The Talking Author

I’m listening to quite a lot of Talking Books at the moment. More entertainment for my mother but they end up entertaining me in the car as I scud around the countryside. Yesterday, we were both listening to From a Clear Blue Sky, written and read by Timothy Knatchbull. He is Lord Mountbatten’s grandson and was one of the three survivors from the IRA bomb attack on his grandfather’s fishing boat off County Sligo in 1979. You might think it would be harrowing, and of course it is, but he deals with the horror early in the book and then returns to early childhood memories – in particular what it was like growing up as an identical twin. His twin brother, Nicholas, was killed in the bomb attack. I have only heard a bit of the book so far but am impressed by how much the author’s own voice adds to the listener’s experience. He has an attractive voice and you are drawn into his company, warmed by the feeling that Mr Knatchbull is confiding in you. It is very intimate and very moving. Likewise, long ago, I remember thinking that Alan Clark’s distinctive voice was essential to a full enjoyment of his political diaries, but ‘talking authors’ do not always work well. Sometimes, however good the book itself may be, the author’s untrained voice with none of the modulation learned at drama school, begins to sound like hammer blows in the ear. I discovered recently that Jack Dee (who I love as a comedian) is - to my ear anyway - a bit unvarying in his delivery when it comes to reading aloud. His book, Thanks for Nothing, is very amusing but I would prefer to read it to myself, hearing the author’s wonderfully ‘Eeyore-like’ tones only in my imagination.

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