The Old Boys On Audio



Well, none of us saw that coming! The makers of ebooks, touted as the biggest thing since actual books, have discovered that they have a finite audience. They’re mostly purchased by readers who buy more than the average number of paper books. I love ebooks, especially if I’m travelling or the book I’m reading is over 400 pages long, but I don’t have the habit of listening to audiobooks or, indeed, podcasts or radio, mainly because I have no commute and don’t do a job which allows me to listen to the human voice while I’m doing it.

Audiobook sales and rentals are up by 20%, while e-book sales are down by 5%. There’s a fairly simple economic reason for this. About half of all regular readers have ever listened to an audiobook and the market isn’t expanding that drastically, but the number of audiobooks each individual listens to is going up, and that’s due to technological advancements. More and more people own smart speakers, along with airpods and other wearables, and of course everyone carries a phone.

The biggest headache for publishers is the fact that audiobooks are labour-intensive and cost a lot more to produce. When I recorded my audiobook of ‘The Book Of Forgotten Authors’ it took me three days in studio, partly because I was out of practice and there were so many tangled nouns and awkward names in the book. I didn’t get to record my own memoir, something that hurts to this day, and I can’t bring myself to listen to an actor pretending to be me on the audio version of ‘Paperboy’.

One of the most successful things about the Bryant & May series has been the audiobooks, which have really taken off. The narrator, Tim Goodman, has brought his own particular grace to the proceedings, and has become identified with the characters on audio. A while back, a company set itself up to stage books like audio plays, casting them and adding FX, but the model proved prohibitively expensive. Lately, one of the most unlikely but potentially perfect bits of casting has been made by the company who has optioned the books to develop as a TV series (I’m not getting excited just yet).

Of course, I hear the old boys in my head as I write them, and I know how much altered intonations can transform a sentence. I once wrote a short story that was narrated by a Very Famous Lady for the BBC, who had a lovely voice but spoke so slowly that half the story had to be cut out.

Ultimately, the books are the same whichever way you choose to consume them – I’m just grateful that in this age when there are so many demands upon your attention you still choose to listen to a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying – well, hopefully not quite nothing (cheers, Macbeth) but something approaching pleasure.

23 comments on “The Old Boys On Audio”

  1. Ben M says:

    I choose to use Audiobooks for the books that I’d probably give up whilst reading or that I want to take a chance on. I certainly would have given up with Catch 22 if I tried to read it. They are useful in the car but once I’ve started to read a series I can’t go and listen to other books in that series, the voices in my head or the way that the characters speak is usually shattered if I hear them on an Audiobook.

  2. Brooke says:

    Our library system provides a free audiobook streaming service– I usually find B&M in this format before hard copy is available in US. Like Ben, I also use the service to test books/authors that I think are chancy. I propose the following rule–authors must sit and listen to a reading of their work before it is let loose in the world. That’ll learn yah!

  3. Peter Tromans says:

    Far from an idiot! I’ve been reading ‘England’s Finest’ over Christmas. What a beautiful work it is. There is one bit that baffles me (and maddens me quite a lot as I like to think that I’m good at visualisation and understanding drawings and images). It’s how drawing a line through a series of numbers creates a crucifix. Any help would be much appreciated. Sorry that I’ve wandered off topic. Maybe I need video as well as audio?

  4. admin says:

    LOL You’re not the first person to ask this. I’ll post the solution soon (as much as it pains me!)

  5. snowy says:

    Antichrist – not an outburst, it’s what the story is called!

    The join-the-dots puzzle does work, but the instructions could be a teeny-weeny bit clearer.

    You have to draw the keypad as described in the text/dialogue, at the first time of asking make two separate strokes A-B & C-D. The second time, when you have completely forgotten what the layout was and have to back-track all the way through the story to try and find it again, but give up because it’s just too much of a faff and why didn’t the author re-describe it in the text so you didn’t have to anyway, you join the dots A-B, B-C, C-D etc.

    Then it works as intended.


  6. snowy says:

    Short story, famous lady, BBC; that will probably be the one in this collection, text versions, the audio is probably still bouncing around somewhere, but might be hard to find, [and possibly harder to play as it was a RealAudio media file].

    [If not it’s still worth reading in its own right.]

  7. Peter Tromans says:

    Apologies to Chris and thanks to Snowy. I’m sorry, I was making it more complicated, trying to make a picture of Christ on a cross rather than a cross pattern on the keypad. It’s a bit of an anorak point, but doesn’t a crucifix include the figure of Christ; without it, it’s a cross?

    As an example of something more complicated, Arthur’s right-angled triangle: 5-2-4-5. Yes, it’s a pattern on the keypad, which I missed. But also 5 – 2 = 3, which then makes the set 3, 4, 5. And 3, 4, 5 are the (smallest integer) lengths of the sides of a right-angled triangle.

    Is my brain somewhere else?

  8. snowy says:

    Peter, you are much too smart for your own good, [as Granny was oft’ wont to say!]

    Without a figure it is just a cross, if the distinction is important/significant in Church terms, that I don’t know, but, it could re-write decades of vampire lore.

    But, *dons cagoule* I think the final puzzle in the story is actually upside-down; or rather it isn’t!

    [I don’t have the text to hand to check.]

  9. Ken Mann says:

    You may wish to know that the French term for the costume occasionally worn by Fantomas and Les Vampires is “en cagoule”. Adds a certain louche drama to fell walking.

  10. Wayne Mook says:

    I guess you could go with cruciform. If you want to stretch it you could say the cross – cruci puts the vampire in a fix. I think we’ve nailed this argument.

    Sorry I’ll get my wooden overcoat.

    I have to admit with the mountain of books I have, I’m tempted to convert to audio books. I know it’s odd for someone who listens to a lot of radio including a Book at Bedtime but it always feels different than getting an actual audio book, like watching a film on TV to digging out the DVD (other media are available) from my to stacks. Mentally it just feels different and it feels like cheating. (I know Christie dictated a lot of her stuff but it makes no difference, reading seems the right way to do, it unless it’s from the radio or a live reading. Even my own thoughts are inconsistent on this)

    If I have a new year’s resolution it’s to do something about the hoard of reading, watching and listening material. Am I really going to read for instance, ‘Curse of the Nibelung’ by Marcel D’Agneau, it’s been sat on a shelf for about 3 decades after I picked it up in a library sale. Saying that I did read a book I’d had since the late 70’s, early 80’s, so I guess I’m my own worst enemy.


  11. Diogenes says:

    Audiobooks opened up a whole new area of reading experience for me. I listen to them in the car. Books that are way too long to read are perfect as I wouldn’t “read” them otherwise. Some of the best books I have read were audiobooks; the four volumes of Caro’s LBJ bio, Infinite Jest (you need to read the footnotes when you get home), Alone in Berlin, Better Angels of our Nature, Foote’s Civil War and for pure listening pleasure de Giovanni’s Ricciardi series.

  12. Jan says:

    I love listening to books in the car. But since I’ve started this maths course now about all I get to listen to as I drive are the times tables being warbled along to with some really terrible kiddies tunes being played in the background. And I still haven’t learned the times tables yet at all. I keep humming all the dreadful singalonga tunes though.

  13. Helen Martin says:

    I’ll make sure my son doesn’t see that about the times table. He had a terrible time with them. I sang them as I walked home, but my mother said we were lazy because they had to learn them up to 15 times while we only did till 12.
    Somehow I still listen to the CBC in the car and haven’t got to read alouds. My father-in-law borrowed them from the library and kept notes on his favourite readers. His sight was failing and listening was easier than reading but I’d like to have been able to introduce him to John and Arthur.

  14. Wayne Mook says:

    Well you’ve sold me, now what to pick, I could be here ’til next year.

    Anyone know a good audio version of War and Peace?


  15. Diogenes says:

    You’ve got two levels of complexity there. One is which translation and then which narrator. Both are mainly personal taste. The best thing is to listen to the five minute sample of each version and choose your favourite.

  16. Ian Luck says:

    Wayne – I don’t listen to many audiobooks, as I’m too invested in reading the papery ones, but a reader I look out for, as he is absolutely superb and convincing, with a wonderfully soothing voice, is Anton Lesser. If you don’t know the name – you’ll certainly know the voice, if you ever listen to Radio 4 for any length of time. If he’s read War And Peace (one of the very few books that made me want to drown things), then you’re on to a winner.

  17. Wayne Mook says:

    Ian I know Anton Lesser, I will try to find a copy by him. And thanks for the advice Diogenes. I’ll try the library first.


  18. Ian Luck says:

    Simon Russell Beale is another superb reader of audio books, too. Couldn’t for the life of me think of his surname the other day.

  19. Henry Fosdike says:

    A bit late to the party on this blog but I discovered your books through Audible. I believe Wild Chamber was a daily deal about a week after I’d just joined and as somebody who likes crime I decided to give it a go. From there I’ve gone back and bought each title. Haven’t listened to them all yet but because Tim’s narration is so familiar it would feel odd to actually read them. I bought The Lonely Hour on Kindle after receiving one for Christmas but will presumably opt to add audio at some point. Tim’s Bryant & May feel like comfy slippers at this point! Just need to pray that he doesn’t retire before you finish writing them!

  20. Helen Martin says:

    Well, there, that’s another problem with audio; the author’s voice becomes partly the recorded voice and a layer between reader and writer. If the voice is unanimously acceptable as the current recorder appears to be all is fine but what if the person retires or dies? And what if the voice choice wasn’t appreciated? Does a whole life’s work become lost because there was a misreading of the public during casting?

  21. Kitty Kilian says:

    I met you via Storytel and I am completely hooked. Tim Goodman is doing the best of jobs. What a joy – clever and witty books made even better by great acting. I read a lot of books, but nowadays I listen to many more than I read – during long walks or while folding the laundry.

    I always wonder. It must be costing the authors – many writers or publishers do not want their books on audioplatforms at all. Or just the one, to get listeners attracted. I can understand that, too.

  22. Mayhawke says:

    I had never listened to an audiobook until four years ago, when I landed my dream job as a bookseller. Initially I just used them to enable me to ‘read’ a couple more books each month, to better do my job.

    I struggled, at first, to take in the substance of what was being said, but then I listened to Wil Wheaton reading Ready Player One, and suddenly understood how an audiobook can be an incredible experience in it’s own right, and alongside the paper version.

    I started to find more and more audiobooks I enjoyed, rather than just utilising them for the content in what was a practical format.

    But the Bryant & May series, and Tim Goodman’s narration were absolute game-changers in my relationship with audiobooks. If I’m honest, I am by now a little in love with Tim for his narration. His ‘Arthur’ has given me a new role-model objective for my own pensioner-hood. Without that vocalisation I wonder if I would have found Arthur more frustrating and less sympathetic. Obviously I can now never know the answer to that, but I’m convinced it would have made a difference.

    Tim G’s exquisite, and exceptional characterisation of the cast; the voices, the delivery; the blithe ease with which he switches roles and delivers the text: all these combine, for me, to deliver something that I have trouble remembering is a reading not a production, and which give a life to the text that I’ve not found outside of radio plays.

    After listening to Full Dark House, I was so immediately enamoured of the stories and TG’s performance that it became the first series I ever bought completely on audiobook. I have also, subsequently bought them in hard copy, but when I read them that way I always hear Tim’s voice in my head anyway, and I now can’t imagine how I might have heard them if I taken to the hard copy first.

  23. Helen Martin says:

    Would you hear Tim’s voice if you read the hard copy first? Maybe try that on the next one. It’s an interesting aspect of the persistence of voice.

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