A week or so ago I had a classic anxiety dream in which I went to the BBC for the recording session and for some unspecified reason the only actor they’d managed to get hold of was a rather useless bloke who couldn’t do an American accent. Not only that, but this unprepossessing individual also managed to point out to me a rather obvious flaw in the story.
So I was distinctly relieved when my producer (gosh, that sounds odd) told me that she’d managed to book Laurel Lefkow, who has the twin advantages of being both female and American. Even better than that, a bit of research revealed that she has a prominent rôle in the second BBC Dirk Gently adaptation, “The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul”. Actually, I could have found this out without recourse to Google, as I bought the CD set for myself a few weeks ago although I hadn’t – until this weekend – got around to listening to it yet (and very good it is, too). Either way, what this means is that I can now tenuously claim to be two degrees of separation removed from the late Douglas Adams. Not only that, but I can also claim the same relationship to Audrey Niffenegger, as Ms Lefkow also worked on the audiobook of “The Time Traveller’s Wife”. So that’s two of my favourite multi-million-selling authors covered, then.
The recording session took place this afternoon at Bush House in The Aldwych. Gemma Jenkins, my producer (nope, it still sounds odd) met Laurel and myself in reception and took us through to the studio where we met Mike, the recording engineer. We had a brief chat about the piece, which both of them seemed to be genuinely enthusiastic about, and then Gemma and I retired behind the glass to join Mike. I was expecting a whole series of editorial suggestions, but there were only a couple of phrases that sounded a bit too English that Laurel and Gemma queried and I was very happy for them to fix those. I guess that’s the difference between an open submission process like this and a commissioned work.
After a quick check for levels, they went for a first take. Wow. Just wow. There is nothing quite like the experience of hearing your work come to life in the hands of a skilled professional actor working under the guidance of a skilled professional producer. It was wonderful – Laurel managed to bring out pretty much every nuance of the troubled relationship between the two protagonists at the first go, and I really had to pinch myself to think that I’d actually written this.
There was then a brief discussion as to the correct US pronunciation of the word “traverse” and it turned out, after Mike had checked, that Laurel was already correct. Then they went for a second take, which was even better than the first. After this, Gemma highlighted a few minor points, and I suggested a change of a word (having noticed for the first time that the word “bill” meaning “account” was at one point followed almost immediately by “bills” meaning “banknotes” – how many times had I read this previously myself?) and they did a few retakes. There was one particularly subtle aspect to a line that I remember Laurel absolutely nailing at this point and I suddenly realised how privileged I was to have someone of her calibre reading my work. I honestly don’t think there is any way in which her performance could be improved upon.
But judge for yourselves: it goes out on BBC Radio 4 on August 18th, and it will be available on Listen Again for a week thereafter. I might just give you a nudge or two in the meantime, though.
One really interesting thing. I didn’t discuss this with either Gemma or Laurel, but there is a certain amount of ambiguity about the ending of the piece (and I seem to remember that it was Ian Cundell who steered me in this direction at The Goat when I originally read it out to the VWC there a while back), and you could in fact argue that there are actually three different possible interpretations. Intriguingly, both Gemma and Laurel seemed to assume the same one of these without question, although it didn’t affect the interpretation at all. I’d be really interested in what other people think – and whether or not there’s any kind of split along gender lines.
How splendid, Jon. Well done, old bean.
Thanks, Rachel 🙂
Sounds like you had a brilliant day. Loving the visitor’s pass. Having a link to Audrey Niffenegger is also awesome.I can’t wait to have a listen. It must be lovely to hear your work take on a life of its own. Definitely give us a nudge nearer the time. It’s always interesting when people interpret your writing differently – I’ll let you know what I make of the ending. 🙂
Fascinating insight. I love it when I get to hear short stories read on the radio if I happen to be out and about in the car. great to get this insight into the process. Interesting to to get your writer’s perspective on hearing your work.
By the way – would you have been very disappointed if the recording engineer wasn’t called Mike? I thought they all had to be!
@Clare Couldn’t resist taking a quick snap of the pass before I had to hand it back 🙂 And it always is amazing to hear someone interpret your work, especially when you’re as bad at reading it yourself as I am. (BTW is it really only 11 days to go before Bristol?)
@Francis Yes, I do too! I can think of a few occasions when I’ve sat in the car after I’ve got somewhere waiting for the story to end. And you’re absolutely right – all recording engineers should definitely be called Mike 🙂
I hadn’t realised Bristol was only 11 days away. Eek! See you there! 🙂
Hehe. Scary, isn’t it?
Great stuff, JP. However, I hope that being only two degrees from the LATE Mr Adams isn’t an indication of your life expectancy!
Good point, Kevin 🙂
Must be a great sense of achievement, Jon. Another one under the belt. Now Bristol. Whatever next. You remind me of an old story about a guy in a C5 who had a serious accident caused by speed. He was passed by a guy in a Ferrari so fast he thought he’d stopped and got out to see what was wrong. Yeah, that’s my C5 in the ditch, and me here in this tree, 🙂
Keep on truckin’ JP.
Thanks, Oscar 🙂 Now, now. You know you’re SERIOUSLY underselling your own talents there, mate.
Excuse the typos – small keypad on my phone
When you first stated your intention of spending some time at ‘Bush House’ I imagined some upfront no-nonsense brothel in West London and decided to keep my own council on the matter. Imagine my delight then, when I realised that this news actually referred to your cracking the Beeb with your excellent story. Well done again Sir, it sounds like it was a wonderful experience, something we all ultimately dream of happening to us. Next stop Bristol! The Pinnock juggernaut moves ever onwards…
@Kevin – no worries, have corrected them
@Dave Hehe, nice one. Not sure about Bristol, though. The competition looks particularly fierce there. In any case, the Weaver juggernaut ain’t doing too bad these days either, from what I hear …
Sounds like a totally exhilarating experience. Fantastic! Loved reading the ‘behind the scenes’ low-down – Thanks for sharing that.(Still can’t shake the idea that the BBC sound recording studio looks like a classroom store cupboard done out for a school production!)
Come the 18th August I’ll be ready to cheer!
Thanks, Jenny! The studio was certainly compact, but possibly somewhat larger than it looks in the photo 🙂 What you don’t see are all the computers and stuff on the engineer’s side of the glass that make it look like Mission Control.
I take it you were impressed! (So am I!!)
Oh yes 🙂
What a fabulous experience! I hope there’s some way for US types (traverse! Yes!) to get hold of it.
I think you can get it streamed via the BBC website as it’s being broadcast, Katey. Not sure which timezone you’re in, for example, but if you’re 5 hours behind GMT, that would be at 9:30AM (I think!). Not sure if Listen Again is available overseas, though.
Full of coolness, Jon. Many more days like this I hope.
Absolutely! Thanks, Cate 🙂
Jonathan, your experience is very like mine – I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised, really, but then as writers we get very solipsistic. Since it was an indie production company doing ‘Calling’, I didn’t have a BBC pass, but I did get a very nice day-trip to a gloriously sunny Brighton.
And thank you for stopping by my blog, and for approving of my writing-for-radio series!
Thanks for dropping in, Emma 🙂 Even if all our experiences are similar, they’re still pretty magical, aren’t they?
Sounds like great fun, and good progress.
Certainly was, stu! Thanks 🙂