The Willow Wren is based on the true story of a neurodivergent boy growing up in Nazi Germany, surviving bombing, the Hitler Youth, and Russian occupation before escaping to the west.
As the author, what was the most interesting part of having your book turned into an audiobook?
To me, it’s extraordinary how the audiobook brings a completely new perspective to the story. They’re the exact same words as I see printed on the pages, yet somehow, when read aloud they generate different mental images and feelings.
Had you ever listened to an audiobook before this experience? Do you have any favourites?
Yes, I’m a big fan of the format, and often listen on long walks. Recent favourites include The Lord of the Rings, which I’m listening to as I try to virtually walk to Mordor during the pandemic (2899 km, if you’re curious), Eric Larsen’s Thunderstruck (about Marconi, not AC/DC), and Patrick O’Brian’s Master and Commander, which I find curiously soothing.
Where is the perfect place to listen to an audiobook?
For me, it’s long walks, but sometimes on long drives too. We’ve been listening to Stephen Fry’s marvellous narration of the Harry Potter series with the kids while driving back and forth across the Prairies on various trips. The Prairies are very large, and the books are very long, so it’s a perfect match.
What was it like working with the narrator and/or director on this project?
It was a wonderful experience. They were both so easy to work with and had such an excellent understanding of what I was trying to do with the book. I was also impressed how the narrator nailed the pronunciation of the difficult German names and words in the book!
What was it like hearing your book in audiobook form for the first time?
Because this novel is based on my father’s experiences during World War Two, he is the main character, and my grandparents and other relatives are the secondary characters. Consequently, it was surprisingly moving to hear them speak. It’s one thing to read dialogue on the page, but quite another to have it spoken aloud to you.
Who do you think this book will appeal to?
Of course, I hope it will appeal to a broad range of readers, but specifically, I think it will be of interest to history lovers, especially those looking for a unique perspective on World War Two and its immediate aftermath. I also think it will appeal to anyone who likes to be inspired by the triumph of the underdog, in this case an unusual small boy finding his way through a series of cataclysms.
Anything else you want to add about your experience?
I just want to reiterate how delighted I am by how the audiobook brings the story vividly to life. Brian begins to speak, and suddenly you’re there with little Ludwig and his mother, standing amidst the rubble after an air-raid. It really is theatre of the mind.
What is the most challenging part of recording an audiobook? Conversely, what is the most enjoyable part?
The challenging part of recording a book is that it requires stamina, both vocal and physical, as well as strong concentration. This is especially the case when there are complex parts and areas where many characters speak to each other on the same page. The most enjoyable part is getting lost in the world of the story and becoming immersed in it. It is a great joy and privilege to bring the words on the page to life!
How did you prepare to record this audiobook?
I read the book three times and listened to the music of the time period and from the country in which it is set. I also watched documentaries about the Second World War. It helped me understand and connect with young Ludwig through whose eyes the story is told. I drank a lot of hot lemon tea and did my usual vocal exercises before every recording session. I also spent valuable time meeting with the author and the director of the audiobook, discussing the story and the characters and receiving guidance from them.
What was your first audiobook, or the first audiobook you fell in love with?
The first audiobook I listened to was Red Carpets and Other Banana Skins written and narrated by Rupert Everett and my favourite audiobook is The Island Of The Day Before, written by Umberto Eco and narrated by Tim Curry.
What was your favourite part of this book?
I really like the parts where the character Ludwig spends time in the forest and is alone with his thoughts. Another favourite part is after the war when he becomes more confident and his relationship with his mother becomes more dynamic.
What did you learn while reading or recording this book?
From the content of the book I learned about interesting things like mushrooms for instance, and about the extraordinary hardships and complexities of life during and after the war. As an actor, I learned about giving over to the process and relaxing into it. I was reminded that one has to be focused yet patient. I also learned a lot of wonderful new words I was not familiar with.
What advice would you give a new audiobook narrator?
Prepare well, but do not over-prepare. Find aspects of the characters that you personally resonate with and embrace them when you narrate. Get enough sleep.
Tell us a fun fact or anecdote about your experience recording this.
There was a day when, for some unknown reason, I just could not read a certain sentence without stumbling over it again and again, coughing, stuttering, either leaving a word out or adding a word in. I swear I must have read it twenty times before I got it right! Now and then a German or Latin word proved to be a real tongue twister and my fumbling with the pronunciation left myself, the director, and our engineer in stitches.
What made you want to become an actor/voice actor?
It is something I was always drawn to and am good at. It brought me joy and I desired it with all my heart, so I went for it!
Who do you think this audiobook would appeal to?
To most people. Of course definitely to those with a keen interest in history, war, and biographies. But I think the book has such heart and humanity, and deals so beautifully with the human condition, with human fragility and strength, that I think its appeal will be quite broad.