The NAB Blog

The NAB Blog

By Nicolas Soames

1 February 2007

Welcome to the latest feature on

The genesis of this is that things happen so fast behind the scenes of Naxos AudioBooks that news becomes old news very quickly. And having been a journalist for thirty years before the emergence of NAB, old news is pulp news.

So, I am going to try and keep this going as a running news story…as things happen.

It is not a state secret that Juliet Stevenson has embarked upon the longest Jane Austen novel of all – unabridged. Days in the sound studio have to fit in with her busy filming schedule – with films often running back to back – so we normally book in the days in advance.

But we were surprised the other morning to receive a phone call from the studio saying that Ms Stevenson had arrived, armed with her Mansfield Park script but with no one from Naxos AudioBooks in sight. She thought this was one of the days.

It was news to us!

Ah, we said. Never mind…can’t waste the opportunity, and within 30 minutes, the No. 2 studio was cleared, the engineer – mysteriously called ‘JD’ – was in place in front of his SADiE recording system, and Juliet was seated in front of the microphone.

I made a dash from our offices in Hertfordshire to North London, parked my car in a supermarket car park (can’t say our lives aren’t glamorous), and hotfooted it into the studio. Actually, Roy McMillan has been producing Mansfield Park but he was engaged elsewhere, so I deputised. I had worked with Juliet on all the abridged versions she recorded for us in the ’90s so I knew how much at home she was with this material.

But I had forgotten the effect of the star quality. No one can read a work like Mansfield Park, or Emma or Persuasion like Juliet. We see more than our fair share of good readers in the Naxos AudioBooks studios, but the pairing of Juliet and Jane Austen is as special as it gets. One of the great thrills is the sheer virtuosity of it – those long, convoluted sentences test the reader in a way that perhaps only Proust can compare.

Here is an example. Try reading this paragraph aloud:

‘Whatever effect Sir Thomas’s little harangue might really produce on Mr. Crawford, it raised some awkward sensations in two of the others, two of his most attentive listeners—Miss Crawford and Fanny. One of whom, having never before understood that Thornton was so soon and so completely to be his home, was pondering with downcast eyes on what it would be ‘not’ to see Edmund every day; and the other, startled from the agreeable fancies she had been previously indulging on the strength of her brother’s description, no longer able, in the picture she had been forming of a future Thornton, to shut out the church, sink the clergyman, and see only the respectable, elegant, modernised, and occasional residence of a man of independent fortune, was considering Sir Thomas, with decided ill-will, as the destroyer of all this, and suffering the more from that involuntary forbearance which his character and manner commanded, and from not daring to relieve herself by a single attempt at throwing ridicule on his cause.’

This is why, Juliet says, she loves reading Jane Austen. It is a white-knuckle ride. During a short tea-break, she said that coping with these sentences is like riding the Grand National, with fence after fence after fence.

So, we had a wonderful day. Being a bit of a lad, the manners of the Jane Austen milieu have only passing attractions to me. But this was a day which I will remember. And I am glad to say that we hope, before too long, to upload a video of Juliet reading to give a glimpse, just a glimpse, of what actually happens on a normal Juliet/Jane Austen day.

Shortly, on the home page you will see the new January–June 2007 Sampler – which you will be able to download and put on your iPod or MP3 player. I must confess to quite a thrill, driving down the road and listening to it.

after the quake is Haruki Murakami’s most popular collection of short stories: poignant, whacky, fun – all the Murakami trademarks. Adam Sims is a fine addition to the Naxos AudioBooks roster of readers as you can hear from Superfrog…

Heathcote WilliamsWhale Nation was one of our first releases and we are reissuing it here, mindful of the continuing interest in whales, their lives and history. He reads it himself – and who else could do it like that. Poet, writer, activist, actor, Heathcote has script-doctored for Al Pacino, starred in Derek Jarman’s The Tempest as Prospero, run a London squatting agency (in the 1960s) – and read Dante for Naxos AudioBooks, as well as many others. When he turned up at the posh hotel to pick up the award for Best Poetry Recording for Whale Nation, looking a bit like a tramp as he normally does, I had to stop the security men from throwing him out!

Richard Bebb, without peer in the reading of Chaucer in Middle English, completed The Pardoner’s Tale, his third recording from The Canterbury Tales, shortly before he went into hospital for his final illness. To tell the truth, he was not well when he went into the studio, but he was so determined to finish these tales that he refused, absolutely refused, to get up from his seat until it was done. And done to his satisfaction. We are all the beneficiaries of his determination.

His mission was to ensure that Middle English lives – but also not to sacrifice the poetry and the actor’s remit to make the words vital at the temple of academia.

He succeeded.

Enjoy tasters of the rest. More stories behind the scenes to come…

Nicolas Soames

See also: listen to the Juliet Stevenson interview (MP3, 3.82 MB).

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