In case you didn’t see my ‘Stop Press’, the big news this month is that the unabridged audiobook of The Testament of Mariam has now been released.
I’m so pleased with it, beautifully performed (rather than simply read) by my narrator, Serena Scott Thomas.
As a thank-you to the people who follow this blog and support my books, I am going to give away five – yes FIVE! – copies of the audiobook in a random draw from the names on my blog mailing list. I’ll put all the names in a hat on Friday, 10th October, and then post the winners here. To be sure that you are in the draw, you need to have subscribed to this blog by 9th October.
If you are one of the winners, I will email you with the gift code and instructions on how to use it to get your free copy.
Serena has posted on Facebook another lovely comment about her experience in recording Mariam:
Good morning! Here is a link to a fascinating and very moving audiobook that I have just narrated, The Testament of Mariam by Ann Swinfen. I loved reading this book and it affected me very deeply. To see the life and death of Jesus from his sister Mariam’s pov was not only fascinating but very thought provoking. Ann Swinfen’s writing is deliciously descriptive and utterly intriguing. This is not a religious book, but an inspired work of historical fiction that takes the reader to another world and a different time and yet leaves the reader with the always shocking sense that we haven’t really evolved that much. Topical and yet fictional, its a great read! Enjoy!
It’s been such a joy working with her on this project and I very much hope that we’ll be able to create the audiobook of Flood next, but I must be cautious and make sure that The Testament of Mariam is a success first. Happily, Serena is keen to work with me again, so we’ll keep our fingers crossed.
Making a Podcast
Really, in this twenty-first century with its radically and rapidly changing publishing environment, you never stop learning. It was Serena’s idea that I should make a podcast about the historical background to The Testament of Mariam and about how I came to write it. She was curious about the social and political history of the period, and it’s something quite a few other people have asked me about, so it seemed like a good idea. What didn’t seem such a good idea was making a podcast, starting from a base of total ignorance!
However, I now knew about SoundCloud, and had even managed to upload the sample five minutes of the audiobook here, so that could provide a platform for the recording, if I could actually succeed in making it.
First, I needed equipment, basically a reasonably decent microphone and some computer software to handle the recording. I researched microphones within an affordable price range and found that the Trust Starzz Microphone received very positive reviews and was quite cheap (£8.18). It can be hand-held or rest in its own stand, leaving your hands free to turn over the pages if you are reading text. I found it very easy to use and I think the quality is pretty good.
I was worried about the software, expecting it to be very expensive, but I consulted fellow authors on Facebook who have done podcasts, and with one voice they recommended Audacity, which is FREE! I found that to convert Audacity files to MP3 format, I had to download another piece of software, but that too was free. Audacity seems a remarkable product, offering all sorts of tools and options beyond anything I would need. Above all, it has a really clear and helpful tutorial which leads you by the hand through the various processes.
So far, so good. I decided to make a test recording, reading the first page of Dorothy Dunnett’s The Disorderly Knights, which I happened to have to hand. The result was mixed. My voice was perfectly clear, but there was a persistent hum all the way through. Not so good.
The hum, I decided, was due to the computer’s fan and/or background running noise. Luckily the microphone has a very long wire, so for the next attempt I set myself up on the dining table, with the computer at one end and the microphone at the other, both resting on several layers of newspaper, to avoid any vibration being transmitted through the wood. I’d learned how to cut out wasted space at the beginning and end of a recording, so I could remove the time taken to walk from one end of the table to another (and falling over the dog).
This time – no hum. Progress. However, there was a regular ticking, like the tick of a clock. I thought it must be picking up the clock in the next room, and so shut the door, but that had no effect. I’m not quite sure what inspired me to move the button on the computer which switches off the internet signal, but that worked. Don’t ask me how. Why should it make that regular clicking noise?
Now I had sorted out all the persistent background noise and I had written up what I wanted to say. This time I recorded the whole of it, but managed to stumble a couple of times. One more effort. I should mention that I was doing this down in our house in Herefordshire, so this time I had a series of farm tractors trundling past towing huge trailers full of potatoes, heading for Tyrrells potato crisps (local farm business). Then the dog had a fit of barking, and in trying to cover it up I raised my voice, which started me coughing. Ever the old trooper, I carried on, finished the talk, left a gap, then repeated everything from just before the point when the dog barked.
OK, more skills to be learned. I cut out the empty bits at the beginning and end, then – nervously – I edited out the spoiled bit in the middle, placing the marker (cursor) on the wave pattern, moving along and deleting. It worked! When I played it through, no computer hum, no internet click, no farm traffic, no dog barking, no me coughing. Just a question of saving it, converting it to MP3 format, and uploading it to SoundCloud.
So that was my experience of making a podcast. I’m not sure whether I’ll do another. I’d have liked some music at the beginning and end. Élan Polushko (sound engineer for the audiobook) has offered to help me with that. Like Serena, he’s been terrific.
If you listen to the podcast (and I’d be interested in your feedback) you can find it here, knowing what lies behind the making of it! You can also download it if you like.
Those of you who have been with me for some time will know that I am a squirrel with regard to storing away nature’s autumn bounty. Because it has been such a marvellous summer, this has been coming to fruition – literally – earlier than usual. We arrived in Herefordshire almost too late, but I still managed to freeze around thirty-eight pounds of damsons, in addition to those gone to waste on the ground and several pounds given away. These are all packed into the freezer, so no pictures, I’m afraid.
For the last couple of years the crabapple tree has looked as though it was dying, but in the spring it was covered with blossom. It fulfilled its promise, though a lot of the crop had fallen. To avoid carting boxes of jars around the country, my technique with the crabapples is to prepare, cook and strain them through a jelly bag, then store the liquid in empty plastic milk cartons and freeze it. Since getting back to Scotland, I’ve used it to make what’s called ‘ginger marmalade’, but is really a sort of ginger preserve – crystallised ginger in an apple jelly (no oranges involved).
Back in Scotland we found we were almost too late for the plums, though I’ve managed to bottle some. Really, one needs to be in two places at once.
The cooking apple tree in Herefordshire had a poor yield this year, though the Scottish trees have done better. Tomorrow is chutney-making day. After that, I think it’s only a matter of making stewed apple and freezing it, though the freezers (yes, plural) are already bursting at the seams.
It’s been a good year for fuchsias and hydrangeas too. This is a hydrangea I grew from a cutting.
Enough on the domestic front, I think.
In a day or two I hope to be able to turn my full attention to the fourth book in the Christoval Alvarez series, which has been nudging me through all this Mother Earth activity.
Till next time,