Over the past few years, Derek Perkins (website and Facebook) has become one of my (fairly small list of) go-to narrators for romance. I frequently bemoan the scarcity of good, male narrators of historical romance –the dearth doesn’t seem quite so great in other sub-genres – so I’m eternally grateful that he’s joined that small, but select club of men who are as happy at Almack’s as they are on the battlefield of some distant planet or among the pages of a weighty biography. When I heard he was to be one of the panellists taking part in Andi Arndt’s Men of Romance Audiobooks discussion at the Virginia Festival of the Book March 25, I leapt at the chance to chat to him about his career, his future projects… and how he came to be involved in the weird and wonderful world that is Romancelandia.
Welcome to AudioGals, Derek.
Thanks Caz. I had the pleasure of meeting Lea Hensley at the Audio Publishers Association conference a few years back and have always appreciated the reviews I’ve received at AudioGals for their thoroughness in reviewing not just the book, but the narrator’s performance.
Now you mention it, I do remember her talking about having met you there, when you were just starting out narrating romance, I think. Since then, you’ve obviously been busy! – you’ve narrated around 250 audiobooks (and may well have done a few more by the time this interview appears!) in various genres – non-fiction, science-fiction, fantasy (to name but a few) as well as romance – which is a pretty impressive number. Tell us a bit about your background and how you got started as an audiobook narrator.
Yes, I’ve narrated over 260 books now – and I’m glad to say, that number keeps going up! I have an unusual background for this work: basically I spent 30 or so years in business development and operations in the private and public sectors in the UK and US before, in 2010, I found my way into the world of audiobooks as a volunteer narrator at the Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, MA, near where I live. I heard about ACX in a video I was watching about voiceover work, found the site, signed up and have not looked back since. I completed my first title for ACX in 2012, began to work with a couple of publishers after that and switched to audiobook narration and voiceover work full-time in 2015.
Do you work from a home studio, or in a more formal set-up? Given you’re a very established narrator, do projects generally find their way to you, or is there an audition process?
Yes, I have a professional-grade home studio. The WhisperRoom booth is my equivalent of Doctor Who’s TARDIS – I go in there and it takes me to the most wonderful worlds far and near! I receive requests from publishers to narrate titles and often am submitted for consideration on titles along with other narrators. Usually, no audition is required; the publisher will submit a sample of work I’ve already done for them, but occasionally I’ll need to do a read from the book itself.
First – kudos for the Doctor Who reference; I’m a big fan ;) But more seriously, how, typically, do you prepare for a narration?
For fiction, by reading the book, noting the overall plot, the period, taking care to understand the characteristics of the characters involved and the general tone of the book. For non-fiction, I concentrate on understanding the point of view of the author and then identifying words (usually place and proper names) that I need to research. My record is a recent book on China that required 803 words to be transliterated! A number of romance books have phrases and sentences in Irish or Scots Gaelic, so I’m developing a useful glossary of those terms, too!
I can see you might need the Gaelic a fair bit – you’ve narrated quite a few books featuring Scottish and/or Irish characters – and, thankfully, get the accents right! (They’re a pet topic of mine, as anyone here will know.)
There’s a proliferation of series books in certain genres – romance, fantasy and sci-fi among them. When you’re narrating books in a series, how easy do you find it to “rediscover” the voices of characters who have appeared previously? Do you go back and listen to previous recordings to keep yourself on track?
I keep track of all the characters in series books by creating brief clips of the voices and putting them into a file that I add to as the series progresses. Romance books tend to have relatively few characters; the most I have ever had to deal with is a fantasy series, which ended up with over 600 characters!
Wow – that’s a LOT! I must say though, that I love the idea of the clips library. It obviously works, as I’ve never noticed any continuity issues when I’ve listened to you. Which brings me to say – at the risk of making you blush – that your name on an audiobook is guaranteed to make me give it at least a second look. I listen to a great deal of historical romance in particular, so I’m wondering how you got into narrating romance audiobooks specifically, and if you find yourself doing anything differently in terms of your preparation for or performance of romance than for other genres?
Can you see a blush via email?! Narrating romance audiobooks was not something, in all honesty, that I consciously set out to do. In the early days, I was happy to try any genre my clients suggested, but obviously my performances of romances have hit a spot, so to speak, and I continue (happily) to be offered these titles on a regular basis. I don’t prepare for romance audiobooks substantially differently, but the performance does take some adjustment because of the dominant role played by women in them. For a male narrator, there is always the challenge of avoiding the traps of cliché portrayals of women, voicing in an unnatural falsetto etc. I also try to bear in mind advice I read a while back about concentrating on reflecting the different cadences and nuances of speech of women characters, rather than worrying over much about making them sound ‘feminine’. As a result, in some cases, I have voiced characters in a fairly low register and it seems to have worked.
That’s so true about the female voices, and it’s something that frequently comes up when all of us Gals are chatting about what we’re listening to. The idea that you’re concentrating more on cadence than pitch makes a lot of sense – there are some female narrators for whom that seems to work in reverse; they don’t try to “butch up” their voices because they can’t, but they do have a way of making the heroes sound suitably masculine without trying to push their voices down into their boots. It’s clearly an approach that works. Other than that, though, is there anything you find particularly challenging about narrating romances?
The only thing I’d add here is that as many romance novels tend to follow a fairly consistent pattern, it means that – often earlier than later – the main plot lines become apparent, so I always try to keep the narration fresh and involved; I try hard not to let the tone and pacing of my recordings develop a sense of inevitability.
What do you like to do when you’re not prepping or working?
Well, as we say in Britain, it’s a bit like a busman’s holiday – I like to read! I don’t read as much for pleasure now as I used to, unfortunately, because there isn’t the time and I find that by the end of the day my brain is too tired to read much. A nice problem to have, though, given what I am doing through the rest of the day! Other than that, I like to keep fit by running, doing weights and in the warmer weather hiking and kayaking. Oh, and traveling – last year was Italy and the UK; this year will be the UK then Japan and on to New Zealand singing in a choir following a rugby tour!
You sing, too? I’m impressed! Can you tell us about what you’ve got coming up in the next few months?
I’ll be working on The Ends of the Earth, another book in the wonderful James Maxted thriller series by Robert Goddard; Berlin at War by Roger Moorhouse, a look at how Berlin suffered during the Second World War; Society of the Sword, a fantasy trilogy; Powers of Darkness, a recently unearthed translation of an Icelandic version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and finally, From the Ruins of Empire by Pankaj Mishra (I had the pleasure of narrating his recent best-selling Age of Anger: A History of the Present). Which is as good an illustration as any as to why I love the work I do so much!
I can certainly see the attraction – no week is ever the same. And yes, from what you said at the outset, I imagine that by the time this interview appears, you’ll be well on the way to hitting 300 available titles!
Derek, it’s been a real pleasure to meet you (virtually, at least) and thank you so much for taking the time out from what is obviously a manically busy schedule to give such interesting, detailed answers to my questions. I hope you have fun at the book festival – and let me know when you’ve narrated your 500th title (which will probably be next year sometime at this rate!) so we can celebrate!
It’s been a pleasure talking with you, Caz. I’m really looking forward to the Men of Romance Audiobooks Narrator Panel event at the Virginia Festival of the Book March 25 – my fellow panellists and I appreciate AudioGals’ support of that!
Below is the list of reviews on AudioGals of Derek Perkins’ narrations. Let us know in the comments if you are attending the event this week!
Audiobooks reviewed here at AudioGals, with Derek Perkins narrating:
December 7, 2017Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: AStory: B-Reviewer: CazPublisher: Tantor Audio
November 20, 2017Narrator: Alex Wyndham, Billie Fulford-Brown, Morag Sims, Gary Furlong, Derek Perkins, Greg Wagland, Antony Ferguson, Jane Copland and Mary Jane WellsNarration: A+Story: B+Reviewer: CazPublisher: Harper Audio
June 12, 2017Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: AStory: CReviewer: CazPublisher: Tantor Audio
April 26, 2017Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: AStory: BReviewer: CazPublisher: Harlequin Audio
April 13, 2017Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: A-Story: C-Reviewer: CazPublisher: Tantor Audio
March 20, 2017Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: AStory: B-Reviewer: CazPublisher: Tantor Audio
March 20, 2017Narrator:Narration:Story:Reviewer:Publisher:
February 14, 2017Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: A-Story: BReviewer: CazPublisher: Harlequin Audio
September 27, 2016Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: AStory: B-Reviewer: CazPublisher: Tantor Audio
March 31, 2016Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: A-Story: BReviewer: CazPublisher: Tantor Audio
October 20, 2015Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: B+Story: B+Reviewer: CazPublisher: Tantor Audio
January 23, 2015Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: B-Story: CReviewer: CazPublisher: Margaret Mallory
October 22, 2014Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: B+Story: A-Reviewer: CazPublisher: Audible Studios
December 13, 2013Narrator: Derek PerkinsNarration: CStory: BReviewer: CazPublisher: Tantor Audio