The relationship between a book and a reader/listener is a very intimate one. I feel the greatest challenge to the narrator is to recreate the voice or voices that the author had in his or her head when writing the book. It is a very daunting and precious responsibility. It is also certainly providing me with hours of absorbing and engaged enjoyment and I hope that has been the experience of any of the Calibre subscribers who have listened to the books I have had the privilege of recording.
James Murphy has been a narrator for Calibre for the past five and a half years and is currently half-way through his 38th book. Coming from an education background, he was previously a secondary school English teacher for over thirty years, teaching mainly in London. Aside from his own love of books, he saw for himself the joy and excitement that his students found in reading or being read to. As he describes it, whether they were bright-eyed year 7s or wannabe world-weary sixth formers, the spell was cast over and over again by Roald Dahl or John Keats, Carol Ann Duffy or Maya Angelou.
After he retired from teaching, he learned about Calibre through a friend and agreed to sign up and be a narrator. As a young man, James had always fantasised about working for Radio 4, so he considered recording audiobooks as the perfect combination - allowing him to use his love of books and to retain close contact with the world of literature that he had followed throughout his career, whilst getting a taste of being a broadcaster, a job that he had always wished he had.
James records our audiobooks from his Victorian three-storey terrace in London. He works from his study, a warm comfortable room in the basement facing onto his back garden, cluttered with his personal possessions but with excellent acoustics. Before the pandemic, he would record in the afternoons, but for the last year has done most of his work from 10.30pm until midnight, when it is much quieter and he isn’t disturbed by either his neighbours (who due to Covid are working from home), or the regular visitations of a flock of parakeets who visit his garden from the nearby park.
Before he begins recording, James speed reads the text to get an idea of characters, voice types, accents and anything else that might be useful to know. He has some basic knowledge of languages and is confident in reading a sentence or two in Spanish or French but hit an issue recently whe he was recording Apeirogon by Colum McCann. The book contains Hebrew Script and so James had to call upon a Jewish friend to assist, who taught him how to phonetically read the script so he could get it right.
He had a similar situation when recording a Poetry Anthology, Echoes of Memory, by John O Donoghue, which contains a considerable number of lines in Irish. Despite his Irish surname and ancestry, James doesn’t speak aword of Irish and once again had to call upon a friend to help him perfect the language within the book. This is certainly dedication to the cause!
In his spare time, James enjoys singing. He is currently a Tenor with the BBC Symphony Chorus and an LGBT chamber choir called Diversity. He has also been a member of the London Symphony Chorus and the City of London Choir and has had the privilege of working with some fantastic conductors, including Sir Simon Rattle and Sir Colin Davis. His involvement in these choirs has given him the chance to visit and sing in some amazing locations around the world such as the Sydney Opera House, the Lincoln Centre in New York and the Roman Arena in Verona amongst others. James tells us how singing can really align itself with narrating, as both require you to learn how to use your voice and control your pace and breathing.
As a reader and narrator, James has no preferred genre of book, although he admits that Sci-Fi is not one of his favourites. A couple of the books he was sent to record a few years ago were racy American novels with adult language and content. This was fine, although he was hugely conscious of the fact that whilst reading the dramatic text, his neighbours may have assumed that he and his partner were having some fractious domestic difficulties and wonder even more so why James was having these arguments in an American accent! He made sure to drop into a conversation with them that he was a narrator, although they never mentioned hearing anything untoward. But he counts that as one of the joys of working for Calibre and loves the fact that he never knows what book will arrive next. The books are often ones that he may not otherwise have chosen himself, and it is therefore a delight to discover new interests within their pages.
If you want to listen to the books that James has recorded in our collection, please follow this link.