Out of the Box in Chicago – APAC 2016

Out of the Box

Let actors who spend their lives recording audiobooks in solitary confinement out of their studios and they’ll show you how to party.

I’m with my fellow audiobook narrators at the APAC conference at a party hosted by Bee Audio at The Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago.

In one half of the room are maybe sixty audiobook narrators, some of whom are famous, talking in voices that resonate and in some cases boom across the room. They’re dressed like the actors i.e. no one is wearing a tie.

In the other half of the room are about thirty men in suits who are apparently there for some sort of sports convention. There’s a band playing some sort of cheerful blues I think and despite the fact that the room was obviously double booked, everyone’s happy.

I am drinking a glass of cranberry juice at the bar, sitting next to Carrington MacDuffie, fellow narrator and singer/songwriter extraordinaire.

A big man in a suit who looks like Baloo bounces enthusiastically towards us.

“What character do you do?” he says.

“I’m sorry?” we say.

“You’re voice actors, right? So, what CHARACTER do you do?”

There is no point in trying to explain that we’re audiobook narrators so we don’t we ‘do’ a character because he’s slightly drunk, the band is loud and neither of us feels like shouting.

I contemplate pretending to be French but before I can say “Pardonez moi Monsieur, mais je ne parles pa Anglais,” he bends his head down, and, not to be deterred, says again, “What character do you do?”

“Well,” I say, shouting into his ear, “My friend Carrington here doesn’t like to talk about it because she’s very modest, but she’s the voice of the new Muppet.”
The music is so loud he can’t hear Carrington’s “What???”
”For real?” he says.
“For real,” in my clipped English accent.
“Wowsa!” he says, turning to Carrington. “Which Muppet?”
“Yes, Alison,” Carrington says, “Which Muppet?”
With a little stir of my cranberry juice I say, “Why, Barbara the black sheep of course.”
“For real?” the man says, hardly able to contain himself. Then he turns to Carrington and says “Do the voice.”
`“I can’t,” Carrington says without missing a beat. “Because really it’s Alison who plays Barbara the black sheep on The Muppets, she’s just too modest to admit it.”
Damn .
“Do the voice,” he says turning to me.
There’s no way out of this.
“Haaaaaaalllllllo” I bleat. “I’m Baaaaarbara. The blaaaaaaak sheeeeeeeep.”
Then I turn and head towards the throng of audiobook narrators in whose midst I am enfolded within a matter of seconds.

Adopting America – conversation overheard in a cinema

I’m alone at the cinema waiting for the movie to start, half way through my first box of Raisinets when I hear the following conversation in the row behind me. .

Woman One: “You’re a saint, Sherry. Adopting that little girl no one else wanted. I am just so proud of you!”

Woman Two: “We’d wanted an infant, but adoption’s so hard these days, especially when you’re older, so we took a three year old.”

The sound of popcorn munching.

Woman Two: “Just think what kind of a life she’d be facing if it weren’t for you! You’re a saint, Sherry!”

“Excuse me,” I say, turning towards them, “I hate to interrupt, but I was adopted.”

They’re smiling at me. There’s nothing like an English accent at times like these.


“Yes. And isn’t it true that you are adopting a child because you couldn’t have children of your own and wanted to be a parent?”

“Yes,” says Woman Two.

“Then you’re not adopting because you’re a saint, are you?”

“I suppose not.”

“I don’t mean to be rude, honestly I don’t, but I just think people should be honest about what they’re doing, that’s all. Raisinet anyone?”

Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

A SUPERB novel, set in WW1, Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson is just out! It is beautifully written, gripping and you feel as if you are standing right next to the heroine as she joins the Women’s Army Auxilliary Corps and heads off to France and into great danger during that terrible war. It’s so well researched and the writing so accessible I found myself filming  My First Video Selfie! to let you know about it. I loved it!

Attention! Different DNA – The English American Re-defines ADD

It isn’t a ‘deficit’ or a ‘disorder’ – it’s a different way of thinking for God’s sake!

If people with what is currently called ADD are consistently found on the cutting edge of human endeavor – inventing the lightbulb or the theory of relativity, starting Apple Computers, directing blockbuster movies, winning Olympic Gold medals – and they are – why on earth do we continue to accept the words ‘deficit’ and ‘disorder’ as part of the definition?

Shouldn’t we be nurturing the creativity and encouraging our out-of-the-box thinkers rather than telling them they have something wrong with them because they don’t respond with interest to a more conventional approach to education.

God did not say unto Moses “Thou shalt only think one thought at a time.” Neither did he say “Thou shalt bore thine children to tears in the classroom and if they do not conform to lateral learning thou shalt tell them there is something wrong with them until you’ve forced them to behave like everyone else.”

If Moses had asked, I like to think God might have said : “Thou shalt take extra care with the precious children who don’t fit the norm and find new ways to teach and engage them. For it’s the children who live and think out of the box who, if encouraged and valued, can and will change the world.”

I’m delighted to have been invited to write about this – and more – in an upcoming blog for www.additudemag.com.

For now, here is a link to Like Mother, Like Son, a guest blog I just wrote for www.ADDItudemagazine.com.

 Like Mother, Like Son, grew out of a fb post and will explain why ADDitude’s editor asked me to write a blog for them in the first place. I’d love to know what you think!


On Narrating Romance novels for Tantor audio

I’m delighted to say that Tantor audio are making sure I have some romance in my life. Last month I narrated Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran.

Fans of historical romance will love Fool Me Twice. It’s the kind of book you don’t want to put down because you have to find out what the heroine is running from. Combine that with characters you come to genuinely care about and you have all the ingredients for a terrific read (or listen!)

In addition, in Fool Me Twice, Meredith Duran has drawn an authentic portrait of a man struggling with deep depression after experiencing the worst kind of betrayal.

Some of my favorite recent narrations for Tantor with terrific love stories include The Winter Bride by Anna Gracie,  Don’t Want To Miss A Thing by Jill Mansell, More Than A Stranger by Erin Knightly, Katie MacAlister’s marvelously light, funny series of historical romances starting with Noble Intentions, Shadows on the Nile by Kate Furnivall and the superb literary/romantic novel The Soldier’s Wife by Margaret Leroy.

For info on all these and more go to  http://bit.ly/1ihuvKq

Alison in Audiobook Land

“Alison where have you been. I haven’t heard from you in months,” my friend says.

“I’ve been traveling,” I say.

Which is true. Technically speaking.

Since I started working pretty much full time as an audiobook narrator almost two years ago I’ve traveled across continents and through time. All without having to stand in line at the airport or leave my home studio – aka The Tardis.

Here’s how it happened. Three months before my own novel The English American was published (Simon and Schuster 2008), Greg Voynow at Audible called. Someone on his board had seen me perform the autobiographical one woman show from which The English American sprang, had since read the novel and thought it would make a great audiobook. Would I like to narrate it? I’d heard that Audible feed their narrators bagels and cream cheese for breakfast –  so I said yes.

To my surprise and delight The English American –  a novel about England, America and an adopted English woman who finds her birth parents and her ‘self’ in the U.S. – made Audible’s list of top ten best author narrated audiobooks of all time.  After that the folks at Audible asked me if I’d like to narrate all twelve books in Arthur Ransome’s classic British children’s series, starting with Swallows and Amazons.

To quote Dorothy Parker “I hate writing. I love having written.” So I was delighted to be offered an absorbing distraction.

By the time I’d finished narrating the last novel in Arthur Ransome’s series – see blog – I knew I’d found something new that I truly love to do.

Then a wonderful woman called Hilary from Tantor called and said that if I could guarantee them twelve book narrations  a year they’d set me up with a home studio. What? No driving? I was in.

Years ago, before I moved to America, found my birth mother and became a stand-up comic/voiceartist/novelist/screenwriter/mother of two, I trained as a classical actress at the Webber-Douglas Academy of Dramatic Art in London. I’d acted with the Royal National Theater on Broadway and with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

And although I secretly preferred stand-up comedy, because you can change the lines every night if you want – woe betide the classical actor who does that – I missed acting. And I missed voice work – before moving East to raise my kids, I’d spent six years in LA voicing cartoons, movies, cd roms, anything with a British, Australian, South African or European accent. So audiobook narration was right up my alley.

“What’s an earphones award?’ my English mother asked when Brilliance audio released the audiobook of The English American on cd in April 2012 and I told her I’d been given one.

“Well,” I said, looking out the window of my New England farmhouse, “it’s when someone walks up the drive carrying a pair of earphones on a red velvet cushion, solemnly praising my narration.”

“Really?” my mother said.

“No,” I said. “But I did get a certificate and a lovely review.”.

I think one of the reasons I love narrating audiobooks is because it’s impossible to get bored. Each world I’m asked to enter is different. I love it for many reasons – not least because I never – ever – have to brush my hair.

In the 60 plus books I’ve narrated for since I began working as an audiobook narrator I’ve been to New Zealand with the Booker Prize nominated novel The Forrests, Australia with the Magic or Madness Y/A series for young adults , War torn Guernsey with the lovely literary novel The Soldier’s Wife. I’ve been mesmerized by the supernatural in Tudor England as a mystery and manuscript are uncovered in The Serpent GardenAnd I was thrilled to narrate all 31 hours and of Audible’s production of the first Gothic novel – Ann Radcliffe’s great classic The Mysteries of Udolpho.

I’ve fallen in love with dashing heroes and witty heroines in charming historical romance series by top New York times bestelling novelists Katie MacAlister, Connie Brockway and Robyn Carr. I’ve been to London, Oxford, Croatia and beyond with the heroine’s and villains in Tilly Bagshawe’s sexy blockbusters FameScandalous and  Flawless

When I say I’ve been to these places I mean it. Because my job is to read every single word, telling the story as if it’s really happening, I feel everything each character thinks and feels as the story goes along. The journey can be funny, harrowing, exciting, disturbing, educational – sometimes all of these things at the same time.

Recently I was transported to Dickensian England in NY Times bestselling novelist John Boyne’s chilling novel This House is Haunted and to 1930’s Egypt in Kate Furnivall’s rollicking adventure Shadows on the Nile.

The day after I finished Shadows in the Nile, I started thinking about my next audiobook – Pride and Prejudice – the 200th Anniversary Audio Edition, a book I’ve loved since I was fifteen. 

As I re-acquainted myself with Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, I thought about all the people who have read Jane Austen’s most famous novel since it first came out two hundred years go. It was still as popular in the 1930’s as it is today.

As I make the transition from narrating a book set in1930’s Egypt to Jane Austens’ England, I imagine I’m a young woman escaping from the British Embassy party in Cairo in Shadows on the Nile by pretending to have a headache. I don’t have a headache at all – I just want to get back to the book I’m reading – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. 

With the music of The Lonely Ash Grove  coming up from the party below, I get into bed and reach under the mosquito net for the leatherbound copy of Pride and Prejudice that my grandmother gave me for my birthday.  I want to find out if the hero and heroine, who dislike each other at first, will come to realize, by the end of the book, that they have already found true love.

And I read all night because, as is always the case with a marvelous book, I just HAVE to know what happens next. 

To listen to sample chapter of Pride and Prejudice – the 200th anniversary audio book click here.

For more information about Alison Larkin go to www.alisonlarkin.com 

Adoption Reform Matters

When The English American was published, (Simon and Schuster 2008) – I was invited to give one of my  first talks at Powell’s bookstore in Portland Oregon, which was the perfect place for me to begin my tour. I felt immediately at home in the wonderful multi-story bookstore that reminded me of Foyles in London, where I used to spend my weekends browsing, long before I ever thought of writing a novel myself.

During that first talk at Powell’s, I told the audience of about 40 people that, like Pippa, the heroine of my novel, I was born in the U.S., adopted at birth into a happy English family, and raised in England. Then, when I was 28, I found my birth mother in America, moved to New York, and became a stand-up comic.Then, when I was 28, I found my birth mother in America, moved to New York, and became a stand-up comic.

“You went from being a serious actress and playwright to doing stand-up in NY? How did that happen?” came the first question.

Soon after I met my birth mother, in the throes of “I’ve just found out I’m really an American” euphoria, I found myself in a comedy club in NY.

“Hallo,” I said, in my very British accent, “my name is Alison Larkin and I come from Bald Mountain, Tennessee.”

People laughed, so I carried on: “I think everyone should be adopted. That way you can meet your birth parents when you’re old enough to cope with them.”

“As far as the side effects are concerned, the key to dealing with a fear of abandonment is to date people you don’t like, so if they do leave you, it doesn’t matterthe key to dealing with a fear of abandonment is to date people you don’t like, so if they do leave you, it doesn’t matter.”

When people discovered that I was actually telling the truth, they’d ask me, “What was it like meeting your ‘real’ parents?” To me, my ‘real’ parents were and always would be the parents who raised me.

So I wrote a one-woman show, to show them why this was true for me. I played a comedic version of myself, my ultra-English adoptive mother, and my American birth mother — her diametrical opposite. The show combined stand-up and theatre and led to CBS and ABC developing sitcoms for me to star in and a run in London.

It was heady, exciting stuff, but I knew I had still only touched the surface of the deeper, funnier story I wanted to tell one day. One which might help people understand, at a gut level, why someone from a happy adoptive family might feel the need to learn the truth about the people she came from. And how that journey might ultimately bring her closer to her adoptive parents — while answering key questions about her identity.

I finally found the right form for it when I figured out how to write a novel.

Even though The English American contains a love story that’s as much about the absurdities and hilarities of the Anglo-American culture conflict as anything else, no one who has read my novel has ever suggested that Pippa’s adoptive parents are anything other than ‘real.’

That first talk at Powell’s was followed by my first Q and A. There were the usual questions about how much of the novel is fiction, how much isn’t — while the heroine’s emotional journey mirrors my own 100 percent, the rest is fiction.

Then a 40-year-old woman in the front row raised her hand and told me she too was adopted. Unlike myself, she was unable to find her birth mother owing to the fact that in all but seven U.S. states, adopted people are routinely denied access to their original birth certificates.

Knowing that 94% of birth mothers actually want contact, I stopped cracking jokes and listened to her story, which turned out to be the first of thousands of similar stories I have heard since.

Do I think that any human being should be denied the right to know the truth about their own genetic – and medical – history? To hear my answer to that question, here’s a link to the DNA song http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQrycnBMD_M.


Pride and Prejudice, Alison Larkin and Edith Wharton – an audio celebration!

Here is an article in the Berkshire Eagle by Kate Abbott which will explain why I’ve been too busy to blog for awhile!

Alison Larkin and Edith Wharton celebrate 200 years of ‘Pride and Prejudice’

POSTED:   12/05/2013 01:26:12 AM EST
UPDATED:   12/05/2013 03:46:38 PM EST


Alison Larkin will perform from her new audiobook of

Actor and author Alison Larkin will perform Saturday at The Mount to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and Larkin’s new audiobook reading of the novel. (Eagle file)

LENOX — Elizabeth Bennett is a friend sharing a silent joke, looking at you straight-faced until you dissolve into helpless giggles. She is a sister sitting on the edge of your bed in the small hours. She throws open the door and comes in wind-blown on a bright, clear day.

And her spirit always rises to meet any attempt to intimidate it — in Jane Austen’s words.

She is the heroine of Austen’s novel, “Pride and Prejudice,” and she will celebrate her 200th birthday in Edith Wharton’s living room on Saturday with a high tea, stories and music.

Alison Larkin first read “Pride and Prejudice” when she was 15.

“I fell in love with Mr. Darcy, as we all do,” she said.

Now living in the Berkshires, Larkin, writer and performer and author of “The English American,” was raised in Sussex, England, not far from where Jane Austen lived and wrote.

She has recently and intimately rediscovered the novel as an adult.

“Now I read it and there’s so much wisdom behind the wit and the story,” she said.

In honor of the novel’s 200th anniversary, Larkin has read “Pride and Prejudice” aloud in a new audiobook produced by Jason Brown and the Monterey-based Berkshire Media Arts.

On Saturday she will perform music as Elizabeth might have sung it at a party and read aloud from the novel.

“Getting to play all the parts is heaven,” she said.

She felt she knew them all. She reveled in their voices: ironical Mr. Bennett and his chattering wife, the hilariously smug Mr. Collins, Lady Catherine de Bough gracing the world with her opinions, and Elizabeth’s generous sister, Jane, wrestling with her first unhappy love — and Mr. Wickham’s immediate charm, and Darcy’s cool reserve and unexpected fire.

At the center, Elizabeth’s is a love story. Finding her own way, she is learning to tell love from desire and to open herself to both. She is “looking for the soul-mate who completes her,” Larkin said, and folowing her “we are recognizing that we’re all frightened of love and looking for what’s real.”

As she read, she found the novel resonating with her own book, in her own journey between two countries, two sets of parents — and two men.

“I’ve come to value integrity and honesty, the qualities Darcy has, as well as his looks,” she said.

She said it with a glint in her eye. She wants to bring out the fun in Austen, she said: Too many readers have made Austen sound ponderous. Larkin hopes to make her words light and bright — Asten is mischieviously funny. Some scenes Larkin had to re-read because she kept breaking down into laughter.

But the laughter has depths beneath it. Austen writes with real wry warmth in her voice. She also faces realities — forced marriage, failed marriage, the threat of bankrupcy and child molestation. Elizabeth Bennet’s youngest sister is 15.

“Lydia is often portrayed as too silly,” Larkin said. “She’s a lively 15-year-old in an isolated part of England.”

Lydia is thoughtless, untaught and in danger of hurting herself badly. Until she read the book aloud, Larkin said, she had little empathy for Lydia — but as she read, she found new compassion for her. Lydia is oblivious. She feels like any young teen in a newspaper story today who has been taken advantage of.

And today’s teens can find the book grippingly close to home. Larkin has heard from a 16-year-old listener who had never read the book, who called to say she loves it, and that she has found people like Austen’s characters in her own life.

And a group of 7- to 10-year-old readers will come to the tea, said Kelsey Mullen, public programs coordinator at Edith Wharton’s home, The Mount, which will host the tea on Saturday.

Wharton read Austen, and many people since have compared them. They were two bright writers writing when most writers were men and commenting on a society they knew intimately, Larkin said.

Both won acknowledgement in their own times, and both made a living as writers, said Rebecka McDougall, communications director at The Mount.

And both write with a clear eye and a good ear.

They have a gift for “getting to the heart of the point without directly offending anybody — and using the full English language, which is so refreshing,” Mullen said.

Larkin finds Austen funny and sharp and brazenly sane.

“Human nature is the same,” she said. “We fall in love without realizing we’re in love. The questions women face, how dependent women still are on the men they marry or are born to,” all the tensions and dramas go on now as they did 200 years ago.

Any writer who writes what she thinks and feels will touch people centuries later, Larkin said, and she can imagine nothing better than to celebrate the 200th birthday of the book with a high tea overlooking Wharton’s quiet gardens and lake shore.

“The Mount is my favorite place,” she said.

Austen might have felt at home here, talking with Wharton on her terrace or bicycling with her along the back roads.

Austen loved the outdoors. She took long walks with her sister, and Elizabeth walks three miles across the fields on a bright and muddy morning after the rain, to see Jane.

Sussex is a beautiful part of England, Larkin said, a place of woods and hills. When she moved to the Berkshires, she felt at home.

“If Jane Austen lived in the United States,” she said, “she’d live here.”


If you go …

What: Alison Larkin celebrates 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and new audiobook with music and performance and High Tea

Where: The Mount,
2 Plunkett St., Lenox

When: Saturday, 4 to 6 p.m.

Admission: $15 (combined with audiobook, $40)

Information: www.edithwharton.org