How I Learn Accents for Audiobook Narration

When I was a kid, my dad and I used to speak to each other in different accents for fun. By the time I was 14, I was pretty capable with a British accent and an Indian one, in addition to the Southern accent I was surrounded with growing up. I’ve dabbled in other accents over time, and now, as an audiobook producer, I’ve found a fun and profitable way to put these oddball skills to use.

The audiobook version of Arrow of the Mist, by Christina Mercer (narrated by ME!!) will be available on Audible.com later this month.

The audiobook version of Arrow of the Mist, by Christina Mercer (narrated by ME!!) is available NOW on Audible.

When I audition for audiobook roles, sometimes the book requires an accent that I’m not yet capable with. For instance, the audiobook I just finished, Arrow of the Mist, contained characters with Celtic accents. And the book I’m about to start has minor characters who speak in Latino and Caribbean accents. So I had to learn to do these accents. (Note that I will not audition for or accept a gig that requires me to narrate the whole book in an accent with which I am not already familiar. If I’m not well practiced yet, I can voice minor characters in that accent, but not major characters, and certainly not the non-character narration. I can sustain the new accent for short stints, but trying to do it through the entire book would be too much, and I would slip in and out of the accent.)

So how do I learn new accents? Well, I am fortunate enough to live in this amazing, technologically advanced world, with this incredible thing called the Internet at my disposal. First thing I’ll do is go to YouTube and search for videos by native speakers of whatever accent I’m trying to learn. If I can’t find enough good material on YouTube, I’ll google movies that feature characters with those specific accents, and I’ll rent them or watch on Netflix.

The Voices, Ryan Reynolds, Irish cat

Ryan Reynolds is great, but the cat is really the star of this film.

For instance, when I was studying up on Irish and Scottish accents for Arrow of the Mist, just by happenstance, I watched a movie with my husband called The Voices. In case you’re wondering, it’s an exceedingly strange horror-comedy about a psycopath killer who has conversations with his cat and dog. The cat tells him to murder people, and the dog tries to discourage him from murdering people. The great part of watching this movie, at the time, was that the cat was voiced in a really excellent Irish accent, which I imitated for this magical character in Arrow:

Arrow of the Mist – Audio Sample (Open in a new tab to avoid leaving this page.)

I find that learning a new accent is much more than memorizing the pronunciation of specific words. In fact, that is not what I do at all. When I watch the YouTube videos or the movies on Netflix, I’m mainly listening for the general lilt and rhythm of the accent. I’ll pause at certain points and repeat exactly what the speaker or actor has said two or three times before proceeding with the rest of the video. I do this even when I’m not researching for particular roles. For instance, when I watch Game of Thrones episodes online, I often find myself rewinding to hear a particular phrase again, so that I can try to reproduce the inflection used.

For practice, I will sometimes use the accent in conversation at home with my family. This always gets lots of giggles out of my daughter. Once, we made a game of it. I created a character named “Tatiana the Great”, a fortune teller with an Eastern European accent and a hot temper. My kid played a succession of different customers with burning questions that needed answering, and I, as Tatiana, peered into my crystal ball and offered dubious but hilarious advice. My husband even joined in as “Jakov”, the kind but bumbling male servant.

Does the accent need to be absolutely perfect? Probably not. Think of AMC’s The Walking Dead. Andrew Lincoln, the actor who plays Rick Grimes, is British, and performs the role with a very good southern accent. BUT, if you’re very familiar with southern accents and you go back and watch all the episodes from Season One, you can see that the accent started out good but definitely flawed.

This is not how a southerner says "Carl".

This is not how a southerner says “Carl”.

The Internet has made fun of Lincoln’s pronunciation of Grimes’ son’s name, Carl. Throughout the first and second seasons, Lincoln would often say “Coral”, in what seemed to be a misguided attempt to imitate the drawled vowels of the southern lilt. But even though the accent was flawed, it was still believable. I am sure that any native Irish person would find the flaws in my imitation of an Irish accent immediately. But for everyone else, they are not likely to be noticeable. And like I said before, it’s all about the lilt and rhythm. If you can capture those and manage to keep your pronunciation right for the most part, you’ll do fine. And of course, the more practice you get, the better you’ll be.

So if you’re thinking of narrating audiobooks, or you have some other strange purpose for learning accents, don’t be too intimidated! The resources are at your disposal, and it’s not as hard as it seems. Have fun with it!

Are you a “natural” at voices and accents? Or have you ever studied an accent to learn how to imitate it? Do you do audiobook narration or another type of voice work? Let me know what you think in the comments section!

Also… I am running an IndieGoGo campaign right now to help me get to Odyssey Writing Workshop! I am super excited about this opportunity, which I believe will help me reach the next level in my science fiction writing. I’d be pleased as pie if you would check out the campaign and, if you like it, contribute, share it with your friends, or interview me on your blog or podcast!

How to Kill a Spider in 14 Steps (If You Must)

Spider with fly

WARNING: THE TITLE OF THIS POST IS ONLY A TEASER. THE ACTUAL INSTRUCTIONS FOR HOW TO KILL A SPIDER APPEAR WAY, WAY DOWN AT THE BOTTOM OF THE POST, AFTER A BUNCH OF REALLY INTERESTING SPIDER COMMENTARY. IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING A SPIDER EMERGENCY, PLEASE SCROLL TO THE END OF THE POST NOW.

Otherwise, read on.

I’ve never really been scared of spiders. This may be due to the fact that the house I was raised in was nestled deep, deep in the middle of the woods, where spiders were such a common sight that to be afraid of them would have meant living in a constant state of fear. In fact, I was far more likely to encounter a spider than another kid. Come to think of it, this may account for a number of my idiosyncrasies. But I digress.

To arm me with the knowledge necessary to protect myself in the fierce wilds of Franklinton, North Carolina, my mom bought me a poster with images of all of the poisonous snakes and spiders that are native to my home state. That poster hung over my bed for years. In the arachnid category, there were only two species: the black widow and the brown recluse. Black widows are pretty easy to spot; they’re black and kind of scary looking, and the female (the only one with a poisonous bite) has distinctive red markings on her undercarriage. The markings are usually shaped like an hourglass; which is meant to remind us that our time is running out. (Just kidding. A black widow bite, while not exactly pleasant, is rarely fatal.)

Whoever designed the Black Widow should receive a promotion. Her sinister appearance serves as an ingenious early warning system to would-be prey.

Whoever designed the Black Widow should receive a promotion. Her sinister appearance serves as an ingenious early warning system to would-be prey.

Brown recluses are a little harder. First of all, they’re kind of, well… reclusive. Even more so than spiders in general, which is saying something. Secondly, they kind of look like your average small, brown, unassuming spider. They are supposed to have a “fiddle shape” on their backs, but it doesn’t look very fiddle-ish to me. More like a nondescript, curvy thing. And many small, brown, unassuming spiders seem to have some sort of nondescript curvy shape on their backs. So even after many years of staring at this photograph of a brown recluse in the morning while I was waking up, I still can’t confidently identify one.

The brown recluse spider is also called the "fiddleback spider", due to what some delusional scientists insist is a distinct violin shape on its dorsal (back) side. Do you see it? No? Me neither. The designer of the brown recluse ought to have his pay docked.

The brown recluse spider is also called the “fiddleback spider”, due to what some delusional scientists insist is a distinct violin shape on its dorsal (back) side. Do you see it? No? Me neither. The designer of the brown recluse ought to have his pay docked.

Anyway, I’ve always just viewed spiders as basically non-threatening entities that kind of hang out on the periphery of everything. Innocent until proven guilty. In the case of an alleged brown recluse, the adjudication entails lots of indecision and referencing of the National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders, which, if the verdict is guilty, nicely doubles as an instrument of execution. Luckily, brown recluses are typically not aggressive and will wait patiently for you to decide, as long as you don’t make any threatening movements, in which case they will scurry under the nearest piece of furniture, never to be seen again.

There is one other type of spider that you need to watch out for in North Carolina, according to the old timers. Not because of a poisonous bite, but because it is reputed to be psychic. I am referring, of course, to the writing spider.

If you see your name woven in this spider's web, don't operate any heavy machinery for at least 48 hours.

If you see your name woven in this spider’s web, don’t operate any heavy machinery for at least 48 hours.

She’s a beauty, isn’t she? Well, traditional wisdom dictates that she’s also a killer. If you see a person’s name written in the writing spider’s web, that person is soon to die. I have met some individuals who claim to have witnessed this phenomenon firsthand. I can’t testify to their level of sanity, though. I don’t personally hold with this theory, but if you’re the superstitious type, you might want to consider legally changing your name to something really long and hard to spell, like “Mahershalalhashbaz”.

It can’t be denied that there are some seriously scary spiders in the world. Spiders that make the three previously mentioned in this post look like fluffy kittens in comparison. For instance, there are those spiders that lay eggs under your skin while you’re sleeping. Ew! You wake up with an itchy bite that gradually turns into a big, purplish boil, and a few weeks later, baby spiders hatch out of it. And then there’s this guy:

image

Two words: Muscle Paralysis. Yep, pretty scary. But even a bite from the dread Brazilian Wandering Spider, the deadliest spider in the world, is rarely fatal, due to the fact that modern medicine has discovered an effective antivenom. Also, the toxin causes long-lasting erection in men, so, take that, Viagra!

Irrational fears in general are not on my to-do list, and it sort of irks me when people have them. But this is especially true of arachnophobia. I mean, come on! Spiders are really pretty awesome. They enjoy lurking in dark, out of the way places. They kill all kinds of insects that can prove to be much more annoying or even dangerous. They are often pretty to look at. And they’re just all-around badasses. They make sticky thread that comes out of their butts and is as strong as alloy steel, yet flexible enough to withstand hurricane force winds. They paralyze their prey before wrapping them up in the arachnid version of duct tape and draining their blood for sustenance. They have eight legs and eight eyes. How awesome is that!? And they are possibly the most accomplished artists of the animal kingdom. Sure, it kind of sucks when you accidentally walk through a spiderweb, but think how the spider must feel!

image

Ok, as promised, I will now offer advice on how to kill a spider.

How To Kill A Spider In 14 Steps (If You Must)

  1. Don’t kill the spider.
  2. Seriously. What did that spider ever do to you?
  3. Still want to kill the spider? Ok. But first, do the rest of the Earth’s inhabitants a favor and determine if it is, in fact, a poisonous specimen. Here’s what you do. Place an overturned cup or jar on top of the spider
  4. Slide a piece of paper under the jar and quickly flip it right side up.
  5. If you have performed steps 1-5 properly, you should now have a spider in a jar.
  6. Now. Get on the internet and try to identify the spider. Go ahead. Google it. We’ll wait.
  7. Is the spider poisonous? No? Refer back to step 1.
  8. Yes? Ok. Now take a moment to think about how unlikely this spider is to hurt you or your loved ones. Seriously unlikely. Let that sink in for a minute.
  9. Isn’t the primary objective to Not Have Poisonous Spiders in the House? You’ve already got the spider trapped in a jar. Why not take it outside in the back yard, or across the street, or on your least favorite person’s porch, or you know, whatever distance is most comfortable for you, and release it?
  10. Step 9 too humane for you? Ok. I suppose you may kill the spider.
  11. Here’s what you do: get a newspaper.
  12. Roll up the newspaper.
  13. Release the spider from the jar.
  14. Smack the spider with the newspaper.

All done! Enjoy your spider-free existence, you murderous fiend! Have fun fending off all those extra house flies.