Narrator (Audiobook) Interview | Conversing with the narrator of “The Egg & I” and memoir series of Betty MacDonald: Heather Henderson!

Posted Thursday, 8 December, 2016 by jorielov , , , 0 Comments

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Hallo, Hallo dear hearts! I am slowly re-emerging back online since my Dad’s stroke (see this post) and are blessed I was able to re-schedule the blog tours I was marked to participate in during December. This week is quite a joyous one – as my two stops for “The Egg & I” will be posting as well as my review reflections on behalf of Ms Bastian’s novel, of whom I featured an interview of whilst my Dad was still at the hospital. What I appreciated the most during this difficult time for my family was the outpour of kind words, supportive encouragement and the kindness of bloggers who helped re-organise a few stops on the tours to accommodate my return online. On that note, I’ll be finally putting thoughts to words whilst blogging an ‘update’ about my Dad and his transition home as we move forward from here. I have been wanting to compose it for the past week, however, as most will recognise when your going through a family medical emergency, sometimes you have to yield to having your life a bit upturnt for awhile before things even out again.

What appeared to me about listening to “The Egg & I” is the beautiful scope of the story whilst getting to ‘listen in’ to a woman’s life from the 1940s. I hadn’t known the fuller picture of Ms MacDonald’s story (about the tumultuous times she lived through in her personal life) until I put together this interview as I had composed these questions ahead of listening to the story in full and I gained a heap more insight into Betty from the narrator who truly shines as her ‘voice’ in today’s contemporary world.

I think you will find MacDonald’s memoirs are a special treat – as it’s how she relates her life to the reader that I appreciated through the excerpt when I initially signed on for the blog tour. I like to find a few things ahead of listening to an audiobook – for starters, the narrator’s voice and tone – including how they approach the characterisation and narration of the story whilst seeing if the way in which the story is unfolding is a good fit for me, too. Everything I was hoping to find encased in that except led me to this blog tour and the chance to interview the narrator because the words of Ms MacDonald simply resonate with you as you listen to her story.

I am looking forward to continuing to listen to her words and entreat inside her mind whilst composing my thoughts for my review, which is upcoming on Saturday, the 10th. Ahead of reading what I thought as I listened to Ms MacDonald’s life through the voicing of Ms Henderson, I am delighted to give you a chance to get to learn a bit more about Betty & the narrating process.

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The Egg and I by Betty MacDonald; narrated by Heather Henderson

When Betty MacDonald married a marine and moved to a small chicken farm on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State, she was largely unprepared for the rigors of life in the wild. With no running water, no electricity, a house in need of constant repair, and days that ran from four in the morning to nine at night, the MacDonalds had barely a moment to put their feet up and relax. And then came the children. Yet through every trial and pitfall – through chaos and catastrophe – this indomitable family somehow, mercifully, never lost its sense of humor.

A beloved literary treasure for more than half a century, Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I is a heartwarming and uproarious account of adventure and survival on the American frontier.

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How did you approach settling into the memoir narration of Betty MacDonald? Did you read her memoirs ahead of beginning your narration or research a bit about her life as a whole to ‘get inside her head’ so to speak prior to voicing her life?

Henderson responds: Yes.  :)

To elaborate: Betty MacDonald’s memoirs series was different from most of the narration jobs I do. The way it usually works is that a casting director will ask me if I want to do a certain new title that hasn’t been released yet, I’ll say yes, the clock will start ticking, and when I’m sent the script to start prepping my performance, it will be the first time I’ve read it (and it will probably not be a final draft, because the book is still being edited in advance of release).

But with the Betty MacDonald books, I initiated and co-produced the audiobooks. They were written in the 1940s and 50s and were huge bestsellers in their time, but they’ve fallen into obscurity. I had dreamed of getting them produced (and narrating them myself) for many years. So once I finally found a producer who was able to get the rights (the wonderful Carlyn Craig at Post Hypnotic Press), I already knew a lot about the background and biography of Betty MacDonald, and I’d read the books several times each. The character voices — including Betty’s voice and her personality — were like old friends.

But with every book I do, I definitely research the author and the book — and read it carefully as I prepare my performance and make notes.  (All professional narrators do this.) I’m looking for the heart of the book — the guiding passion of the author — so that I can reflect her energy, emotional tone, cadence, and diction as I narrate. Of course, I’m also deciding on character voices, practicing accents, looking up pronunciations, etc.

What drew you to the spunk and moxie of Betty who decided that a woman’s role was not limited to predetermined precepts of being a mother and housekeeper?

Henderson responds: I’m not sure I’d characterize Betty that way, to be honest. She actually loved being a mother, and she was a self-described introvert and homebody who loved cooking as well as growing her own food. I don’t think she loved cleaning so much, but she was a diligent housekeeper.

And for most of her life, she wasn’t trying to make any statements about being a woman, she was simply trying to survive — to survive her first abusive marriage and help run a farm, then to survive tuberculosis, then the Great Depression — and all while being a single mother and breadwinner.  I don’t think she had the leisure to question her role as a woman.

But you’re absolutely right about her spunk and moxie. She was naturally a rebel, a critic, a satirist of the status quo, and woman who didn’t hesitate to say what she felt — including what she felt about how women were treated and paid in those days.

I was drawn to her for all these reasons. What makes Betty’s voice and her stories so compelling to me are her courage, honesty, and above all, her optimism. She navigated sexism, abuse, poverty, serious illness — so many challenges — by insisting on a humorous (often sardonic) outlook. A perfect example is the opening lines to her third memoir, Anybody Can Do Anything. It’s too long to reprint here, but it happens to be the sample my producer chose for the Audible.com listing of the book — so if you want, you can listen to it at this link.

What do you think has become cross-applied to today’s modern woman by the journalled living histories of Betty wherein self-sufficiency, strong will and innovative thinking was not the norm during her era but is fully embraced today? How did you feel her life’s story is relevant to today’s audience?

Henderson responds: Actually Betty’s strong, independent personality was embraced in her day — and that’s one of the big reasons I wanted to turn people on to these books. She was one of the most celebrated and bestselling authors of the 1940s and 50s. The Egg and I sold a million copies in its first year and was translated into 20 languages — unprecedented for the publishing industry at the time. She was popular among male as well as female readers.

One of my inspirations for producing these as audiobooks was to reintroduce them to the listening / reading public and let people discover the similarities between women like Betty and modern women. It’s true that women in her day (she lived from 1908 to 1958) were subjected to more sexism — often actual sexual assault by today’s definition — and disempowerment than women of today. But of course all of that still happens today, too — so I hope that modern women who listen to these books will hear their own stories in Betty’s memoirs and be inspired to meet life with the courage and boldness she had.

Part of the appeal of listening to the story of MacDonald is the lifestyle of living off the land and being able to eat through what the land can produce for your family. Of all the snippets of her life you narrated, were there any bits of her life on the farm that truly tickled your funnybone?

Henderson responds: That entire book — The Egg and I — still makes me crack up.  One of my favorite episodes is when she is trying to bake bread the way all the frugal mountain housewives around her do — in a woodstove, using homemade yeast. The technique for making the yeast was to start with one cake of store-bought yeast and then never buy yeast again — instead, keep it going by adding potato water and never letting it get cool. The problem was that she is living in the cold, damp mountains of western Washington.  Betty writes,

I had been on the farm a matter of seconds before I saw that the

only way I could keep anything consistently warm would be to

stuff it down the front of my dress, so I gave up the homemade

yeast idea and resorted to deceit and fresh ‘store-boughten’ yeast.

The passage goes on in this vein — it’s really a funny chapter — describing her disastrous batches of bread and her battles with her cranky, erratic, slightly sinister woodstove, which she names “Stove.”

NOTE: This excerpt was provided by Heather Henderson on behalf of “The Egg and I” and is used with permission.

What aspect of her life did you find most inspiring and the most challenging now that you’ve had the chance to digest the first volume of her memoirs?

Henderson responds: I’ve actually read all of her memoirs many times since I first discovered them in the 1980s — and I’m happy to announce that Post Hypnotic Press is just about to release the fourth and final title in the series, which I finished narrating last month. So within a week or so, listeners will be able to hear all of them: The Egg and I (1945), The Plague and I (1948), Anybody Can Do Anything (1950) and Onions in the Stew (1955).

But your question is a good one, because even after narrating and researching and touring with all of the books, I am if anything more inspired than ever by Betty. I think her third memoir, Anybody Can Do Anything, is the most enduringly inspiring to me. It’s about Betty’s years as a single mom trying to survive the Great Depression, living in a modest house in Seattle with her two children, three sisters, occasionally her brother, her mother, and assorted friends who needed places to live. They weren’t Dust-Bowl characters — the kinds of people we most often associate with the Depression. They were city-dwellers who  struggled every day to keep the electric bill paid (and often had the electricity turned off),  get enough wood to keep themselves warm (they often “borrowed” it from a nearby city park), make a meal for eight from a package of noodles and a pound of ground beef. What is so extraordinary about this story, which Betty tells with a mixture of black humor and cheerfulness, is how willing she was to do any job that came her way. She worked so hard to help her family survive in an endless series of jobs, some of them quite demeaning, some more interesting, all underpaid.

So that’s the most inspiring. The most challenging aspect of her life as I saw it would definitely have to be her abusive marriage. In The Egg and I, she is living on a remote wilderness farm with her first husband — and though she follows cultural norms of her day and doesn’t come straight out and say that he is abusive, but you know from the subtext that he is NOT a nice guy.  Anybody Can Do Anything begins with her fleeing the farm, literally running down a logging road with her baby and toddler and one small suitcase, desperate to catch the local bus and then the ferry and then the train back to her family’s home in Seattle. This was a pretty drastic move to make in the 1920s/30s.  If you want to know all the chilling details about this marriage, read (or listen to the audiobook of!) Paula Becker’s new biography: Looking for Betty MacDonald.  It’s fascinating — it fills in so many unspoken stories in this amazing woman’s life.

How do you select the narrative voice you apply to each of the characters or living persons you bring alive through your narration? Is there a process to your approach or is it more intuitive and organic?

Henderson responds: It’s a combination of what I learn from voice coaching, accent training, acting technique, workshops, practice, gut instinct, mimicry — all of the things you mention above, and more.

As you appreciate cooking and canning yourself, did you find yourself drawn to Betty’s story initially or was this audiobook pitched to you by someone who felt you’d be the best voice to bring Betty back to life?

Henderson responds: I wasn’t cast in them by a producer, which is usually the case — as I mentioned above, I loved the books and found a producer myself; this was a collaborative project that I initiated.  I don’t often get that opportunity!

What is your favourite food to can ahead of Winter? I ask as I want to have raised beds for vegetables, flowers and herbs in the future whilst sorting out how to can and preserve myself as I appreciate locavore practices, self-sustainability and farm to fork living.

Henderson responds: I do can (and freeze and dry) a lot of things we grow in our garden. My favorite thing to can is applesauce made from our Gravenstein tree.  I can quarts and quarts of it in the summer so we can eat it year-round.

One big difference between Betty and me is that she hated canning, and I love it. But unlike her, I have electricity, a gas stove, and running water!

The Egg and I is packed with descriptions of growing vegetables, raising livestock (especially chickens, of course), cooking the game that her husband hunted, taming their wild orchard, and gathering seafood. She has some good recipes and cooking tips in there, too. In Onions in the Stew, she devotes and entire chapter just to wild-gathered seafood (mussels, cockles, chitons, crabs, clams) and fresh-off-the-boat fish.

Are you going to be narrating the collection of memoirs by Betty MacDonald? If so, can you share how they will be released? (one a year, two a year, etc)

Henderson responds: The series is all done!  Here you go:  (see this page!)

What is your favourite type of story to narrate? Fiction, Non-Fiction or a specific genre? Does your personal preference in listening alter from your narrating choices?

Henderson responds: I get asked to do a lot of nonfiction — I think casting directors like my narrative voice, and I have a neutral Pacific Northwest accent, which makes you more versatile in our industry. Oddly, the other genre I get cast in a lot is romance, especially Amish romance.

My favorite genre to narrate is first-person memoir. Some of my favorite memoirs I’ve narrated are The Curve of Time by M. Wylie Blanchet; The Big Tiny by Dee Ann Williams; Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan; Finding Your Way in a Wide, New World by Martha Beck; and of course the Betty MacDonald series.

As far as my own personal listening to audiobooks, I usually choose books based on narrator.  I won’t recommend any particular narrator to you — many are my friends and I don’t want to play favorites! — but anyway, every listener’s preference is different.  Pay attention to narrators you like and follow them — sometimes even if the book isn’t that great, a good narrator can make it an enjoyable listening experience anyway.

Thank you for these great questions — it was a pleasure to answer them.

About Heather Henderson

Heather Henderson

Heather Henderson is a voice actress and audiobook narrator with a 20-year career in literary and performing arts. Her narrations include the NYT bestseller (now also a feature film) Brain on Fire; and Sharon Creech’s The Boy on the Porch, which won her an Earphones award and was named one of the Best Children’s Audiobooks for 2013 by Audiofile Magazine.

She earned her Doctor of Fine Arts degree at the Yale School of Drama, and is co-curator of AudioEloquence.com, a pronunciation research site for the audiobook industry.

In 2015, Heather was a finalist for a Voice Arts Award (Outstanding Narration, Audiobook Classics), for her narration of Betty MacDonald’s The Egg and I.

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This interview is courtesy of Audiobookworm Promotions:

Audiobookworm Promotions Event Host badge provided by Audiobookworm Promotions

Whilst participating on:

The Egg & I Audibook Tour via Audiobookworm Promotions.Kindly leave your thoughts and reactions for Ms Henderson in the comment threads below. If your an avid audiobook listener, I welcome your commentary and recommendations, for Biographies and/or Memoirs!

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 Similar to blog tours where I feature book reviews, as I choose to highlight an author via a Guest Post, Q&A, Interview, etc., I do not receive compensation for featuring supplemental content on my blog. I provide the questions for interviews and topics for the guest posts; wherein I receive the responses back from publicists and authors directly. I am naturally curious about the ‘behind-the-scenes’ of stories and the writers who pen them; I have a heap of joy bringing this content to my readers.

{SOURCES: Cover art of “The Egg & I”, book synopsis, narrator biography, narrator photo, Audiobookworm Promotions badge and the audiobook tour badge were all provided by Audiobookworm Promotions and used with permission. Excerpt was provided by Heather Henderson on behalf of “The Egg and I” and is used with permission. Post dividers by Fun Stuff for Your Blog via Pure Imagination. Tweets embedded by codes provided by Twitter. Blog graphics created by Jorie via Canva: Audiobook Narrator Interview Banner and the Comment Box Banner.}

Copyright © Jorie Loves A Story, 2016.

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About jorielov

I am self-educated through local libraries and alternative education opportunities. I am a writer by trade and I cured a ten-year writer’s block by the discovery of Nanowrimo in November 2008. The event changed my life by re-establishing my muse and solidifying my path. Five years later whilst exploring the bookish blogosphere I decided to become a book blogger. I am a champion of wordsmiths who evoke a visceral experience in narrative. I write comprehensive book showcases electing to get into the heart of my reading observations. I dance through genres seeking literary enlightenment and enchantment. Starting in Autumn 2013 I became a blog book tour hostess featuring books and authors. I joined The Classics Club in January 2014 to seek out appreciators of the timeless works of literature whose breadth of scope and voice resonate with us all.

"I write my heart out and own my writing after it has spilt out of the pen." - self quote (Jorie of Jorie Loves A Story)

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Posted Thursday, 8 December, 2016 by jorielov in Audiobook Narrator Interview, Audiobookworm Promotions, Blog Tour Host & Reviewer, Memoir, Non-Fiction, Vignettes of Real Life




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