About Simon

Simon is an actor who found his way into audiobook narrating as a side-gig and seems to have made a success of it. With some training as an actor as a child (just a couple of hours a week, but it stuck) and 15 years working inside the BBC (ending up as one of the presenters/newsreaders on BBC Radio 4 in London) he found the ideal combination for an audiobook narrator. Found his way to California two decades ago and never left.
Author Archive | Simon

The Last Queen by Steve Robinson

The_Last_QueenA centuries-old royal conspiracy. The ultimate heir hunt… It should have been a quiet weekend in London – a long overdue visit with the only true friend American genealogist Jefferson Tayte ever had. Now his friend lies bleeding in his arms and Tayte must follow his research to understand why, making him the target of a ruthless, politically motivated killer. Working with historian Professor Jean Summer and New Scotland Yard on what becomes a matter of British national security, Tayte soon finds himself in a race to solve a three-hundred-year-old genealogical puzzle. It takes them all on a deadly, high stakes chase across London as Tayte tries to connect the pieces and work out the motive behind a series of killings that spans twenty years. In what is Tayte’s most personal assignment to date, The Last Queen of England combines historic fact with fiction, challenging British history as we understand it. It uncovers a conspiracy that if proved could ultimately threaten an institution that has lasted more than a thousand years: the British monarchy.

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To The Grave by Steve Robinson

To_The_GraveInspired by the author’s own family history… To the Grave follows American genealogist, Jefferson Tayte, as he uncovers the disturbing consequences of a seemingly innocuous act in 1944 that was intended to keep a family together, but which ultimately tore it apart. His research exposes hidden pasts and the desperate measures some people will take to keep a secret. Sitting in a hotel room at gunpoint, facing an impossible decision, Tayte is forced to wonder how his latest assignment had come to this. Five days earlier, after a child’s suitcase arrives unexpectedly at his client’s home in Washington DC, Tayte embarks upon a journey that takes him back to England as he tries to unravel the story of Mena Lasseter – a girl whose life has become a family mystery. Hoping to reunite his client with the birth mother she never knew she had, having no idea that she’d been adopted, Tayte’s research draws him back to wartime Leicestershire and the arrival of the US 82nd Airborne, which irrevocably changes the course of Mena’s life. But as Tayte tries to find out what became of her and why she was separated from her suitcase all those years ago, he soon finds that he is not the only one looking for her. Someone else is determined to get to Mena first and it quickly becomes apparent that their motive is a secret worth killing for.

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In The Blood by Steve Robinson

In_The_BloodFamily history was never supposed to be like this…

When American genealogist, Jefferson Tayte, accepted his latest assignment, he had no idea it might kill him. But while murder was never part of the curriculum, he is kidding himself if he thinks he can walk away from this one.

Driven by the all-consuming irony of being a genealogist who doesn’t know who his own parents are, Tayte soon finds that the assignment shares a stark similarity to his own struggle. Someone has gone to great lengths to erase an entire family bloodline from recorded history and he’s not going home until he’s found out why. After all, if he’s not good enough to find this family, how can he ever expect to be good enough to someday find his own?

Set in Cornwall, England, past and present, Tayte’s research centres around the tragic life of a young Cornish girl, a writing box, and the discovery of a dark family secret that he believes will lead him to the family he is looking for. Trouble is, someone else is looking for the same answers and they will stop at nothing to find them.

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The Damnation Game by Clive Barker

The_Damnation_GameThere are things worse than death. There are games so seductively evil, so wondrously vile, no gambler can resist. Amid the shadow-scarred rubble of World War II, Joseph Whitehead dared to challenge the dark champion of life’s ultimate game. Now a millionaire, locked in a terror-shrouded fortress of his own design, Joseph Whitehead has hell to pay. And no soul is safe from this ravaging fear, the resurrected fury, the unspeakable desire of…

“I have seen the future of the horror genre, and his name is Clive Barker,” Stephen King has written. Fortunately, this first novel (Barker has published short story collections) more than bears the weight of King’s praise. Barker is a better writer than King, and his characters are just as interesting. Set in modern Britain, the story thrusts a flawed “innocent”parolee Marty Straussinto an epic conflict between wealthy Joseph Whitehead and Mamoulian the Cardplayer, a centuries-old creature with whom Whitehead had struck a bargain to obtain his wealth and power. Whitehead reneges, and the resulting struggle is played out primarily on his fortress-like estate. Barker’s excellent writing makes the graphic, grotesque imagery endemic to current horror fiction very effective. Highly recommended anywhere horror fiction is popular.

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A Burnable Book by Bruce Holsinger

A_Burnable_BookIn Chaucer’s London, betrayal, murder, royal intrigue, mystery, and dangerous politics swirl around the existence of a prophetic book that foretells the deaths of England’s kings. Bruce Holsinger’s A Burnable Book is an irresistible historical thriller reminiscent of the classics An Instance of the Fingerpost, The Name of the Rose, and The Crimson Petal and the White.

London, 1385. Surrounded by ruthless courtiers–including his powerful uncle,  John of Gaunt, and Gaunt’s artful mistress, Katherine Swynford–England’s  young, still untested king, Richard II, is in mortal peril, and the danger is only beginning. Songs are heard across London–catchy verses said to originate from an ancient book that prophesies the end of England’s kings–and among the book’s predictions is Richard’s assassination. Only a few powerful men know that the cryptic lines derive from a “burnable book,” a seditious work that threatens the stability of the realm. To find the manuscript, wily bureaucrat Geoffrey Chaucer turns to fellow poet John Gower, a professional trader in information with connections high and low. Gower discovers that the book and incriminating evidence about its author have fallen  into the unwitting hands of innocents, who will be drawn into a labyrinthine conspiracy that reaches from the king’s court to London’s slums and stews–and potentially implicates his own son. As the intrigue deepens, it becomes clear that Gower, a man with secrets of his own, may be the last hope to save a king from a terrible fate.
Medieval scholar Bruce Holsinger draws on his vast knowledge of the period to add colorful, authentic detail–on everything from poetry and bookbinding to court intrigues and brothels–to this highly entertaining and brilliantly constructed epic literary mystery that brings medieval England gloriously to life.

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I do… No, really, I DO!

I wrote the blog below two days ago, spurred on by the thought that a misunderstanding in an interview still readily available online might adversely affect potential clients’ views with respect to my professionalism as a narrator…. I leave the blog itself untouched – but I should say that when I reached out to the editor of AudioFile magazine she responded immediately, and within hours the offending sentences had been removed… As I say below, AudioFile Magazine is a wonderful magazine for fans of audiobooks and I cannot speak too highly of the devotion the editor and the staff have towards the audiobook industry and it’s supporters. Go take out a subscription… now!

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Some years ago, on my elevation to AudioFile magazine’s list of ‘Golden Voices’, I agreed to be interviewed for a profile accompanying this announcement in the magazine. When the article was published I was surprised to find myself reported as having said I rarely pre-read a book before beginning my narration… Oh my!

Here’s the quote:
Vance says that he does not pre-read the books he narrates. “It’s so time consuming. Argh, now it’ll sound as if I’m lazy!…

Yes, it does… and what upset me at the time I saw the article was that it wasn’t true! [as I state above the article has now been amended]  There must have been some misunderstanding in the conversation by phone I had with the journalist. I did, and still do, pre-read the books I am about to narrate… even though it IS time consuming. It’s part of the job (there are a few exceptions, and I’ll outline those below).

On several occasions in the past couple of years there have been online discussions about whether or not to pre-read and I’ve always come down on the side of doing the work.

At the time this was published I had a chance to talk to the editor of the magazine, a good friend of mine. But she wasn’t really open to correcting this misunderstanding and given that it was in just one month’s issue it would soon be in the past. Well, I thought, maybe people will forget about it  – I remembered the advice I’d been given as a radio presenter: If you make a mistake don’t make a big thing of apologizing as it just draws attention to it, let it go and people will forget.

Unfortunately this article is still very much present on the website today… and it has come back to bite me.

Recently I was asked to provide a demo recording for an author to help him decide whether or not I’d be a suitable narrator for his books.  It happened this writer was easily accessible online (his amazon.com page invited contact) and after submitting my demo via the publisher I emailed him to say I found his books very interesting and hoped my demo had been acceptable, was there any further information I could supply that might help him decide whether I’d be a good choice (because, ego aside, sometimes I may not be).  He kindly responded saying that I was certainly in the running but he’d researched me online and noted that I didn’t pre-read my books… this naturally concerned him as his books had many characters, and he felt pre-reading was a must.

I have emailed back correcting this misapprehension.

But this left me wondering how many other books I might have been sidelined for over the past few years because of this apparent ‘lazy’ streak.  As I look at this article today, several years on, I recognize that if I were a writer or a publisher considering whether a particular book would be in safe hands with Simon Vance – I’d have some serious concerns.

So let me state my position on the subject of pre-reading:

It is essential to pre-read any book that one is going to narrate – especially if it is fiction and more so if it is a mystery… There is no way I could narrate a book of this type without pre-reading and discovering who the characters are, who the good/bad guys are, how the story develops, whether someone is pretending to be someone else, if the guy on page 10 is the same guy who turns up on page 110 with a different name… and so on.  There are so many traps for the narrator to fall into if he doesn’t pre-read that he’d be an idiot not to – and I feel as though anyone reading that article would be right to think that I am an idiot…

There’s no way I could have had the success with books like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, Dracula, Dune and so many more if I had tried to sight read them.

The fact is I AM a good sight reader – I was a BBC radio newsreader for many years so I had to be.  What that allows me to do in terms of whether or not to pre-read is most apparent when it comes to nonfiction, a very different quantity.  What I have said in the past is that I often do not fully pre-read nonfiction because, say it’s a history of World War II, I know who the good guys are and who the bad guys are and how the book is going to end… it’s rather glib and is not as cut and dried as that, but you get the idea (there are pronunciations and so on to check, but the direction of the story… not so much).

What is more interesting if you read the full article in AudioFile (an excellent magazine, by the way, if you are a fan of audiobooks) is that it reports me as saying by contrast that I absolutely HAD to pre-read Dickens… [again, the article no longer says this, since it has been amended] Now maybe this is where the confusion lay because I know I didn’t say that. What I did say (or tried to convey) was that I generally DIDN’T have to pre-read the classics, like Dickens, because I was so familiar with the stories from my childhood or watching them on BBC TV classic serials. In fact, I often resorted to Cliff Notes just to keep me abreast of where I was in the story as I began each day’s recording.

So there you have it… I hope I’ve corrected the record – in fact I think I’ll make another attempt to have a small correction inserted in the article because I do recognize that with the continuing online availability of this profile via search engines it can be damaging.  I’ll let you know what happens. [ :) see above!]

In the meantime – if there’s anything in this blog that still makes me look like an idiot… it’s probably a mistake, which I shall correct in a future column.

Take care
– Simon

 

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The Devil’s Breath (A Dr. Thomas Silkstone Mystery) by Tessa Harris

The_Devil's_BreathA man staggers out of his cottage into the streets of Oxfordshire, shattering an otherwise peaceful evening with the terrible sight of his body shaking and heaving, eyes wild with horror. Many of the villagers believe the Devil himself has entered Joseph Makepeace, the latest victim of a “great fog” that darkens the skies over England like a Biblical plague. When Joseph’s son and daughter are found murdered – heads bashed in by a shovel – the town’s worst suspicions are confirmed: Evil is abroad, and needs to be banished. A brilliant man of science, Dr. Thomas Silkstone is not one to heed superstition. But when he arrives at the estate of the lovely widow Lady Lydia Farrell, he finds that it’s not just her grain and livestock at risk. A shroud of mystery surrounds Lydia’s lost child, who may still be alive in a workhouse. A natural disaster fills the skies with smoke and ash, clogging the lungs of all who breathe it in. And the grisly details of a father’s crime compels Dr. Silkstone to look for answers beyond his medical books – between the Devil and the deep blue sea…

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The Emperor’s Blades by Brian Staveley

The Emperor's BladesThe emperor of Annur is dead, slain by enemies unknown. His daughter and two sons, scattered across the world, do what they must to stay alive and unmask the assassins. But each of them also has a life path on which their father set them, their destinies entangled with both ancient enemies and inscrutable gods.

Kaden, the heir to the Unhewn Throne, has spent eight years sequestered in a remote mountain monastery, learning the enigmatic discipline of monks devoted to the Blank God. Their rituals hold the key to an ancient power he must master before it’s too late.

An ocean away, Valyn endures the brutal training of the Kettral, elite soldiers who fly into battle on gigantic black hawks. But before he can set out to save Kaden, Valyn must survive one final horrific test.

At the heart of the empire, Minister Adare, elevated to her station by one of the emperor’s final acts, is determined to prove herself to her people. But Adare also believes she knows who murdered her father, and she will stop at nothing – and risk everything – to see that justice is meted out.

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“A vivid and visceral universe…. Real, solid, and compelling.”
—Christie Golden, New York Times bestselling author of Arthas: Rise of the Lich King
“An exciting first salvo involving Machiavellian politics…an intriguing world of magic, and three protagonists whose personal journeys will keep the reader impatiently waiting for the next book!”
—Richard A. Knaak, New York Times bestselling author of The Legend of Huma

“Come for the intrigue, assassination, death priests, black-ops bird riders, and giant poisonous hive-lizards. Stay for Staveley’s characters, his language, and his way-cool fantasy Zen.”
—Max Gladstone, author of Three Parts Dead

“Takes a story of family, loss, conspiracy and revenge and gives it new legs. It’s epic fantasy with a sharp, jagged edge to it, a modern sensibility, prose as tight as the leather wrapped around a sword’s hilt, and characters that you can relate to and give a damn about. I look forward to the next installment of Staveley’s chronicle.”
—R. S. Belcher, author of The Six-Gun Tarot

“Staveley brings together a richly imagined world and vibrant characters, and serves them up with monks and monsters, tension and treachery—an exhilarating adventure.”
—Elspeth Cooper, author of Songs of the Earth

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The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

harwood_cover.inddIn this tantalizing tale of Victorian ghost stories and family secrets, timid, solitary librarian Gerard Freeman lives for just two things: his elusive pen pal Alice and a story he found hidden in his mother’s drawer years ago. Written by his great-grandmother Viola, it hints at his mother’s role in a sinister crime. As he discovers more of Viola’s chilling tales, he realizes that they might hold the key to finding Alice and unveiling his family’s mystery-or will they bring him the untimely death they seem to foretell?

Harwood’s astonishing, assured debut shows us just how dangerous family skeletons-and stories-can be.

From Publishers Weekly

Sly nods to spooky literary spinsters—Henry James’s Miss Jessel and Dickens’s Miss Havisham—set the tone for this confident debut, a gothic suspense novel with a metatextual spin. Gerard Freeman grows up on the windswept southern coast of Australia in the late 20th century with a controlling mother strangely silent about the details of her childhood in England. His only solace is steadfast English pen friend, Alice, to whom he confides everything. What was Gerard’s mother, Phyllis, hoping to escape when she left England? The protagonist slowly pieces together his mother’s past with the aid of short stories written by his great-grandmother, Viola. These cunning tales, filled with supernatural occurrences and séances, are seamlessly embedded in the main narrative, offering Gerard—and readers—enticing clues into his troubled family’s history. After Phyllis’s death, her newly liberated son travels to England, hoping to learn more and to pursue elusive Alice. As he searches through the country house his mother inhabited long ago, Gerard finds past and present fusing in horrifying fashion. In the hands of a lesser novelist, sustaining several plot lines might have been difficult. But the novel links textual investigation and sublimated passion, building to a satisfying, unexpected ending.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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Winter Warrior by James Wilde

Winter Warrior1067. The battle of Hastings has been lost and the iron fist of William the Conqueror has begun to squeeze the life out of England, but there is one who still stands against foreign invasion – Hereward, the winter warrior.

Following the devastating destruction of the Battle of Hastings, William the Bastard and his men have descended on England. Villages are torched; men, women and children are put to the sword as the Norman king attempts to impose his cruel will upon this unruly nation. But there is one who stands in the way of the invader’s savagery. He is called Hereward. He is a warrior and master tactician and as adept at battle as the imposter who sits upon the throne. And he is England’s last hope.

In a Fenlands fortress of water and wild wood, Hereward’s resistance is simmering. His army of outcasts grows by the day—a devil’s army that emerges out of the mists and the night, leaving death in its wake. But William is not easily cowed. Under the command of his ruthless deputy, Ivo Taillebois—the man they call ‘the Butcher’—the Norman forces will do whatever it takes to crush the rebels, even if it means razing England to the ground. Here then is the tale of the bloodiest rebellion England has ever known—the beginning of an epic struggle that will change England forever.

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