Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Out of the Mouths of Actors: Dipika Mukherjee Discovers the Magic of Audible Books

On March 28, 2017, Audbible release Ode to Broken Things as an audiobook, but before that, they sent me a link to an excerpt on SoundCloud.
Ode to Broken Things is my debut novel. Like a jealous Mum, I wanted the book to stride into this new audio world with intelligent self-conviction but I definitely did not want it adopted by a mentor so fabulous that it would forget its roots and my vision.
So the first time I listened to Ode To Broken Things—if it can be called “listening” –  was in the shower, with the sound partially drowned by cascading waters.
Okay. So I am a writer who NEVER reads her books once they are published. When I am called upon at literary or talks to read excerpts, I discover cringe-worthy writing hiding in the recesses of my beloved passages. I am glad that excellent editors comb through my writing, because when I am done with edits, all I do is binge-watch Hallmark movies and Bollywood escapism for weeks, completely disengaging my brain until I am ready to do words again.
I imagine that all writers are uncomfortable with their words made flesh, but the first time a German filmmaker showed an interest in my novel, underneath the excitement was the thought, How are they going to cast for a book that is set in Malaysia, has speakers of Malaysian English, Indian English, American English, and native speakers of Bengali and Malay? Ego reared a great ugly head, knowing that I, the creator of this world nurtured in my mind for over a decade, will see this story implode in the hands of another artist.
Cue the entrance of Audible, purveyors of brilliant Audio Books around the world, who bought audio rights to Ode to Broken Things. Then they cast British actor HomerTodiwalla to read the book I had written.  
A word about the fabulous staff at Audible; they are wonderful to work with and as soon as the audio rights were in their hands, they offered me free audiobooks to check out their system and double-checked that I could access books in the UK and the US. They just weren’t interested in my input on who should be cast to read for my book.
So when the Audiobook was released worldwide on March 28, I, along with millions of people, (ok, more like a few hundred people) heard this book at the same time.
Most people probably heard it before me, because as you already know, I listened to it in the shower.
My publisher, Repeater Books in London, have been most excellent with the editing and distribution of this book; I do very little but show up for events, so the fact that the audiobook would be good should have been self-evident. But I am a sociolinguist by academic training and like most researchers and teachers of language I knew all the things that could go wrong with pronunciation and articulation.
If they had got me involved with Central Casting, I’d have whipped out a real shibboleth to sort out the Malaysian English speakers from others.
The first time I listened to Homer reading, I was startled by the mispronunciation; Malaysian English is not Indian English, and the ubiquitous lah in Malaysian English does not take a pause before articulation, but tags on happily to words for emphasis (Ok lah, said as one word, can emphasise agreement, frustration, amusement, and a host of other human complexities). Malaysian English is also idiosyncratic and very very funny, especially when Antares describes it. 
But then, Homer started to weave his magic. As a professional actor, he knew where to pause breathlessly and where to raise his voice just so. The section on the hunt for the Kajang terror with the soldiers weaving their way through the dense undergrowth of the dank rainforests grew sonorous with the whisper of leaves and the chirp of wildlife. There is a nuanced lilt to his voice when he takes on the persona of the aged grandmother, Shapnasundari, which I, as an author rushing to finish reading and sit down again, will never be able to replicate on any stage.
All of my worries about my Singaporean and Malaysian buddies listening to this and saying Rubbish lah! melted away as Homer’s voice filled my ears with words from succeeding chapters. I know from teaching English that very few people distinguish varieties of Asian Englishes clearly enough to be disturbed by anomalies in a particular type, and this audiobook, available in the US and UK for western readers, is unlikely to disconcert.
Besides the story is still mine, still intact, still good...and much enhanced by the talent of the actor reading it aloud.
I have used this old Bengali proverb in Ode to Broken Things but I am recycling it again: 
Gacher theke phol mishti
Sweeter than the tree you plant is the fruit it bears.
P.S: I still have a few free US & UK codes to giveaway for reviewers who want to review this audiobook; write to me here



Dipika Mukherjee’s debut novel, was longlisted for the Man Asian Literary Prize, republished as Ode to Broken Things (Repeater, 2016) and is available as an Audible audiobook in the US and the UK. Shambala Junction, her second novel,won the Virginia Prize for Fiction (Aurora Metro, 2016) and was released in the US in April 2017. 

3 comments:

Bill Kirton said...

Glad to hear that it worked so well for you, Dipika, as I understand it has for so many others. Can I, though, add a cautionary tale? I may have mentioned before that the two books of mine that are available from Audible are travesties. My strong reservations about the early extracts I heard were ignored by the publisher who'd commissioned them and chosen the voices. The readers are clearly not actors, have mangled, in their separate ways, the texts and, even though I've tried to withdraw them from sale, Audible tells me I can't do that because the nature of the deal means I'd thus be depriving the 'actors' of income. Your experience is proof of the value of having one's books available in audio, but for anyone contemplating taking that path, make sure you hear and approve the reader before you let him/her near your book.

Umberto Tosi said...

Congratulations on the audible release of Ode to Broken Things. A fine actor brings fine prose to life in ways we readers cannot quite imagine. Audiobooks enriched my life and kept me sane during the years I commuted to various jobs in California. You inspire me to push for an audio edition of my own work! Thank you.

Dipika Mukherjee said...

Thanks Bill & Umberto; always appreciate folks taking the time to give me some feedback. Bill, I do wish I had been more involved with the process (I think a lot of the mispronunciations just needed some feedback to be rectified) but I can see why Audible would not want someone like me nitpicking and having them redo swathes of audio. I am NOT completely thrilled with the final product although parts are lovely, but I think with a story like this, unless they hired multiple voices, the accents would be impossible to get right. Umberto, I think of it as opening up a new type of reader for my work and that can only be good, right?