The Voice(s) of John Gower: Prose into Sound

One of the completely unanticipated thrills during the publication process for A Burnable Book has come from the world of audiobooks. In all the excitement of production I hadn’t realized that both William Morrow (HarperCollins US) and HarperCollins (UK) were planning to release audiobooks of the novel simultaneously with the hardcover and e-book versions. So it was a surprise and a delight to learn last fall that the narrator for the US audiobook would be the great Simon Vance, who has narrated for Neil Gaiman and Hilary Mantel, among others. Gaiman has called him “the gold-standard of narrators,” while Hilary Mantel says of his narration of Bring Up the Bodies, “As if by telepathy, he has preserved the rhythm of the text as I heard it when I wrote it.”

Simon and I are writing a piece together for Slate Magazine that will be titled something like “Voicing History: The Soundscapes of¬†Historical Fiction,” and Slate will also make it available as an audio file when it posts, probably in late February. The piece will explore the role of voice and sound in historical fiction, and in particular the unique abilities of audiobooks to bring historical characters and settings alive in ways unavailable through the written text alone. I’ll post a link to the piece once it’s up at Slate.

In the meantime, I learned just this week that the audio for the UK version has been recorded by Tim Bruce, an actor, singer, and voice artist whose numerous recordings span a range of fiction genres and nonfiction titles (including, most recently, Geoffrey Hindley’s Medieval Sieges & Siegecraft).¬†You can listen to Tim’s wonderful version of Chapter 1 on HarperAudio’s SoundCloud, and, if you’d like, follow along in the excerpt available through my Facebook page (look at the top under the “Read an Excerpt” tab).

Chapter 1, set in the prison at Newgate and in an undercroft tavern on Holbourne, is written in the first-person voice of the novel’s protagonist, John Gower. To listen to Tim’s rendition of Gower’s voice is for me a haunting and unsettling experience: for the first time I’m listening to the voice of one of my characters through the voice of another person rather than solely in my head, where it’s resided for the last three-odd years! I hope you enjoy Tim’s version as much as I do, and I’ll be sure to post a preview from Simon Vance’s audiobook as soon as I’m able.


4 comments on “The Voice(s) of John Gower: Prose into Sound

  1. Candace Barrington on said:

    Bruce, thanks for these preliminary thoughts on hearing Gower’s voice, first in your thoughts and then as read/performed by Tim Bruce. I find it fascinating to consider giving voice(s) to authors, whether they remain alive or are long dead or both (in the case of your novelized John Gower). I look forward to reading the Slate article Simon Vance and you co-author. (Btw: I thought his reading of Mantel’s novel was masterful.)

  2. C. Sparks on said:

    Enjoying listening to chapter one, as I do mundane tasks…makes it much more bearable. Thanks!

  3. Jonathan Hsy on said:

    Bruce: Thanks for posting these (audio and print) previews. Fascinating posting here and I look forward to the “Slate” article as well. It must be so strange to hear the voice of your “own” Gower remediated by two other voices! I’m so pleased that this “new Gower” will enjoy parallel lives — in print and as these embodied “talking books.” I want to think more about the implications of the audiobooks for teaching about Gower’s blindness and the “Vox Clamantis” …

    • Hayani on said:

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