An interview with the narrator of the DI Horton Marine Mystery Unabridged Audio Crime Books

Deadly Waters a DI Andy Horton crime novel by Pauline RowsonGordon Griffin is the narrator of the unabridged audio books of the DI Andy Horton Marine Mystery Crime Novels set on the South Coast of England.  He has narrated four of the seven novels in DI Horton marine mystery series: Deadly Waters, The Suffocating Sea, Dead Man’s Wharf and Blood on the Sand. Set in the Solent area on the South Coast of England.

Gordon GriffinHailed by AudioFile Magazine as, ‘not simply a reader but the artist of the spoken word,’ Gordon Griffin has been an actor for over 40 years. He’s performed in everything from Shakespeare to rock musicals and such British favourites as The Likely Lads, When the Boat Comes in and Kavanagh QC. He also once presented Play School and he’s one of the people telling you to "Mind the Gap" on the London Underground! In addition to acting both on stage and screen he is a composer, lyricist and cabaret singer. For the past 20 years he’s also been involved in recording over 500 audio books, almost all are unabridged – that’s a lot of recording.

So who is the man behind the voice? Here I ask Gordon about his work.

How has it changed from when you first started recording audio books twenty years ago?

When I recorded my 50th the company I recorded for gave me a party with champagne and a cake in the shape of a book. By the time I got to my 100th the company’s two studios were working flat out and the place was abuzz with activity. The boss came up to me in the corridor as I headed for the studio. “I understand it’s your 100th” he said. “It is,” I beamed, thinking perhaps there’d be more champagne. “Well done,” he replied as he headed off down the corridor.

Do you read the book before recording it?

I’m always amazed I get asked that question. It’s rather like going up to an actor after the first night of a play and asking: “Did you rehearse?” I do more than read the book! Preparation is critical and what makes the narration of an audio book successful.

So how do you prepare apart from reading the book?

Preparation is time-consuming (time we are not paid for, incidentally): a Patrick O’Brian book, for example, can take days just checking pronunciations. And writers don’t exactly make it easy for us. Recently I’ve had to track down people to help me with Cornish (the language not the accent), Anglo-Saxon and Norwegian. When I realised that I was going to get a series of Donna Leon’s Brunetti books to record, I decided that rather than check the Italian pronunciation every time, it was best to do a basic course in Italian. Likewise with the Alvarez books, set in Mallorca. Since recording them, my Catalan has improved no end!

Has pronunciation ever beaten you?

Once. In one of the earliest Alvarez books, the murderer uses a mushroom-like fungus that’s only found on Mallorca. The word started with a double l and was, to me, unpronounceable. I phoned the Spanish tourist office; a friend in Mallorca who works in the catering industry, and finally the Mallorcan Chamber of Trade. No luck. No one knew how to pronounce the word. In the end I had to phone Roderic Jeffries, the writer of the book, who lives on the island. I reminded him of the plot, spelt out the word and waited with pen poised. “How do you pronounce it?” “I’ve no idea,” he said. “I made it up!”

How long does it take you to prepare for reading a book?

Depends. Some books can take weeks whereas with others it's just a question of reading them a couple of times and working out the characters. But I am currently recording three books back to back the first of which has a lot of German in it and I need to get that perfect. This week it's a long book with a lot of Polish (this has involved a long Skype call with a friend in Krakow who went through all the words with me; then a follow-up call when I'd practised the words to make sure I'd got them as perfect as I can) and next week I record a book set during the 1950s in Malaysia. Lots of Malaysian place names and also a lot of technical army stuff. All have to be checked. A novel called The Painter of Battles took about three solid weeks of research and only two days to record!!!

How long does it take you to prepare for narrating a DI Andy Horton novel? 

The Suffocating Sea a DI Andy Horton crime novel by Pauline RowsonA couple of weeks. I read it through twice, check pronunciations, work out characters, mark up the script, check place names. For the first one I listened to recordings of Hampshire accents. But thankfully there are no foreign languages.

How do you see the main character, DI Andy Horton?

A regular guy. Someone who tries but life sometimes hits him below the belt. He's human. He's flawed but I like him. He's someone I'd like to meet. He cares.

How do see the characters of Detective Sergeant Cantelli, Horton’s sidekick, and Detective Superintendent Uckfield of the Major Crime Team? 

Dead Man's Wharf a DI Andy Horton crime novelI love Uckfield. Not as a character of course. But as a character to 'play'. He's infuriating. And I enjoy the relationship between him and Andy. A confession: when I recorded my first Horton book I had assumed that Cantelli was younger that Andy. It was only in a recent book that I realised that that was not the case. I needed to find a voice for Cantelli that was as different as possible from Andy's as they had so many scenes together so I gave him a lighter 'younger' voice. I think though that it works. The listener must be able to differentiate between the two.

Do you have a favourite Horton novel? 

Blood on the Sand a DI Horton crime novel by Pauline RowsonNot really. I really genuinely enjoy them all. I love the plots but for me the fascinating element is Andy's ongoing personal problem with his wife and daughter.

How long does it take to record a novel?

A couple of days. A 9-5 day!

Do you listen to it after recording it? 

I tend not to have time to listen to my recordings but since the Andy Horton books are a series, I do listen to about half-an-hour or so to remind myself of the voices.

How many books do you record in a month?

It varies. In December 2011 for example I recorded only one. This year, by the end of February I will already have recorded seven!!

Do you still read for pleasure? If so what do you read?

Sadly, I don't often get time to read books that I choose. I am always reading what someone else has chosen for me. Even on holiday. There's almost always at least one book on the boil and another on the back-burner. I try to keep up to date with what's going on in the book world. I read reviews etc. There are a lot of books I would like to read but I am very lucky that it's unusual for me to record a book that I actively dislike. It's a fact of life though, that I always read a book with a pen in my hand! IF I read a book for pleasure I have to stop myself from thinking "What voice shall I do for that character?" etc!!!

Do you ever lose your voice? How do make sure your voice stays in fine fettle?

I have only once in all the years I have been recording had to abandon a recording because I was sounding croaky. Actually my producer thought I sounded OK but I wasn't satisfied. I don't do anything special to keep my voice in fine fettle. My brother was a long distance runner and I could never understand how his body could take so much punishment. He explained that his body was used to it. I guess my voice is used to it!

How many accents can you do? Which is your favourite? 

For this kind of work you have to have a good ear and not be fazed by any accents that pop up. In the book I am recording next week for example there's Liverpool, Midlands, Cockney, Scots and Northern Irish. And they are often all 'on' together. My favourite accent is Geordie. I come from Newcastle so it's great to get an excuse to trot it out as I had to do for the Billy Elliot audio book where I played the dad.

Do you see a time when you will stop reading for audio books?

I'll go on as long my voice does!!!

What’s the best and worse aspect of the job?

It's a perfect job for an actor in many ways. Like being in a radio play where you get to play all the parts. In a sense you are the director and casting-director and of course it's a huge responsibility. You have to be true to what the writer has written. Where a lot of actors fail when recording audio books is that they 'act'. It's a subtle skill. The audience is usually only one person and not a theatre full of people. The reader must disappear. I would think I'd failed if the listener is listening to HOW I read a book rather than to the story.

The worst aspect of the job is that you work in a vacuum. There is no immediate feedback. You don't know how the audience is reacting. That's why I love going around the country talking about recording books and reading extracts. It's perfect. I have an audience. To hear them laugh or feel them gripped or moved by a reading is so satisfying. The combination of recording the books and doing the talks makes for the perfect job!

For more information about Gordon Griffin visit his web site at 

Pauline Rowson’s novels are published by Severn House in the UK and the USA and her unabridged audio crime novels by Isis Publishing.


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