The NAB Blog

The Audio Publishing Association

By Nicolas Soames

15 July 2007

The Audio Publishing Association, the UK’s trade body, held its annual summer party the other night, in the airy arboretum of HarperCollins in Hammersmith, London. Sony DADC, the CD pressing company sponsored it with some rather fine Wiener Riesling, which was quaffed with such vigour by the actors there that it went dry before the end and we were on the red.

It is one of those very pleasant industry jaunts, where we all get together, friends and rivals to network and be slightly indiscreet – perhaps tell a few porkies or at least exaggerations about sales, successes and failures.

There was Clive Stanhope, combative in his blue striped blazer (befitting a man who has made his label (CSA Word) with such English audio classics as Just William and Martin Jarvis) Nicholas Jones, who has produced most of Orion’s audiobooks and has now started his own attractive studio in the heart of fashionable Clerkenwell in London.

And Alison Muirden who runs Macmillan Audiobooks with particular vigour: she recently experimented with a new form of spoken word player, Wordplay, where you buy a preloaded player, complete with recording and earphones for £24.99. We are all thinking of this – the most successful version in the US to date is Playaway. It has quite a few Naxos AudioBooks titles and I wish it all success – but I only hope it improves its sound quality.

Then there were the more recent players in the field such as Quercus which is doing well with Measuring the World read by none other than Naxos AudioBooks’ David Timson (a sincere form of flattery).

Mingling among the publishers were the actors (many of them!) and the producers. This is prime networking time for them, and the regret for me is seeing so much fine talent and only being able to use just a handful. I saw Lorelei King, one of the premiere American female voices in the UK, and she has only appeared on Naxos AudioBooks once.Don’t know why, really… just one of those things.

How appropriate then to see Lorelei, who has just had very good marks in her Ancient Greek language course, walking away having won a raffle prize – Anton Lesser’s reading of The Odyssey on Naxos.

Talking about raffles reminds me of Nigel Anthony. He who read Durrell’s The Alexandria Quartet for us (one of my all-time faves) is still reading regularly – he has just finished an unabridged Conrad for us (not till next year, so you will have to wait to see which one!) and was Lucky in our Waiting for Godot. That alone says something about his remarkable versatility. He was there with his wife, Kate Binchy, the actress cousin of Maeve Binchy who records all the Binchy novels. Nigel is a jazz drummer in his spare time, and a rather fine though modest one.

Anyway, I saw that he hadn’t bought any raffle tickets and I had five, so I gave him two. He won two prizes and I didn’t win any… but I couldn’t have wished it on a better man. Listen to Justine, the first of the The Alexandria Quartet and you will see why. You will be hooked.

When I am eventually placed by my children in a care home, it is one of the things I will take with me.

Lots of other Naxos AudioBooks voices were there: David Timson, just back from singing ‘I am the very model of a modern Major–General’ in Pirates of Penzance. Not sure how he found the time: he has come back to a stream of work including producing Juliet Stevenson in the third volume of Shakespeare stories for children he has written, taking seminars on the reading of Shakespeare on radio for BBC Radio actors and producers and preparing for a number of readings, abridged and unabridged; and putting the finishing touches to a story. This is a mystery which I can’t reveal yet… but watch this space.

He was talking to tall Stephen Thorne, a fellow member of the Garrick Club, an elegant haven for actors in London which has the finest library on the theatre in the world (probably). David has invited me for a summer lunch on 2 August (ties are de rigeur) with Stephen and Nigel and hopefully veteran producer John Tydeman – and I am assured that their vegetarian selection has been improved from the last time I went when I was offered an omelette. Worth going just for the wine and the unbelievable paintings of actors from Kean to Gielgud.

Rupert Degas, he of Murakami fame, was there, handing over to me the DVD back-up of Dance Dance Dance which he didn’t want to entrust to the post. Now, some actors are quiet and retiring and shy until the spotlight or microphone descends upon them. Into this category fall Nigel Anthony and the great Andrew Sachs, immortalised as Manuel in Fawlty Towers; but not David Timson for whom the world IS a stage; or Rupert Degas. A chat with Rupert becomes a performance (if you are lucky). I never tire of his flashy facility to slip into character… it is so entertaining and alive, and so well done!

And then there was Daniel Philpott who did so much for us in the early years. Glad to see that he is still busy – having just finished a version of Captain Corelli… and Neville Jason (War and Peace and Proust) just off to his medieval house in France where he will spend some delightful hours at the nearby Casals music festival, with his wife Gillian, a busy art dealer.

They were all talking of scripts, characters, jobs (or no jobs as the case may be); while the producers were talking studios, actors, opportunities; and the company label people were talking sales, marketing, returns, formats, downloads and a dozen other commercial realities.

Behind it all was the recent marketing survey which said that audiobooks had been used by 8% of the book-buying public in the last year, and that many people still thought they were for the blind and old people (Grrrr…). Jo Forshaw, chairman of the APA, put an excellent spin on this for The Bookseller and Publishing News, the two bookish trade magazines, saying it showed how much growth potential there was.

It is the milieu which has been my life for the past thirteen years, and living out in Welwyn, a village 25 miles out of London, I don’t see my colleagues as much as I would like. So, this gathering is always a treat.

Nicolas Soames

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