was awarded an Odyssey Honor, Listen and Live Audio bought the rights to the sequels. I’m so grateful because it means we can continue with Jacky’s adventures. Since audiobooks meant so much to me as a young adult, I find it especially thrilling that Bloody Jack received an Odyssey Honor award. I think it’s wonderful that ALA and Booklist are recognizing the value of audiobooks in this way.

    BKL: Did you find it challenging to go back and pick up the threads when recording the sequels?

    KELLGREN: Because there are lots of recurring characters, I go to the old CDs and isolate the voices. I then put them onto my iPod and listen in the studio so I can remember what the characters sound like. It’s getting more and more fun as the characters build up.

    BKL: What do you enjoy most about the series?

    KELLGREN: The books are so beautifully written, and Jacky is so strong and positive, and she goes through so much hardship that I often find myself thinking, “What would Jacky do?” She is a role model for me, even if she’s made of sterner stuff than I am.

    BKL: How do you manage to shift so seamlessly between characters?

    KELLGREN: I mark my script with different colored highlighter pens and pencils. I had to buy marker pens for children because I needed so many colors for all the characters. Also, I did a lot of regional dialect work when I trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts (LAMDA). That training helped me tremendously to do so many different accents.

    BKL: Tell us a bit about your background and your accent.

    KELLGREN: I am a New Yorker, but I spent 12 years in London. I had traces of my American accent from my childhood when I enrolled at LAMDA, and that was beaten out of me to the point that when I returned to the States, I had to go to a dialect coach to get back my American accent. I feel more comfortable doing multiple regional British dialects than American ones. I spend lots of time with dialect tapes. Barbara Rosenblat told me about a wonderful international dialect Web site that I find incredibly helpful.

    BKL: How did you become interested in narrating audiobooks?

    KELLGREN: When I was a teenager, I was very obsessed with spoken-word recordings. I listened to plays, and I was a huge John Gielgud groupie—I was an odd child—I had a cassette set of Shakespeare speeches. I listened to Dame Edith Evans doing The Importance of Being Earnest. I find that voices from those recordings—which I still listen to obsessively—creep into audios I am doing. When my father became very ill, I spent a great deal of time reading to him. My goal was to get him to feel so comfortable that he could fall asleep. One time I noticed that both he and his home health care aide were sleeping. I thought it was time to take this public. When I moved back to New York, I started inquiring about audio work. The first book I recorded came about because they needed a last-minute replacement. They asked me to audition over the phone. I read from Out of Africa and got the job.

    BKL: Do you consider yourself first and foremost an audiobook narrator?

    KELLGREN: Yes, I do. I still like stage acting and television work, but I find audiobook reading so satisfying. I’m very proud to be part of this profession. I recently had a callback for an out-of-town part in a stage production, and I found myself incredibly worried that I might get the part because I really want to do the audiobooks I am scheduled for. That was a real moment of clarity for me.

    BKL: Who are your audiobook inspirations?

    KELLGREN: Dame Edith Evans, of course. There’s that scene from The Importance of Being Earnest where she replies, “A handbag?” in that incredibly booming voice with 68 syllables. No actress can do that role in a major production without being compared to her.

    BKL: What current narrators do you learn from and admire?

    KELLGREN: I’m mad about Jim Dale, Alfred Molina, Davina Porter—there are too many to name. I’m lucky enough to sometimes see them around when I’m recording, and it’s an education to listen to them. I listen to audiobooks, podcasts, and audio samples because it teaches me to be better at what I do.

    BKL: What have you done recently that you’re looking forward to?

    KELLGREN: P. J. Bracegirdle’s The Joy of Spooking: Book One, Fiendish Deeds is the first of in an imaginatively written trilogy for children. At the moment, I’m recording a series about Enola Holmes, Sherlock Holmes’ younger sister. I get very obsessed with Angie Sage’s Araminta Spookie series and can’t wait for the next book to come out!

    BKL: Do you ever meet the authors after you’ve recorded their books?

    KELLGREN: I’ve been in regular contact with L. A. Meyer. His wife wrote to me after the first book came out and I ended up e-mailing them. Whenever I do another book in the series, I talk to him because quite often there are obscure references I can’t track down and sea shanties I can’t locate. He tells me how to pronounce certain characters’ names.

  2. Mary says:

    Thanks for adding Ellen Myrick’s great interview in the comments! I added the “featured here” link within Audiobooker interview so that readers could backtrack to the earlier Booklist interview, but I like your idea of having it available in the comments better! Great idea!

  3. yankeeskitchen@gmail.com' Rita Gaffey says:

    I just wanted to say Thank You! The energy and excitement you give the stories is delightful.
    I love to read, but paint for a living so I need my hands for other then holding a book…solution, audio books. Katherine you are wonderful, right up there with Davina Porter and Jim Dale. I am currently listening to the Bloody Jack series,and will be looking for more books you’ve narrated.
    L.A. Meyer has written some wonderful books and chosen the best narrator for them.
    Thank you again,
    Rita Gaffey

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