Saturday, 11 June 2011

Tell me a story

In the past fifteen days I’ve read a total of eight novels, two poetry collections and a short story anthology … or rather, I’ve had them read to me. (I realize some people do actually read that fast, but I’m a slow reader; two novels a month is about average for me.) I’d like to tell you that Anton Lesser himself popped round to read me Geraldine McCaughrean’s brilliant Death Defying Pepper Roux, but hearing him read the audio book was almost as good and great deal more portable.

I can still quote large chunks of these stories off by heart
When I first discovered story tapes they came on cassette and vinyl. As a kid, I spent many happy afternoons in my bedroom, constructing Airfix models while listening to James Herriot read from his series of vet books. Looking back, I realize that the glue and paint fumes probably helped provide a slightly psychedelic Alice in Wonderland twist to my experience of Herriot’s Yorkshire, which the subsequent TV series never quite matched.

By the time I returned to audio books years later, I found they were now unabridged and available on CD – a perfect distraction for the kids on long car journeys and wet holidays. (There is an area around the Llyn Peninsula in Wales that I will always associate with Terry Pratchett’s Wee Free Men.)

Story CDs also provided a less daunting introduction to new books for the kids, particularly the boys. Our copy of Alan Bennet reading Wind in the Willows was passed between all three of them and became a regular – and I mean, regular – feature on the car stereo. When it was eventually retired from active duty, the youngest had graduated to Alex Ryder and Artemis Fowl – first on CD, borrowed from the library, and then the books themselves.

Old Skool Rare Paddington Bear vinyl (B4 he went electric)
For me, audio books mean I can read more than I would otherwise have time to. I will also try things I wouldn’t have picked up in printed form, knowing that my bookcase of unread books is already over-flowing. I can listen on my walk to work, at home in the kitchen, in the car. I still read – there’s nothing quite like holding a book in your hand – but I know I’d have missed out on some great stories if I hadn’t been able to borrow them on CD. This is one of the many reasons I’d be very sad to see my local library close, because audio books are expensive, but you can borrow them from the library for free – which still amazes me. Prices are coming down though and increasingly books are available for download from Amazon and specialist sites like Audible.

My debut novel 15 Days without a Head will be published in January. I can’t wait to be able to walk into a book shop and pick a copy of the shelf. But, without wishing to be greedy, I do fantasize that one day somebody might want to make it into an audio book. I know I shouldn’t admit to this, but I’ve already decided who I’d like to read it!


  1. I think the only time I've ever listened to an audio CD was when I was panicking over having not read a book for a Lit class in which there was some assignment or exam. I thought I could study and listen to the book at the same time. But the lull of the story in my ear (and the exhuastion from cramming too much) put me to sleep. But I love the idea of listening to a story while I'm out for a walk or driving. I'd never really thought about it before. I think my boys would absolutely love it as well and could get them interested in stories, great idea and very interesting post!

  2. Thanks, Clover. Hope you and your boys will now go on to discover the joys of the audio book!

  3. We tend to save audio books for long car journeys, but I think there's a definite and specific pleasure to them. I'm in writing mode at the moment and reading very few books - maybe I should consider the audio route to jam a few more words into those odd moments.

  4. I like Clover tend to drift off when listening to stories, but I think we'll take the bubba's CD's on holiday this year, plus we suspect that she gets car sick, so in the years to come, we should definitely not ignore audio books. Thanks for your tips.