Creativity is like listening for a soft murmur inside of you, finding a way to approach it, draw it out, give it form, communicate it in writing or sound-wise or visually. This soft murmur can be intuitions, memories, dreams, emotions. When writing Mind the Gap, I often closed my eyes, the better to hear – not just the dialogue of characters, but the inner coherence of each character, as if I were assembling a vast jigsaw puzzle of sound because everything needed to fit together.
I like the concept of “hybrid creations” because it means producing a book in three versions – ebook, print and audiobook – and saying that no single version is the sole or even the principal version. The versions all have different textures, they present the characters and story in different ways – although the storyline remains essentially the same. Books sometimes strike me as rigid. I mean since the time of Gutenberg they get printed and they just sit there. The text version of this novel has its own look and feel – it is ink on paper, or interactive pages of coloured fonts on a Kindle screen. I broke up the text versions with page design and italics for effect, occasionally using expressions in languages other than English, and poems and inner monologues – so the book isn’t flat – so the reader can “hear” the text. Of course, the audiobook version is an ongoing series of soundscapes. It is an immersive environment, like swimming in a lake or the ocean.
As an author you need to find words corresponding to situations and character development, but you also need to find pauses, hesitations, uncertainties. Sometimes the most important things characters convey is what they don’t say explicitly – they communicate in a situational way, through their presence – what comes first in a scene, what comes next, what comes last. Each scene moves in its own way. Words have their place, but only insofar as they support this movement of characters. As an author of an audiobook, you need to match scenes with sound effects and music, which also tell the story.
The audio version of the novel has a “narrated” feel to it. There is the main character’s first-person narration, his inner monologue, dreams, etc. But I also performed the forty-five character-voices myself, so I had to build their emotional development through the story, because their voices actually change depending on what’s happening in the story. Uncle Jebediah doesn’t recite love poetry the same way he prays for the sick. Chloé improves her English between the beginning of the story and the end. Richard doesn’t sound “cool” when he’s having a nightmare…. I had to teach myself how to act, since I had never done that before. I had to listen to each recording critically. A novel after all is a happening.
During the long years when I produced and narrated radio documentaries and reports for CBC, Radio-Canada, American Public Radio in the United States or the BBC, I generally relied on an in-house sound engineer. But with Mind the Gap I started from scratch: I had to learn how to record on my own. This meant choosing microphones, placing them, dealing with vibrations and pop filters, troubleshooting, realizing when it’s time to trash a recording and start all over again. Sometimes I had to record a segment of narration again because loons were flying over the lake nearby and filling up the forest with the echoes of their laughter.
In terms of software, I like user-friendly audio-editing programmes such as WavePad and MixPad, but for fine multi-track editing and music recording I love using Cubase 10, a more complex digital audio workstation. With a production like this, you have editorial choices to make. How loud should the music be? Is music in the foreground, the midground or the background? Does the emotional intensity of dialogue necessarily have to be “loud”? During a storm, how do you bring down the sound of howling wind as you come inside and close the door? What if there are cracks in the walls or around the windows? What kind of microphone should a court-appointed receiver at a bankruptcy proceeding use? What if the receiver nervously flicks the microphone on and off, because all the creditors in the audience are furious?
I learned a lot from performing the characters. If I were simply an author, I could jot down in a notebook whatever dialogue I felt like, type it up later, and leave it at that. But performing character voices means bringing the characters alive, looking for and respecting the inner coherence of each personality, the arc of each character’s story, and how these many voices all fit together.