An interview with Nick Cracknell, narrator of the Annika Brisby Series
How did you get started doing narration for books? Your voice is amazing.
Thanks Jackie! I’ve always enjoyed acting, and last year I hit a point where I really regretted not following this career path. As I’m now in my (late, ahem) 30s I thought breaking into acting would be a struggle, so I decided to try my hand at voice work since people have always complimented me on my voice. I put together a portfolio and started looking for work. I hit upon ACX (the Amazon creative exchange) and started auditioning for audiobooks, and did a couple of smaller ones before Emigh gave me my big break with the Annika Brisby series! Since then more and more work has come in and I’ve not looked back, and am extremely grateful to have been given the chance to do this full time and make a living from it!
Was it difficult reading the parts of Talvi and Finn as they have such different personalities?
Initially it was, yes. But it got easier with direction from Emigh! As I use pretty much the same voice for both characters, I had to find ways of making a distinction between their personalities for my own benefit as well as portraying them in the novels. As the books progressed though it became easier to distinguish between them, and although they sound similar as brothers they are totally different characters as you well know.! Plus Emigh has done such a great job of writing them that it just became natural after a while to switch between them. That’s also been one of the most rewarding aspects of working on a series, you really get to know the characters and it’s much easier to ‘become’ them as you progress.
How do you keep all the different accents and voices in line? Also, how do you decide what accent a character should have?
That’s been my favourite aspect of narrating the Annika series! There are so many great characters and the dialogue never gets stock or boring, there’s always something exciting going on! Emigh is great as she gives me very free reign with how I can portray the characters. Obviously for the bigger roles Emigh has a pretty good idea of how they should sound accent-wise, for example Annika is American and all the Marinossians speak with a non-regional British accent (received pronunciation). But otherwise she would make suggestions on how she imagined their accents and then set me loose! It’s been really fun delving into my accent bank and I played around with loads until I found a few that I was really comfortable doing. For example James is a huge queen from New York, but being British myself it’s not always convincing to nail down regional US accents, so I did him as quite a neutral US accent. Being such a larger than life character it seems to work really well. And for Charlie, Emigh’s only direction was ‘he says dude...A LOT’, and I instantly pictured Keanu Reeves in Point Break! Putting a face to each character really helps when it comes to distinguishing between them if there is a scene with lots of different people in it. Again Emigh made suggestions here that made it a lot easier to bring the characters to life.
Do you realize the affect your voice has on women? If I am ever in a coma, that voice would wake me right up!
Thanks Tracy! Yes, a few people have said that over the years, it never gets boring! I was born in Ireland and grew up there before moving to England in my teens when I lost most of the accent, but some of it has stayed with me which helps a lot!
How do you do audio on an intimate sex scene? How do explain what they are doing or feeling? Do you change the tone of your voice?
Well… it’s actually not that much different from a ‘normal’ scene really, in that I still have to switch between the characters (usually male and female). What helps a HUGE amount is the quality of the writing, and as you know Emigh’s is spot on. It would be a lot trickier narrating a more cliched love scene (‘throbbing pole, etc’), but I enjoy the way more is left to the imagination with Annika and Talvi. It is much sexier! I guess I do try to make my voice sound a bit huskier and deeper if possible, but without going overboard...
Do you have a favorite character to voice from Emigh’s books? Are there any characters who ‘speak’ clearly to you?
It’s hard to say as there are so many. They’re all my babies now! I don’t think I have a front runner as favourite, but I totally get into James for some reason! Perhaps the funnest cameo was Ohan the Troll in The Flame and the Arrow, I modelled him on a guy I used to work with who was from East London and weighed 400 pounds… I also love voicing Konstantin (I used to live in Russia and it brings back memories). Don’t tell her but Yuri and Merriweather are both modelled on my mother-in-law and are always fun to do. Perhaps the most difficult character for me is Runa, she is so little and delicate (and Scandinavian) which is about as far from my voice as you can get, so I kind of dread it if she has a long speech but I get through with tea and honey! Justinian is fun, he’s kind of based on Brian Blessed… and Nikola is totally Jon Snow from Game Of Thrones! If I had to pick one though, it would probably be Talvi, as he was the first voice I ever did in my audition, and I’m nostalgic like that…
Here's a question for Bo, who plays the part of Talvi’s niece Stella. What’s it like working with your dad? Is he paying you for your talents?
Bo: “Daddy is a total perfectionist. I get paid in hair ties.”
Nick: This sounds about right… Bo is fantastic and absolutely loves voicing Stella. She asks me on pretty much a daily basis if there are any more lines for her to do! And she usually nails it in one take, I think she has definitely caught the acting bug.
You put a lot of effort in performing Emigh's books. You certainly make it sound like you are enjoying the story. Do you find yourself sucked into the plot and committed to the series in a similar way that Emigh's fans are? (You have to know we are chomping at the bit for the next instalment.)
Yes absolutely, they are a pleasure to narrate. It also makes it much more fun and interesting (as well as challenging) to have a broad range of characters to voice. It becomes more like acting than narrating! The great thing about the Annika series is the way the plot moves along so fast, there's never a boring chapter and that makes it very easy to get involved in the story. I can't wait for Book 5, come on Emigh!
You have taken great pains to give each character a unique voice, irrespective of how minor their role is. You have maintained these character voices consistently through the series. How do you select a unique voice for each, especially since some of the characters are from fictitious places? Once you have developed the accent, intonation, etc., how do you ensure you maintain the consistency?
I've sort of always been good at doing accents, and the Annika series has so many cool characters that mean I can really get stuck into pretty much every accent I can do! Emigh and I work very closely to decide on which accents will go well with which characters. I remember just before I started on the first book, The Flame and The Arrow, I made a suggestion that maybe Talvi should have an American accent.... how wrong I was!
Usually Emigh lets me know what sort of accent she prefers and I give it my best stab. For each 'breed' of character we'll choose a different accent which makes it easier (for me as well as the listener) to distinguish between them if there is a lot of dialogue in a scene. For example, for the wood nymphs we went with a soft Scandinavian accent, Asbjorn is a gruff Scotsman, Charlie is a Californian surfer doood and of course all the Marinossians are RP English. Some of the funnest ones to do are the fleeting characters as I can ham them up a bit, like Ohan the Troll (East London) and Greyson Bronek, whom I basically modeled on Brian Blessed in Flash Gordon! I keep a cheat sheet in my studio in case I forget who is who, but to be honest I'm so familiar with all the characters by now that it's second nature.
Who's a character in the book you feel the most compatible with?
Funnily enough, probably James! Although I'm not gay or from the US, he's the character I always really look forward to voicing as Emigh says I can go as over the top with him as I want. She said think of the GBF from Sex In The City, I tried him with a Brooklyn accent for a bit which I struggled to maintain so in the end just went as camp as I could. His accent fluctuates a bit but I think that adds to his charm!
The character I am most like in real life though is probably Finn. But secretly I wish I was more like Talvi...
What kind facial expressions do you make when you're narrating intimate scenes?
Maybe one day I'll film myself doing a scene to find out! And then swiftly delete the footage...
If you have a question for Nick, you're welcome to submit a question or two for him to answer. He's not easily flustered, so don't hold back! The more interesting and fun your question is, the more likely I'll be to select it for the interview.