You may be tired of hearing it, but I’ll say it again. Chris Barnes is my favourite audiobook narrator. Period. Why? He immediately draws the listener into any story he reads and brings new life to each character with his Scottish brogue, no matter how that character is written. He does spot on British and American accents, and if you’ve never treated yourself to one of his audiobooks, you’re really missing out.
With a number of titles under his belt including Kit Power’s GodBomb!, Graeme Reynolds’ High Moor trilogy, William Meikle’s The Exiled, and Matt Shaw’s Sick B*stards, Barnes has quickly made a name for himself in the horror audiobook industry.
I wanted to take the opportunity to interview Chris to find out more about him, the process he uses to create his audiobooks, and to give his fans, and those new to his work, a chance to get to know him better.
Enjoy, and when you’re finished reading, head over to Audible to pick up one of his titles. (And don’t forget to leave a review!)
An Interview With Chris Barnes - The Voice of Horror
Hi, Chris! Thanks for being here today. Why don’t you take a moment to introduce yourself.
I was born in 1518 in the village of Glenfinnan on the shores of Loch Shiel. And I am immortal.
No, not really. I was born and raised in South Ayrshire, Scotland (Not too far from where William Meikle is from). We moved around a bit as a kid, with a couple of years spent in Cork in Ireland before finally settling in Alloa near Stirling.
I’m an audiobook narrator, who specialises in horror. I have completed 24 horror books to date with another 16 on the way during next year so far.
How long have you been narrating? How did you get started in the business?
My first book, The Cold Beneath by Tonia Brown was released in August 2012, so I’ve been narrating for just over 3 years. I had been producing audiobooks for around a year before that though. Like most people, I fell into narrating completely by accident. As a kid growing up I had always done school plays, musicals and the like and was always given the narrator parts to do. I’ve been listening to audiobooks for more than thirty years, and was always fascinated by the process, so when I came across Brokensea.com and their fantastic catalogue of free audiodrama’s I was hooked, and eventually in 2009, I auditioned for my first role. I got the part, I recorded my lines on a really, REALLY crappy mic and sent them back. Did another audition, got another role, and so on and so on.
As time went on, I upgraded my mic, spread my wings a little and started to work with other Audio Drama producers, and moved into post production work. At some point in 2011, Paul Mannering (Author of Tankbread) who is one of the Brokensea exec team gave me an opportunity to post produce some audiobooks for a small press. I had fun doing those and really enjoyed the process, I was making audiobooks, something the 5 year old me would be gleefully jumping up and down at.
In June 2012, we took a family holiday to Tiree, an island off the west coast, where it was either “Blawin’ a hoolie”, chucking it down with rain or a combination of both, which gave me a chance to catch up on my TBR pile. The first book I read was The Cold Beneath, a steampunk tale with zombies. It pulled me in from the first page and I knew, I KNEW I had to turn this into an audiobook, with me as a narrator. I had to wait until we got home to do anything with this idea. It was a long 5 or 6 days.
I got home, recorded the first chapter and messaged the author via Facebook with a link to the file. The rest is history.
What do you love most about recording books?
For me, it’s all about taking words on a page and bringing them alive. I am at my happiest when I’m in the booth with a book on screen finding ways to get my inner Igor to pull the switch and give life to the monster the author has stitched together. I also love the technical side of the job, the editing and mastering have a therapeutic quality to them as it’s a task that’s repetitive in nature, but performing will always be my first love.
It’s obvious that horror is your preferred genre. Why did you choose horror? Have you recorded anything in other genres?
Horror chose me. I guess people think I have a talent for it or I wouldn’t still be doing them. I love horror as a genre, there are so many veins and arteries for the blood to flow from it’s black, beautiful heart. From paranormal to post-apocalyptic and extreme horror and beyond, everyone secretly loves being scared. It also serves as a reminder to me that no matter how bad things get, it’s never horror story bad!
I’ve dabbled in Young Adult, Kids books and even romance (under a Psuedonym, and no, I’m not telling) but horror is my main genre and I don’t imagine that ever changing.
How do you choose the next book to record? Do authors approach you or is there an audition process you have to go through?
It’s very rare these days that I have to seek work out, most of my books have happened through word of mouth, rather than through auditioning, which is a bit mind-blowing and humbling at the same time. Being approached by an author to see if I would be able to record their work? How freaking cool is that? Of course, not every approach sees a book recorded at the end of it. Occasionally, the timelines don’t converge, or I won’t feel a book is a fit for me, or the author does, or any number of other reasons. It’s just the nature of the business.
After taking on a new book, what is your process for creating an audiobook? Do you read the books first? Make notes?
My initial prep is that I will read the book through, this will kick off the ‘movie in my head’ and I’ll get an idea of how the book is paced, how I think the characters will sound, any “gotcha’s” like a character who appears in Chapter one, is present all the way through, and then is discovered in the epilogue to speak with a heavy Ghanian accent. I will then start recording. Narrators will always supply the 1st Fifteen minutes of a book before carrying on to record the rest, it gives the author or publisher an idea of what to expect and iron out any creases before we proceed.
I’ll then record the book a chapter at a time, often in 3hr chunks until it’s finished, then edit, do any corrections and then master the final files.
Many authors have a ritual they stick to when writing. Is there a ritual you adhere to when recording?
I need to have the routine, it helps me find my centre. People often ask me this and my answer is always the same. “To perform the book, you have to become the book”, my routine helps me to do that and find the mythical ‘flow’
I turn on the light, and turn up my heater (it is Scotland and the mic needs to get to temperature). I make a cup of tea with honey and lemon and gargle as my computer starts up. I then open the book up and spend ten minutes reading aloud with no recording running to get me into the rhythm of the piece.
Once the booth is toasty, I’ll turn the heater off and begin.
What book has been your favourite so far and why?
This is like asking me to have a favourite child! I think, in terms of what book has done the most for me, I would have to sayHigh Moor by Graeme Reynolds. That book taught me so much about myself and about the narrator I want to be. I recorded that book three times before I was truly happy with it and the third time really was the charm.
Working with authors like Matt Shaw, you’ve undoubtedly read some pretty disturbing stuff. Does it get to you? How to you avoid therapy after bringing these extreme characters to life?
To be honest, yes it does, whenever I finish a book that has extreme scenes I often go into a bit of a slump for a few days for my soul to recover. It’s that whole ‘becoming the book’ thing. It forces me feel what the characters feel, both the good and the bad and it can be quite draining. When I get to the point where I can’t take it anymore I have my boys and wife to hug, that tends to make it better.
What is the most frustrating part of your job?
Sometimes, there is a word or phrase, or sentence that try as you might you just cannot say. You stumble, you tie your tongue in a knot, sacrifice a virgin under a full moon and still the words won’t come in the right order, or in the right voice. THAT my friends is frustration. When it happens, I’ll go away and make another cup of tea, every cloud eh?
Is there one particular book or character that was exceptionally challenging for you as a narrator?
I really struggled, initially at least, with Sick Bastards because of the content. I’m a gentle soul, really, and Matt’s take on what might happen during an apocalypse situation is chilling. It’s not even about the depravity and cannibalism, it’s actually a social commentary in disguise and could happen in reality, THAT’s true horror!
If you could choose your “dream book” to narrate, what would it be?
I’d love to do a Roald Dahl book. I reckon I could really bring out the darker side of his work. Everybody reads Charlie and the Chocolate Factory like it’s a fun tale when in reality it’s as dark as kids’ books get. I mean, a kid getting sucked up a pipe into a fudge room after nearly drowning? A boy getting sent to a taffy puller after being miniaturised That’s really quite grim.
What do you like to do when you’re not in the studio?
When I’m not at the day job, or working on a project, I love watching classic horror movies and shows. I love Hammer, Amicus, Universal the whole shebang. I listen to my wife read to our youngest every night and go to bed listening to other people’s audiobooks. A simple life, really.
What is one thing your fans may not know about you?
Recording High Moor 3 nearly killed me. No, really it did!
I was working in the booth, which is both airtight and soundproofed, paused the recording and tried to leave…….the handle to the booth came away in my hand, the metal sheared away. I don’t have my phone in there because of interference. I have about 3hrs of air in there before things need to be opened up for a bit to breathe. It took me 2.5hrs to get the door open. At one point, I started laughing maniacally because of how ironic it would be for a narrator to die inside their own airtight tomb. The relief when I finally managed to open the door without damaging the booth was palpable (I eventually managed to wrap some tissue around the jagged metal and twist the barrel enough to give the door a kick)
What can we look forward to from you in 2016?
I currently have 16 books slated for release over the next few months, here’s a few
Eldren – William Meikle
Project Apex, Echoes, Voices, The Visitor and Forgotten Fears – Michael Bray
Clovenhoof – Iain Grant and Heide Goody
Vine of the Earth – Ian Woodhead
How can new listeners connect with you?
Twitter : @ChrisBarnesVA
THE HEART AND SOUL OF HORROR INTERVIEWS