We are so excited for The Huntress, the new historical novel from Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Alice Network! In The Huntress, Kate Quinn skillfully weaves together the stories of a battle-haunted English journalist and a Russian female bomber pilot who join forces to track the Huntress, a Nazi war criminal gone to ground in America.
One of the things we loved about The Alice Network was the amazing audiobook, which was read by the very talented voice actress Saskia Maarleveld. Luckily for us, Saskia also recorded the audiobook for The Huntress, and she did a special Q&A with author Kate Quinn as well.
Watch a video of Saskia recording the prologue from The Huntress here, and read the Q&A between Kate and Saskia below!
Kate Quinn: How did you get into audiobook narration? (I know this story, but lots of my readers don't!)
Saskia Maarleveld: I have always been a big reader, and even listened to a lot of audiobooks as a kid, but I had never considered audiobook narration as a job! I was very lucky to stumble across it in 2010. There happened to be a public audition posting for a YA book calling for a female voice with an authentic Kiwi accent. I grew up in New Zealand and while I left when I was 12 and now have an American accent, my mother and her whole side of the family are Kiwis. I booked that job and slowly but surely started to build up a career in audiobook narration.
KQ: How do you pick books to narrate? Do authors and publishers request you (I know I did after the wonderful job you did for THE ALICE NETWORK!) or are you more often the one putting your hat in the ring as a contender to narrate X book or Y book?
SM: It really depends on the title and the publisher, as often publishers/producers have different ways of casting. In many cases if a publisher requires author approval on the narrator, they will recommend me to that author. Sometimes if it’s less clear which voice is right they would recommend several narrators by sending over samples from past work and the author can choose from those. Other times the publisher makes the choice alone and will email me saying “I think you’d be great for this project.” And then occasionally I will have to record a specific audition for something. In these cases the publisher usually has a few others record an audition also, but sometimes it’s that I have been recommended but there is something in the book that the publisher doesn’t have a sample of me doing, and the author wants to hear before confirming. However it happens I will consider the project and whether I can/want to take it on, based on varooois factors: scheduling, content, genre, etc. Its always really disappointing when something doesn’t work out due to schedules not aligning...but it happens from time to time when deadlines aren’t flexible.
KQ: When you get a book to narrate, how do you work out the voices you'll need to use? Do you read it first to get an idea how many major characters there are and how their voices should sound, or does it come with "Two narrators, one nineteen year American female and one fifty-three year old British female with a stammer" so you can dive right in?
SM: We don’t generally get any more information than the synopsis when we book a title. Often there is a prep script so if you wanted to check it over before accepting, you could. I then prep the book by reading if through before recording. Narrators all have different ways of prepping; personally I have found that I don’t do well with writing tons of notes ahead of time for the record, as it takes me out of the story as I narrate. I prefer to get a sense of the characters and story from reading it as though I was any reader - trying to make it pleasure rather than work can help to take in how the book makes you feel while you are experiencing it. I will also do any research I need to do, looking up pronunciations and accent work. Then when I record it I have all the knowledge of who these characters are, what comes next and any crucial details like accents and vocal qualities, but I haven’t prepped it to death. I like to experience the story fully while I am narrating it, and for me the more I have picked over it beforehand, the harder that is. The most exciting part of narrating (especially with words and characters like yours!) is feeling the excitement and power of coming to a scene, feeling secure in being led by what is on the page, but also not quite knowing how it will come out, because it is alive! To me that is true storytelling.
KQ: What are your favorite kinds of scenes to read?
SM: I love reading scenes between just two characters. I love scenes with extreme emotions just as much as those more quiet, mundane moments. I love when in two person scenes characters are revealed to each other simply through their choice of words, pauses, reactions to their surroundings. Good writing makes those just so juicy and fulfilling to read. I also love descriptive action scenes...finding the rhythm and stakes of those scenes is really fun.
KQ: There's a fun story about how you recorded THE ALICE NETWORK working under a blanket in your bedroom, so let's hear it!
SM: Yes indeed - I recorded all 16 hours of THE ALICE NETWORK under a blanket. My studio at home, which I don’t use often, is rigged up under a quilt. Sort of like a tent! It’s cozy and does the trick...and in a tiny NYC apartment sometimes it’s the only way to go. For THE HUNTRESS they upgraded me to a studio - hopefully it served me just as well!
KQ: Tell us one fun, funny, or unexpected thing about audiobook narration that most people don't know.
SM: I have a fun thing that seems to happen to me where I will often find a connection between the book I am doing and one of the last books I did. I had one with THE HUNTRESS and a book I did the following week: playing Saint Saëns on the violin was mentioned in both. Literally the first time I’ve had that come up in a book, and it happened twice within a week! Other times a character name will come up again, a specific phrase or word I haven’t used before, details like the smell of lavender or a broken leg. Could be anything, but it’s really remarkable how often I sit down to a new book and find a little detail from the last. I like making these little connections because I feel like it’s a lchain that links all the books I have ever done and I’m never quite leaving them behind.
KQ: Tell us one assumption or question about audiobook narration you're tired of hearing.
SM: I’d say there are two questions I get most often, and I understand why people ask them, but I do get tired of answering them! The first is “so do you do ALL the characters?!” For some reason this is really baffling to a lot of people, but yes, I do everyone, every word of the book (unless it’s a multi cast), even the men! And the second question I get a lot is “how do you record for so long without stopping?!” The answer to that is that we don’t! You can stop and start as much as you want. Sometimes you get on a roll and go several pages without making a mistake, but other times I am stopping literally every sentence because of a misread, or just wanting to do it again. No one expects you to power through whole chapters at a time without making a mistake or stopping. That would probably make you a machine, not a human!
KQ: One last question...I know you can do amazing British and French accents, but how's your Russian accent? Because I've just heard you are DEFINITELY confirmed to narrate my next book "The Huntress" starring a Russian female bomber pilot from the WWII regiment known as the Night Witches!
SM: Omg I hope I did Nina and the rest of the girls justice...I’ll leave it to you to judge, and if you are happy, I am happy!