Flying High

When I first flew into the United States almost 20 years ago I hadn’t done much commercial flying.  Getting about the UK for me meant long train or car rides – I once flew to Aberdeen, but that was it. So here in the early years I was like a kid whenever I boarded a commercial airliner (in fact, as a kid, I’d long had the fantasy of becoming a pilot) and I was always so excited.   I had to have the window seat, and stayed glued to the view from 36,000 ft.

But over the past 20 years the thrill has worn off and flying has become something of a chore… I’m flying now, as I write this (distance to go 2,652 miles).  I’ve just left Boston Logan Airport to return to San Francisco after spending a week in the brand-spanking new studios of AudioGo(formerly BBC Audiobooks America) and I thought I’d make this whole trip go faster if I tried to polish off an update to my blog here – pictures and everything, starting from scratch.  It helps that I’m flying VirginAmerica and they have wi-fi (for a fee) and power sockets by the seats!

So let me begin by telling you what I’ve been doing here… I mean, there… in Rhode Island where AudioGo are based.  British author Chris Ewan has written four books in a series that goes under the general title The Good Thief’s Guide To… (insert city here).  I was recording the first and fourth in the series which are set in Amsterdam and Venice respectively. I shall be recording the second and third books (set in Paris and Las Vegas) in the not to distant future.  They’re fun books and I’ve enjoyed reading them – brief info here or the actual ‘Good Thief’ site for more details.

If you follow my video blogs you’ll know it’s unusual for me to leave my home studio but Dan at AudioGo asked me very nicely, and the studios were only three weeks old, and I said yes.  Being in a studio with an engineer is a very different experience from working on your own as a narrator.  I’m a bit of a control freak when it comes to recording and I find it hard, at first, to relinquish control.  As a solo narrator you have to have all levels of your mind working at once – part of your consciousness is totally in the story: getting that essence of ‘here and now’ that producer Paul Ruben mentions in his excellent blog.  But you’ve also got to be aware of what’s happening technically – and that covers anything from getting all the words right and keeping the characters consistent to ensuring the levels are fine and your equipment is functioning as well as keeping aware of extraneous noises and so on.  In a studio with an engineer (and especially if you’re lucky enough to have a producer like Paul) you can let a lot of that slide and simply focus on the story – or you could if you weren’t me.

I’m so used to doing those other levels that I just can’t let go, and I stopped myself to redo passages or sequences far more than my engineer did – I’m also very self judgmental… did I say that? Tucker, my engineer at AudioGo, was very tolerant.And he was fast with the ‘punch in’ editing mode, which helps.  I still managed to get at least four hours a day of finished audio – which enabled me to finish a day early and go sight seeing (to Newport, RI – where these two photos were taken).

If anyone doubts that it’s possible to achieve high quality production from a home studio let me just note (and blow my own trumpet) that, this last week, I received a fourth Audie Nomination, this time in the category of ‘Distinguished Achievement in Production’ for Stieg Larsson’s The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest. This goes alongside my nominations for Humor (Paul is Undead), Thriller/Suspense (TGWKT Hornet’s Nest, again) and Multi-Voiced Performance (Great Classic Science Fiction – one of many talented narrators).  I should add a quick shout out to Aaron who received and mastered the files I recorded at home and should definitely share in the production credits (and the Audie glory!) for Hornet’s Nest.

It’s always a thrill to be nominated for an Audie and I look forward to the Awards Ceremony to be held in New York City towards the end of this month (the 24th May, I believe). In fact, with this latest nomination I could be said to be ‘flying high’ in so many different ways (except drug induced…I’m too old for that nonsense 🙂 )

If you’re interested, now that the words are mostly done (I’ll tidy it up before publishing), I’m at 36,138 feet going at 431mph with 2,345 miles to go!  Now to work on the pictures.. and that can take some time.

Well, that didn’t take as long as I expected –  we’ve still got 1,940 miles to go… Maybe I’ll watch a movie, I hear ‘The Town’ with Ben Affleck is quite good.  Then I’ll take a nap.  Of course, I might just sneak a peek out of the window every now and then, and marvel at the miracle of flight.

It’s possible I’ll have this published before I touch down, and if you read it before I’m home (about 10:30 tonight Pacific) then I’ll consider that something of a miracle too…

Take Care


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.

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13 Responses to Flying High

  1. jane September 30, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    I just finished listening to the millennium trilogy by Stieg Larsson( the girl with the dragon tatoo and the other two), I enjoyed every moment of it, and I recommended it to my friends and they all loved the story and all mentioned how they loved the narrator!

    I wonder if you do P.G Wodehouse’s books. I think you are the perfect narrator for his books. I am looking forward to listening to P.G Wodehouse’s ” Carry on,Jeeves” with you as the narrator.

    • Simon September 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

      First book I ever recorded in the US was a PG Wodehouse – one of the Blandings books. Never been asked since, but I think it would be fun. Though there are probably plenty of versions out there so I don’t anticipate being asked any time soon. 🙁
      – S.

  2. Jennifer August 23, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

    My Dark and Stormy Night

    The first inkling that something was amiss was when little seeds of doubt sprouted before my mind’s eye. “But no,” I thought, “just give it a little more time.” And time, I did give, but the problem did not abate.

    Next, the gnashing of my teeth and the clinching of my jaw commenced. Little whispers of unmentionable verbs and nouns began escaping from my somewhat inspissated lips.

    I felt the sudden rush of self abnegation, followed by guilt, and non-stop ennui.

    It was my fault, after all. I could blame no one else. I clicked the button, I bought the book, and I loaded it on my iPod.

    Finally, my ears began to cramp. That was the last straw. No longer wishing to suffer the caliginous confinements of auditory negligence, I knew what I had to do.

    I yanked the headphones off my head with wild abandon and flung them down on my desk. I pulled up my bootstraps, ambled over to my computer, and logged into

    I typed “Simon Vance” in the Search box. Magically, hundreds of books came into view. I quickly selected a few books from the Most Recent recordings.

    As I watched the books download into ITunes, a great sense of relief came over me. “Yes, yes,” I said aloud to myself. “I have learned my lesson. A bad narrator can ruin a good book; a great narrator can make a good book great!”

    Little droplets of joy leaked from my greenish-bluish eyes. “The truth CAN make you free,” I declaimed (to no one in particular).

    I now have my audible books for the week and Simon Vance is the narrator of them all. All is good and right with the world. Peace enveloped me like well-worn stationary. And Lytton Bulwer need no longer worry about any future homage to his literary genius.

    • Simon August 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm #

      Yup. Those caliginous confinements will get you in the end!
      – S.

  3. Tad Davis July 6, 2011 at 10:55 am #

    Just started in on the second Stieg Larsson book. I loved the movies but only started reading the books (as in, listening to your audiobook versions) after seeing all three of them. Your narration is great, as always. Apart from the usual American aversion to subtitles, I can’t imagine why the movies are being remade…. but that’s another subject altogether.

  4. Mark June 27, 2011 at 8:33 am #

    Two general questions. I hope I don’t sound like too much of a newbie. Are all of your books published only on or elsewhere also? I’ve heard of two new readings lately, Trackers and Portrait of a Spy. How long before they are avalable for download, and will that be announced also? Thanks in advance for a reply. mark_

    • Simon June 27, 2011 at 12:13 pm # is obviously the best known of the download sites that cover many publishers’ releases, but there are several others though I can’t remember their names off the top of my head (just shows how much of a lock audible have on consumers’ minds). You could also track down the individual publishers’ websites if you know who the publisher is e.g and so on as they may have direct download links.
      I’m not usually informed directly of the release date of any of my books. With the two you mentioned they are both new books and I believe the audio will be released at the same time as the actual book and a good way to find that out is to check with amazon for the release date.
      – S.

  5. Julie May 25, 2011 at 11:42 am #

    Hi Simon,

    Congratulations on your Audie Award for The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest. Isn’t your trophy shelf getting a bit full?

    Take care,


  6. Jennifer May 24, 2011 at 8:51 pm #

    Simon, congratulations on your 4th Audie Award. All of your fans were hanging on every tweet at #audie2011 and let out a collective Yeah across the land when your name was announced. We are all so proud of you. Much continued success and onward to the next adventure.

  7. Alison April 30, 2011 at 11:21 pm #

    I’m pretty much always astounded when I remember that you (and other narrators I’m assuming) record in your own house.. That’s got to be ten kinds of complicated in ways that you can only hope your listener never even realizes. I for one am impressed, and would be more than a little surprised if you could just toss all that extra basic, routine brain-functioning aside just because somebody else happened to be around for a few days. Keep on doing what you’re doing in the way you do it, because you do it very well!

    Also.. While I’ve got you here.. 😀 I’ve got a question that I’ve been wondering about for a few months now. (Not, you know, constantly, because that would be silly.) Some audiobooks have music in them. Mostly, for adult books that might be signals that the disc is changing, but I know that a lot of young adult and kids’ books use music at the ends of chapters and such. That isn’t something you as the narrator have to worry about, is it? Is that the producer’s job? What does a producer actually do, anyway? (That was more than one question.) I’m thinking specifically of The Graveyard Book, written/narrated by Neil Gaiman. There, I thought the music definitely added to the book and I would even buy the song if I could find it. Other times it seems sort of startling, especially if it’s something obviously synthesized/computery that doesn’t fit the book very well. Anyway.. So, the question is, do you have to bother with music or do they tack that in later?

    Also you should be getting home soon I hope!

    • Simon May 1, 2011 at 9:20 am #

      Music in audiobooks is rarely an issue for the home narrator, or narrators generally. It is totally the choice of the producer or publisher. On only two occasions have I been asked to mix in music – the first was when I did the whole shebang for an abridgment of ‘The Terror’ for Hachette Audio. Not only did I record the book, but I proofed and QC’d (or hired somebody to) and then mixed in music – I was allowed to choose the music from a particular library (governed by cost) and could decide how it was inserted (subtly, I hope). It was a similar situation for Dance to The Music of Time for Audible when they gave me specific music, but the way I mixed it was up to me. I don’t mind doing that, but it’s very time consuming and I’d rather be reading than engineering….

      Regarding ‘The Graveyard Book’ – Neil Gaiman is a superstar, and any project he is involved in will get top notch attention and plenty of man hours spent on it to make sure it sparkles. Most audiobooks probably do not receive that kind of attention to detail. In my opinion the process of choosing and adding music needs to be done very carefully and thoughtfully and so I don’t think it should be included in the vast majority of books where that kind of expense (in time and cost of music rights) cannot be justified.

      Yes, arrived home safely and am so happy to be here.
      – S.

  8. Jen April 30, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

    Don’t quite think I read this before you got home, but it sure is fun that you wrote it in the sky. I’m glad that you had a good experience, even if it’s different from your usual. Thanks for sharing the beautiful pictures. I’ve never been to Rhode Island before.

    • Simon April 30, 2011 at 6:00 pm #

      Not only did you read it before I landed, but I’m posting this reply while there are still 1200 miles to go! The wonders of modern technology!
      – S.

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