True love

The truth is I really love my work. I know some people like to take a break from work. Not me. What’s more interesting that writing a novel you feel compelled to write? Or narrating something that engages your soul? ZIp.

Of course there is the exhaustion thing.

“Why don’t you take a break?” a friend says. “Come out with us on Saturday. It’ll be fun.”

No it won’t. I’d be itching to get back to the audiobook I’m narrating for Tantor.

Or writing up the scene I’ve been thinking about putting into my new novel for over a week. Thing is, I know Mia has to experience intense chemistry and connection with someone the moment they meet, question is where do they meet? On the plane? By the bookstand at the airport? Taking their shoes off before going through security?

And what is she going to do? Let him know how she feels? Or feign indifference, as she usually does.

I’ve my own novel to finish, two books to narrate and a screenplay of The English American to complete. I’ve a lot on my plate.

I can do all of it if I get up at 4.30 and ignore the laundry and the cooking.

And when I’m so tired I can’t see, perhaps then I’ll consider taking a trip to the ocean. As long as I can bring my laptop.

Writing in New England in the Fall

I’m working achingly hard this month – narrating the 200th Anniversary audio edition of Pride and Prejudice  – and writing the second draft of my new book.

And even though I don’t have time to hike up Monument Mountain or walk with a friend, as I put myself through the emotional roller coaster writing a novel seems to send me on, this time I’m surrounded by mountains and mist and burnished leaves.

I have to leave the house for most of the day because Tim the builder and his team of bangers are hard at work on the porch – on which I plan spending a great deal of time once it’s finished. (The delay, apparently, has to do with the building inspector taking his sweet time to drive half a minute up the hill to give Tim the thumbs up on the electrical sockets.)

As I head down the hill to find a quiet place to write before the kids come home and require feeding – which they seem to expect EVERY SINGLE DAY –  I get to see nature at it’s most majestic.

It’s only a few minutes walk and I am trying to figure out a plot point in my book – but the leaves are swirling at my feet as I do so and they are red and burnished brown and whoa! Feel the wind!

Shadows on the Nile by Kate Furnivall

Occasionally I’m given an audiobook book to narrate that causes me to fall ever so slightly in love. I can’t stop thinking about one or more of the characters or the book. There’s something about the author’s spirit that feels familiar. I’m restless and distracted until I can be back in the studio, inhabiting the characters and world that I feel connected to and that I’ve been given the task of bringing to audio life.

This happened to me with bestselling author Kate Furnivall’s new novel, Shadows on the Nile just released in the US by Tantor audio. (To purchase and listen to a sample click Shadows on the Nile. )

When we think of Egypt these days we usually think of war, kidnappings, violence and death. It’s been awhile since the great civilization that preceded Rome made it into the news.

Remember Tutenkhamen? The Valley of the Kings? You will when you listen to this one.

Oh, right! Egypt! That Egypt.

Shadows on the Nile starts in 1912. Jessie hears a scream in the night coming from her young brother, Georgie, who has autism – and she wakes to find him gone. Haunted by the same nightmare, twenty years later Jessie’s other brother disappears. Desperate to find him, Jessie is led into a world of seances, mystics and Egyptian artifacts.

We get to visit the Valley of the Dead and members of the Muslim brotherhood, which started at around that time. We’re in the hands of a master storyteller, so while being hugely entertained we also get a sense of how modern day Egypt came to be.

It’s a rollicking adventure full of excitement with an unlikely hero – Georgie – who is so beautifully portrayed we get an authentic sense of what it might be like to be autistic ourselves.

There’s a love story too – between two people who dislike each other at first- and the narrative drive is unrelenting. You just have to know what happens next.

Sometimes it can be a jolt moving from one audiobook narration to another. But this time the transition was a smooth one.

The day after I finished Shadows of the Nile, I took a brief turn in the garden, to start thinking about my next audiobook The 200th Anniversary audio edition of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.

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 ago. It was still as popular in the 1930’s as it is today.

As I take my turn, I imagine I’m a young woman escaping from the British Embassy party in Cairo in Kate Furnivall’s Egypt 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. I get into bed and reach under the mosquito net for the leather bound 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. . .

Visit Kate Furnivall’s website at

For more info about Alison, visit .

Alison in Audiobook Land

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 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. Soon after I narrated my own novel, The English American, (Simon and Schuster and Audible 2008), 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.

Years ago, before I moved to America and became a stand-up comic/voiceartist/novelist/screenwriter, 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 R.S.C.

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, New Zealand or European accent. So audiobook narration was right up my alley.

“What’s an earphones award?’ my English mother said over the phone when Brilliance 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 from Audiofile and then I got a call from Tantor.”

“Tantor the elephant?” my English father said.

“No,” I said, “the audiobook company.”

A wonderful woman called Hilary from Tantor had called out of the blue and asked me if I’d like to narrate at least a dozen books for them in a variety of genres over the next year. From home. What? No driving? I was delighted.

The first book Tantor sent me was a witty, delightful Regency romance called The Surrender of Miss Fairbourne. Two weeks later I was in modern day London narrating What The Nanny Saw. Then, in June, Tantor said, “Would you like to narrate a steam punk romance?” “Steam punk?” I said. “What’s that?” They sent me Meljean Brook’s Riveted. And I was.

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.  And I love playing my part in ensuring the listener has to drive around the block a few more times because she has to know what happens next.

Plus I never – ever – have to brush my hair.

In the 60 plus books I’ve narrated 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 superb 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 Garden.
I’ve been to a haunted English house with Edith Wharton in Ghosts, I’ve fallen in love with dashing heroes and witty heroines in the charming historical romances The Autumn Bride and Loving Lady Marcia. And I’ve been to London, Oxford, Croatia and beyond with the heroine’s and villains in Tily Bagshawe’s glamorous, sexy blockbusters Fame, Scandalous and  Flawless.

I’ve watched a young English woman fight mythical vampires in the Oklahoma desert with She Returns From War. I spent two months in Tudor England with King Henry the V111th narrating all five novels in Kate Emerson’s superb five book series for Audible Ink – Secrets of the Tudor Court. And I was privileged to narrate all 31 hours and 15 minutes of the first Gothic novel – Ann Radcliffe’s great classic The Mysteries of Udolpho.

Last month I was transported to Scotland while narrating the hugely entertaining romantic Duchess Diaries series starting with To Capture a Countess and then to futuristic London where vampires vie with metal men who are only half human in Bec McMaster’s haunting, sexy new London steampunk series Kiss of Steel and Heart of Iron

When I say I’ve been to these places – click here for a longer list – 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.

Sometimes – as in Sunday Times columnist Bee Wilson’s Consider The Fork which won an Audiofile Best non-fiction award for 2012 – it’s a non-fiction journey and I learn about something I never thought I’d be interested in – in this case, the history of kitchen implements.  Not being a great cook it’s not a book I’d have rushed out to buy myself. But in Bee Wilson’s witty, delightful hands, the subject is really fascinating.

As I was making plans to head off to the Audio Publisher’s Association Conference in New York last week I had a call from London asking me to give notes on the latest draft of the screenplay of The English American.

“The script is almost ready to go out to stars,” the producers said.

“Do you need me?”

“Yes, but not for long.”

Oh good, I thought, sighing with relief. I wouldn’t want anything to take me away from my audiobook narration. I’m excited about the year ahead. This one is here to stay.

You know you’re a British expat if

…on July 4th you don’t know whether to celebrate or mourn the shrinking of the British Empire. So you wear black and eat a hot dog.
….every American you meet tells you they love everything about the British – ‘from your cute little roads to your accommodating little Prime Ministers.’
…you are getting used to Americans telling you everything about themselves in the first sentence: “Hi. I’m Maryanne. I’m an alcoholic, co-dependent, cross-addicted, enabling incest survivor.”
…an American invites you to ‘come visit us in Cleveland’ and you’re astonished to find out that they actually mean it. Take a Brit up on such an invitation and you’ll spend the weekend with an impeccably polite British host seething with unexpressed resentment that you actually believed her when she said she’d love you to come and stay any time.
…during the Olympics, when the Americans end up with thirty-two gold medals and the British with one, you’re relieved it’s that way around. You’ve lived here long enough to know that winning is the only thing that matters in America, and the British are so much happier when their countrymen are doing badly. (The only reason they tolerate Richard Branson is because he consistently fails to get around the world in his hot air balloon.)
…you find yourself surrounded by people with names you’d definitely not call a Brit. Like Madison, Logan, Dakota, Randy and John Thomas. Any more than you’d call an American Phillippa, Graham, Hamish, Tarquin or Dido.
… you still find yourself cringing with British embarrassment when an Americans tells you they love you.
…. you came to America expecting to find it full of gum-chewing, gun-bearing, brash, self-centered people who rush about telling perfect strangers to stick things up each others bottoms. Instead you find a nation of encouraging, optimistic people who say “Go for it!” as often as your friends back in England said “Ooooh, I wouldn’t try and do that if I were you.”

From New England to Tudor England

I have been narrating audio books pretty much without pause for almost a year now, with little time to blog, but I’ve missed it – and you – and I’ll be back!  I will write in more detail about my new life in audiobook narration soon. For now, my answer to the ‘where have you been?’ question is this. I’ve been traveling without having to stand in line at the airport. During the last I’ve narrated audiobooks set in New Zealand, Australia, Oxford, Regency London, France, Hollywood and the Oklahoma desert. When you’re narrating you have to read every single word – no skimming allowed. Today I’m heading off to Tudor England where Bloody Mary is earning her nickname in the skilled hands of author Kate Emerson. See you soon!

Oliver! Oliver!

The last time I acted in a play was fifteen years ago on Broadway in a very erudite, serious play called Stanley with Anthony Sher that had been at the Royal National Theatre and was being re-cast in New York.

I’d been in New York doing stand-up comedy for five years when this happened and being a part of a play again felt like coming home. I trained as a classical actress in London, I played leads in repertory theater before coming to the States – and doing a play again was familiar. I got to hang out with real British actors, like Anna Chancellor and Selina Cadel and watch John Caird direct. He directed Les Miserables, and I felt like I’d arrived.

In stand-up comedy you can say whatever you want – as long as it’s funny. In theater you have to stick to someone else’s script, word for word, or they’ll fire you. Four months of saying the same lines every night took their toll on my soul – that’s British for I was bored to tears.

The run finally ended. I sighed with relief. I’ve been writing books, performing solo comedy, doing cartoon and film voices, playing with my kids and avoiding theatre ever since.

And then, two months ago, the little boy I gave birth to 11 years ago was cast as The Artful Dodger at the 800 seat Colonial theatre in Pittsfield in a superb community theater production of Oliver! His sister is in Fagin’s gang and Yours Truly is playing the evil Widow Corney.

It’s been six weeks of intense rehearsal for four performances. There are 220 people in the cast.

It’s much harder work than any professional theater I’ve ever done. And much more fun. Why? In addition to seeing my son’s natural charisma light up the stage, I get to yell at 150 kids to ‘GO TO BED!” And they do!

Why I’m voting for Bill Shein

Bill Shein has been in the news a lot recently. So I thought I’d re-post this blog. The more I read about Bill, the more I like the fact that the one act of random kindness resulted in my paying at least SOME attention to an election that otherwise would have passed me by. Here’s the blog.

I moved to Great Barrington recently and was told by my insurance company that I have to get a Massachussetts license because my current license is British.

Last time I took driving lessons I was nineteen and living in England. My English instructor didn’t say a word when I did something right. When I did something wrong, he went on and on and on about my mistakes. As Henry Ford put it, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” I became more nervous every time I took a driving lesson. My instructor told me I’d probably fail my test. So the first time, I did.

Flip forward to last month. I’ve been driving on both sides of the Atlantic for twenty years, but schedule two lessons with Dave’s driving school in Great Barrington incase I’ve run into any bad habits. Half my life is spent driving my kids around. If I don’t pass my test, we’ll have to move. And we don’t want to move. We feel at home here.

My Dave’s driving school instructor teaches me how to parallel park so I’m an inch away from the curb – he lived in New York – if you don’t park that close in New York you lose your wing mirror. “Good,” he says. “Very nice,” he says. “You’re an alert, safe driver. You’ll do fine.”

On the day of my test, I arrive at the Town Hall twenty minutes early to make sure I’m there on time. When I get there I learn – to my dismay – that I need to have a real live human being, other than the driving test examiner, sitting at the back of the car during my test. It’s 10.40. The test takes place at 11.00.

I don’t know very many people in Great Barrington yet, and the two I feel I can ask aren’t home, so I run into the camera shop on Railroad street. The sweet guy with the beard told me he’d help me move into the office where I write, may be I can ask him?

“I would,” he says, meaning it, “but I’m on my own here and I can’t leave the store.” I pop into Tune Street – another chap with a beard says he can’t do it for the same reason, but I should go and ask in Fuel.

The coffee shop is packed. I hate to impose on anyone – but my family’s future is at stake. “Excuse me,” I say to a room full of strangers, “I’m so sorry to interrupt, but I need someone with a driving license to sit in the back of the car when I take my test. In – God is that the time? – ten minutes.” No one hears me.

Then I notice a chap who looks like a young Groucho Marx working hard at his computer in the corner. It’s Bill Shein who I met for a nanosecond three months earlier. I remember he’s a former comedian, like me. Maybe the fact that we’ve both told jokes to drunk people in night clubs will help.

The English part of me dares not ask him– he’s busy, it’s an imposition, it’s kind of rude, he’s running for congress for God’s sake. Then my inner American explains the situation and to my astonishment Bill Shein says, “No problem.”

“Can you do this without cracking any jokes?” I say as we head out of Fuel. “If you start, you’ll set me off, and then I’ll laugh during the test and the examiner will think I’m taking the piss and I’ll be doomed.”“Don’t worry,” he says.

He follows me to the Town Hall as if he does this sort of thing every day, hands his license to the examiner and somehow manages to peel himself into the back of my Subaru – he’s a tall guy, it’s not easy.

“Could you clean off the seat please?” the examiner says to me from outside the car. Her name is Trish. “Sorry,” I say, nervous as hell.

I pass the banana, the jar of peanut butter and my son’s sock back to Bill, who takes them wordlessly.

“Start up the car,” Trish says. “Parallel park. Do a three point turn.” I follow her instructions and less than five minutes later we’re headed back to the Town Hall. My heart sinks. I must have failed. She didn’t even ask me to drive in reverse, which, fyi, is something I’m particularly good at.

“I’m satisfied,” the Trish says. “Your application for a driving license is approved.”

I’ve passed! I love Trish. I love Great Barrington. I love Bill Shein.

Bill gets out of my car.

“Thank you,” I say, shaking Bill’s hand. “You really didn’t have to do that. Thank you.”

I’m an American citizen. I can vote here. And I will.

“What The Nanny Saw” solves the mystery of the financial crisis

Just before I headed off to England for a quick visit on June 29th I spent four days in my studio narrating the audio book of “What the Nanny Saw” by Fiona Neill author of the NY Times bestseller “Slummy Mummy” and the popular Sunday Times column of the same name.

Amongst other things, Neill’s witty, disturbing, engaging new novel shines a bright light on the financial crisis. The story is told from the point of view of a nanny hired look after the four children of a successful, uber-wealthy London couple who may well have been responsible for the crash of 2008.

To be honest, until I narrated this novel, I’d never completely understood the how’s and why’s of the financial crisis. What exactly is the Dow anyway? And why do people I don’t know get so excited about it?

I do know people who had jobs, savings, houses and annual vacations at the beginning of 2008 who were forced to deal with foreclosure, anxiety and debilitating depression less than three years later. And I did know that this had something to do with the banks and greed and Freddy Mac and Frannie Mae – whoever they might be. But I was blurry on precisely how the actions of a few bankers in the City and on Wall Street had so dramatically affected the lives of millions of ordinary people on both sides of the Atlantic.

When I arrived in London two weeks ago, the newspapers were full of headlines about the latest Barclay’s bank scandal. The headlines could have come straight out of “What the Nanny Saw”. I laughed out loud in the airport lobby – not because I don’t care – I do – but because I’d literally only JUST finished narrating an insightful, well-written novel all about people behind this kind of thing.

This time, as I read about insider trading and the new financial crisis, I understood exactly what had happened. I had a strong sense of the kind of lives the bankers and their wives and children and nannies were leading too.

This time I got it. If you get a chance to listen to this one, you will too.

The audiobook of “What the Nanny Saw” by Fiona Neill, narrated by Alison Larkin is published in the US by Tantor Audio, released in August 2012.


Narrating Arthur Ransome

Like Arthur Ransome, I spent many glorious summer holidays as a child in the English Lake District. So, when Audible invited me to narrate Arthur Ransome’s classic series for children, I was delighted to hop on the train to Audible’s recording studios in Newark and read all twelve novels for them.

Beginning with Swallows and Amazons (1930) and ending with Great Northern (1947) I was transported back to an England where children get rid of their parents by chapter two and head off on sailing and camping adventures in the Lake District, the Norfolk Broads or the South China Seas. Whether they’re escaping from Black Jake in Peter Duck, literature’s only Latin-speaking Chinese pirate in Missee Lee, or the formidable Great Aunt in Picts & the Martyrs, the adventures really are as engrossing and enchanting today as they were eighty years ago.

Last month, my eleven year old son put down the Hunger Games at chapter three ‘which EVERYONE in fifth grade is reading, Mom, EVERYONE’  – and asked if he could listen to the audiobook of Swallows and Amazons.

I let him play video games at weekends and try not to worry too much about the horrible looking creatures chasing kids with wild looking hair across the Wii screen and into my son’s imagination. But recently, at night, thanks to Arthur Ransome, my son has been dreaming of sailing boats and creaking oars and lakes and sea and sea gulls and picnics and knapsacks and Pirate ships and buried treasure and tent pegs and English children from an age gone by asking each other to please pass the pemmican and strawberry jam.