For millions of Heyer readers modern audio books have added a new dimension to “reading” her novels. Audio books have become increasingly popular as people find they can listen to their favourite authors and discover new ones while exercising, cooking, gardening (my favourite) – indeed, anything that lets them listen. For me, a Georgette Heyer audio book makes cleaning the house or filing or any other tedious task something to look forward to! This year, Penguin have begun releasing brand new recordings of Heyer’s Regency, Georgian and detective novels and it has been a real treat to hear these fresh versions of her books read by a range of male and female narrators. So far I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Devil’s Cub, Bath Tangle, Black Sheep, The Convenient Marriage and Sylvester or The Wicked Uncle. Sylvester is a perennial favourite Georgette Heyer novel and one of her cleverest so it was a real treat to listen to this new version. The narrator – well-known actor Matt Addis – did a great job with the reading, bringing the individual characters to life and and adding another dimension to Georgette’s sparkling and often very funny dialogue. It was such a treat experiencing Sylvester in this way – and a wonderful reminder of what a terrific film or television series it would make – that one listen was definitely not enough!
Characters brought to life
One of the many reasons that Georgette Heyer novels still sell a hundred years after she published her first book is the way in which she brings her characters to life. Sylvester is no exception. Georgette’s dramatis personae (which you can see from her own hand here) is a rich one. From the lowliest kitchen maid like Alice with only a bit part to the charming and utterly endearing Dowager Duchess – poetess and wise counsellor) to the self-important and comical Sir Nugent Fotherby who practically steals every scene he is in, Heyer knows just how to make each character spring from the page as lifelike and visceral as if they were real. For me, audio books only add to that experience! Hearing Sylvester talking to his mother about his outrageous marriage plans is such a delight and the opening chapters set the scene for the marvellous story that is to come. Matt Addis as narrator gives each character their own distinctive voice and the drama or comedy of each scene or chapter is enhanced by his interpretation. The last part of the novel where Phoebe and Tom are compelled to stay on board the Betsy-Ann and travel to France with Sir Nugent Fotherby are delicious! Sir Nugent is one of Georgette’s comic triumphs and Matt Addis makes him all that he should be. The final scenes where Phoebe and Sylvester, with the help of the Dowager Duchess, eventually resolve their differences gain an added depth from hearing their conversation. This, I find, is one of the advantages of audiobooks – hearing the characters speak can often add to the enjoyment of a beloved novel. Matt Addis’s version of Sylvester was such a delight that I was curious to know if he were a longtime Heyer reader. Consequently, I reached out to Matt to find out and he kindly and enthusiastically responded to my short Q&A. I hope you enjoy this brief exchange with new Georgette Heyer fan, Matt Addis.
“Delighted to talk about Sylvester“
MATT: I’m delighted to talk about Sylvester
JK: Had you ever read a Georgette Heyer novel before recording Sylvester?
MATT: I’m ashamed to say Sylvester was my first Heyer, but I’ve since read 3 more. A friend of mine is a huge fan of her books, so I was very much aware of them.
JK: If not, did you have any preconceived ideas about the book?
MATT: I had previously narrated two Regency Romances, that I knew were written by an author who’s a great admirer of Heyer, and who writes with a similar style – meticulously researched, witty & sophisticated, which I greatly enjoyed reading – The Devil You Know and Bless Thine Inheritance by the wonderful Sophia Holloway. I don’t think I was expecting Sylvester to be quite as entertaining as I found it to be, or for the characters to be as fully realised as they are.
JK: Were you surprised when you read Sylvester? What did you think of the book?
MATT: It’s always a delight to find that you enjoy reading a title you’ve been booked for, and to find yourself wanting to know what happens next. I was very pleasantly surprised to discover that I immediately felt an affinity with both Sylvester and Phoebe.
JK: You did a wonderful job creating the different characters through their voices. Was that difficult to do? Is it hard for a man to do female voices?
MATT: Thank you! I try to remain true to the author’s intentions for a character, allowing the book’s descriptions of them, what they say and what other characters say about them to shape the choices I make in giving them a voice. Heyer draws her characters in wonderful detail, and invites her reader to create rather clear pictures in their head. It was great fun to be subtle and complex with some of them, and enjoyably bolder with others. I was particularly drawn to Edmund, who I based on my own beloved nephew Arthur. It isn’t easy for a male narrator to play females, and vice versa, but hopefully if we play the truth of that character’s thoughts and desires, the magic of theatre fills in the gaps for us.
JK: How long does it take to record a novel like Sylvester?
MATT: We recorded Sylvester over 3 days last November. I usually allow around the same time to read and prepare the book before recording, making notes about characters and researching any words or phrases I’m unfamiliar with. I was lucky that Sophia was very generous with her time in both helping me with historical detail that I was unsure about, and giving me some very sage and informed advice on my choices for the characters. After that my brilliant editor took four days to polish and shape the recording, subtly removing intrusive noises and breaths, and adjusting the pace of gaps and pauses to finesse my performance. Then our superb proof reader listens meticulously to the book, and makes notes on any small deviations from the text, or elements that distract from the story. We return to the studio to fix any of those the editor can’t do on her own, and after that the recording goes to the Mastering Engineer to be balanced and level… levelled.
JK: What’s the biggest challenge in recording an audio book?
MATT: For me, it’s remaining absolutely true to the book – interpreting the story the author’s told in such a way that they might hear it and recognise every phrase. Hopefully we give audio life to text in a way that lifts it from the page – that transports the listener into the story.
JK: What do you most enjoy about the process? What did you most enjoy about Sylvester?
MATT: I love being a time-traveller – of exploring the world of a story, of researching words and details I didn’t previously know, of interpreting what a character wants and how they might go about getting it. Sylvester was an absolute delight to explore and inhabit – from the joy of Mr Shap disparaging Alice’s brother’s intellect to the pain of Edmund wailing for his Button.
JK: You made me laugh aloud many times while listening to your rendition of the book. Did Heyer make you laugh?
MATT: Excellent! There was certainly a lot of chortling as I read the book for the first time, less so when performing it, as I always think comedy lies in the absolute truth of a moment – playing a character’s intentions as honestly as I can. It’s great fun to also be the arch narrator though.
JK: Have you recorded any other Heyer novels? Is there a chance you could record Cotillion or Venetia, Frederica, The Unknown Ajax or A Civil Contract? (I do hope so!)
MATT: I’m currently recording Heyer’s Hannasyde & Hemingway detective novels, which I’m greatly enjoying – they’re extremely witty too, with moments of glorious romance, and some wonderfully contrived crimes. I’d love to be given another of the Romances – I can only ask that if anyone enjoys Sylvester they leave a review on their audio-bookshop’s site detailing exactly what they liked about it – that’s where my next project always comes from.
Thank you, Matt Addis
Recent news from Penguin reveals that Matt is currently recording all of Georgette Heyer’s detective novels and will also be narrating Beauvallet. There is no doubt that Matt will make a marvellous Sir Nicholas Beauvallet! I am very much looking forward to the murder mysteries and to hours of listening pleasure as I work my way through the new Penguin audiobooks and listen again to old favourites. Let’s hope that the success of the audio books helps bring Georgette Heyer to the screen!