Proust, Joyce and a dead rabbit…

I think I’ve mentioned here, or at least in a video blog from my studio, that from where I sit as I record my books I can see out of the front window to the street.  In our front garden we have a couple of medium size trees and just last week, as I was in the middle of recording ‘Tongues of Serpents’, I became aware of a kerfuffle in the branches of one of those trees.

It turns out there was some kind of hawk, with prey in claw, being harassed by a couple of scrub jays (who must have had a nest, or young, they were protecting).  We have a large open space nearby and I’m fascinated by the amount of ‘natural’ life we get to see.  I paused my recording, grabbed my camera, and crept around the side of the house to witness what was happening.

There was the hawk sitting on a branch with a quite substantial animal gripped beneath its claws – it looked not dissimilar to a small stuffed rabbit that a child might have….  Christopher Robin would have been most upset!

After withstanding the barrage from these scrub jays for several minutes my hawk took off when a couple walking their rather large dogs came a little too close… Scared the dog walkers almost out of their skin as it soared out of the tree and over their heads.


Now, despite being linked in the title of this blog the events describe above have nothing to do with Proust and Joyce (sorry if you were expecting me to reveal some unknown interaction between the two authors – an argument in the woods, perhaps?):

I have just embarked on a recording of ‘Swann’s Way’, the first of the seven volumes that make up Marcel Proust’s mammoth ‘À La Recherche du Temps Perdu’ – which translates directly as ‘In Search of Lost Time’, but for many years has been better (if erroneously) known in English as ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.

Whenever I am asked to pick up and record a ‘classic’ I have to pause and take a breath before accepting the assignment.  The first and most important question I ask myself is: Can I really do it justice…? Has it already been done … and better than I could do it? (Maybe Hollywood should ask itself the same question when thinking about remakes)

Sometime early last year I was asked by a publisher to take on James Joyce’s Ulysses.  I hate to turn down work, especially something that could keep me busy for many, many days (as this would have done).  But I did turn this down for two very good reasons:  It would be an extremely difficult novel too do well (I just wouldn’t have the time to spend preparing every inch of this novel in the way it deserved), and there was already a most amazing version available to the listening public in which great work had been done to produce an authentic ‘Irish’ version (Jim Norton and Marcella Riordan, directed by Roger Marsh).

In being asked to narrate Proust I had a similar sense that I should pause and think hard.  Before accepting the assignment I read parts of the book… and fell in love.   I think this came along at just the right time for me.  I’m at an age now where I find myself in reveries of nostalgia, searching in my memory for those sensations of the long past… the same very small details of childhood that Proust begins his journey with.  I love the way he finds his way around in his memories, there’s no sense of rush, this is not a book in a hurry.  As I write this I have only just recorded about three hours of what may be around 20 (it’s doubtful that any future volumes will be recorded, but you never know) so I don’t know how I’ll feel by the end, but right now I’m relishing it.  I hope that comes out in the final recording.

By the way, this is a photograph of me at three years old – and I remember with fondness that polka-dot bow tie….

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.

Sign up for the Mailing List

Sign up to get the latest posts right into your inbox. Enter your email below and confirm and you'll be set.

14 Responses to Proust, Joyce and a dead rabbit…

  1. Wendy Ledner April 10, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    Dear Simon,
    Having never sent a ‘fan’ letter, I feel quite awkward doing so now.
    But I feel compelled to express how much I appreciate and enjoy your audio books.
    I listen to audio books whilst painting in my studio. And without a doubt, you are the most captivating and engaging narrator I have had the privilage to listen to.
    Thank you.

    • Simon January 9, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

      Hi Wendy, I appreciate and am honored that you felt able to send a ‘fan’ letter to me. I’m only sorry I have been so distracted that it’s taken me so long to acknowledge it! All the best and Thanks! – S.

  2. Robert February 21, 2011 at 1:57 pm #

    Simon –

    I have listened to some of your expessive and sensitive recording of ‘Swann’s Way’ and very much enjoyed it. Are you recording any more Proust?


    • Simon February 21, 2011 at 10:43 pm #

      Hi Robert, Thanks for your positive reaction to my narration of “Swann’s Way”. Currently I am not recording any Proust and I have no idea if Tantor Audio have any plans to commission more of Proust’s work. Sorry I don’t have better news for you.
      All the best

      • cinza April 11, 2017 at 12:38 pm #

        Yes, I am enjoying your Swann’s Way… Your energy keeps me alert.
        Thank you and sorry there is no more Proust

  3. Robin August 12, 2010 at 2:57 pm #

    A similar incident occurred in my backyard last summer when a hawk sat on our fence and tore into its prey and ate it right there – not a pretty sight. So you may be thankful that the jays sent him (her?) packing.

    Proust has always been an author I have shied away from but since I have become an audio reader I am venturing into new realms. Now I look forward to Swanns Way read by you. When will it be available?
    ~ Robin

    • Simon August 12, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

      I’m uncertain when it will be available. I’m recording it for Tantor Audio – so you may find it more useful to check out their website…

  4. Larry DWYER August 12, 2010 at 1:59 pm #


    Are you recording the new translation of Swann’s Way by Lydia Davis?


    • Simon August 12, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

      Unfortunately, no. That would certainly be a treat, but I imagine it would require a rather large rights payment on the part of the publisher. This is the ‘classic’ Moncrieff translation.

  5. Xe Sands August 11, 2010 at 10:23 am #

    The tie simply makes the photo. Truly does.

    I am amused at how my allegiance changed while reading the initial part of your post. At first, all I could see was the limp form of something so delicate and precious…but once the jays were introduced, I felt for the predator, hoping s/he would make off with the hard won sustenance. Hmmm. Thanks for the food for thought. And of course, the part about the narration was lovely.

    But that hawk…will stick with me, that will.

    • Simon August 11, 2010 at 6:39 pm #

      Got to say, I’m not a fan of scrub jays… noisy little blighters. And to see the hawk sitting there on the branch attempting to maintain his calm and dignity while these little blue screechers kept flying around his head, leaves me with nothing but admiration for the hawk… I’m sorry for the rabbit but, hey, we all gotta live!

      • Xe Sands August 15, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

        Most definitely. I only enjoy the jays when they are being quiet.

        The dignity of the predator is striking in this case, as opposed, say, to a hyena.

        Glad you captured this moment and shared it. Hope the hawk enjoyed its supper.

  6. Jason August 10, 2010 at 5:25 pm #


    Thanks for letting us into your thoughts re: Proust. I find it very interesting to hear about how you approach your recordings.

    Just a question for mere curiosity though – are you still fond of bow ties?

    Thanks again!

    • Simon August 10, 2010 at 10:17 pm #

      With a tux… Haven’t worn one otherwise in many years. If I ever do it has to be one I tie myself – I hate those pre-tied ones. I learned how to tie my own when acting in a musical (‘Charlie Girl’) in the UK. Had to sing and tie a bow tie without a mirror. That was fun!

Leave a Reply