*Name: Hello, my name is James Watkins
*Tell us a bit about yourself: I live in sunny San Diego California, which has been my home since 2011. I took a long time to find my home in voice work, but this year has seen the completion of my home studio, and I’m never looking back! I love reading, singing and writing songs, hiking, and playing in the ocean.
How did you become involved with audiobook narration and production? I am a lifelong lover of reading. I really enjoy being able to explore through words and ideas. Because I am a bit of an amateur musician, I ended up with some simple recording equipment at home. When it first occurred to me to combine reading and recording it seemed natural and perfect. I am so glad to be living in this time where I am able to bring these things together in such a simple way. I have had a learning curve, too, but it’s a good thing that I also love to learn new things!
Tell us about some of the titles you’ve narrated. Do you have a favourite amongst these? I recently narrated a series of four short books for kids, called “Degu Days”, written by Victoria Zigler. They are short but wonderful tales written in the voice of pet degus. They are small South American rodents who are amazing jumpers, and extremely charming little creatures. Victoria Zigler is a talented writer whom I think is well worth reading. Her stories beautifully capture the simple perspective of the young, but there are serious matters she deals with powerfully in the space of a very short story, too. Degus are cute fuzzy little creatures, but a lot of kids learn some of their earliest lessons in caring for a pet from small animals like these, and are even introduced to their first experience of what death is through living with these lovely, innocent animals. A lot of people say that reading stories really helps develop children’s capacity for empathy, and seeing things from another perspective, and Victoria has a nice touch with this stuff. Her books are true literature, aimed at meeting children where they are, and gently, kindly, lovingly helping them to grow and understand.
Do you have a preferred genre? Do you have a genre you do not produce? Why is this? Being able to do lots of different stuff is a big part of what keeps things interesting! I like to do kids stuff, science fiction and fantasy, history, business, self-help, Christianity, medicine and life sciences, earth sciences, criticism, meditation. These are just some examples of things I’ve worked on recently. What’s really important to me is good writing. Good writers are a treasure, and I am excited to be able to help take something great and bring it to a wider audience.
What are you working on at present/Just finished? I’m pretty excited to be putting together a podcast of spooky stories right now, called the bonefire. The first episodes are going to be ready to go in the next few weeks. It’s exciting to have my very own project.
*Tell us about your process for narrating? (Be as elaborate as you like.) First, I’ve got to read and understand. I take notes, use a highlighter, draw little pictures and maps, so that I have a really strong sense of the voices, the arc of the story or the structure of what is being written about, and what the tone of the writing is.
Then it’s time to read and record. I like to read in the later part of the day. For some reason my voice gets more and more limber as the day goes on. I like to be active when I read, and probably look very silly waving my arms around. Taking lots of little breaks is important, too. Focusing and refocusing, so that I’m always fresh. Between what the writer has done and what I can do, there’s a lot of life you can give to a piece of writing. It’s important to pay close attention to that aspect, and give it what it really deserves.
The last step is editing, taking out any mistakes or things that don’t sound right. Then I process the signal. There’s not much processing an audiobook reader has to do compared to what some other kinds of voice artists have to do. This work is technical and procedural, but the truth is that it’s more about finesse than anything. It’s all about trying to get the best sound you can.
What aspects do you find most enjoyable? So many things! I have the attitude of a craftsman. The pursuit of perfection is what really gets me excited more than anything. Making something well is time well-spent, and being engaged with great material inspires me. Being able to read and really explore other people’s ideas and stories is pretty wonderful, too.
Do you consider royalty share when looking for books to narrate? If not why is this?Of course I consider royalty share! Like anybody else, I’ve got to pay my bills and make money. But if a project comes along that I really want to do, and I believe in it, then for me, it’s worth it. I’m doing a job, and work is not all about fun and games. But I’m blessed to be able to do a job that gives me the opportunity to do a wide variety of things that I can get excited about, and to make choices about what kinds of projects I take on.
Do you listen to audiobooks? I started listening to audiobooks at the same time I realized how much is becoming available, how many great books there are being produced in audio format, which was also the same time I decided I wanted to do it myself.
*With many people owning MP3 players do you think this is the future of storytelling? It certainly is an exciting storytelling form today. And I think it will be even more interesting tomorrow. There is a lot of room for growth and development in audiobooks, and we are just starting to scratch the surface now. Human beings will always find new and exciting ways to tell stories. It’s what we do.
Why do you think audio books are becoming so popular? It’s easy to understand why on a practical level people like them so much. We like to have something that engages our minds when our hands are busy. We have the opportunity to learn, to be engaged, and entertained while we are driving, or doing chores, or working, or we want something to keep the kids’ attention. But it’s also great to realize that as this art form emerges, we are hearing better and better storytellers all the time. The audience that writers can reach is a lot bigger, and the narrators who produce these books are honing their craft. It’s an art form that has a lot of room for creative people to really show what they can do, and people love to be engaged by something that fits into their lifestyle.
Can you remember the first audiobook you owned? I sure can! It was The Death and Life of Great American Cities, by Jane Jacobs. I knew my love affair with audio books was going to be a long one, and I thought it was only right to start out with a classic that I had been meaning to read for a long time. I have lived in a number of different cities, and had a lot of things to compare as I listened to Jane Jacobs eye-opening insights into urban planning. Donna Rawlins was such a fantastic narrator for this book. From the beginning, I was listening to it thinking, “I want to do this”, so I listened very carefully to her consistency, her tone, the cleanliness of her enunciation and production. I chose my first audiobook carefully.
Has ACX/Audible fulfilled your expectations? (such as earnings, ease of use, workload etc.?) Well, I’m not making a living from it (yet?) but I have had really nice interactions with everybody I’ve dealt with from authors to the folks at ACX. They have created an effective and well-made interface that puts authors together with narrators. There is a range of quality that is available, but it puts tools in the hands of people, allowing them to create something for their audience. It’s a lot of work to produce an audiobook, but it’s hard to imagine that there’s anything ACX/Audible could do to make it any easier!
Have you ever had a negative experience producing a book? Nope. I’ve found myself overwhelmed, certainly. But so far it’s been all positive.
Please tell us a silly fact about yourself. I have a tuxedo cat named Clarence who workshops my voices with me. Every new voice I try gets run by him first of all. He doesn’t give much feedback, but he’s a great listener.
Where can we learn more about you?
Social Media links:
Coming soon! Homemade, chilling and scary audio stories! Keep your eye on thebonefire.com for the first ones to appear in the near future!
If you are interested in having your project narrated and produced by James Watkins, you can find my profile on acx.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org