Meet the Voice of 337!

Everybody, say hello to Matt! We sat down with our narrator and asked him some burning questions about the recording of the 337 audiobook during lockdown…

You can listen to Matt in action and download the 337 audiobook here.

Tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved with the audiobook.

I’m Matt Weigold, 31, from Sheffield. I got involved with the book when I went for a competition with Radio Sheffield called “This Is Me” and I got to the final two or three in that competition. There’s a lady there called Helen Bailey (who’s always been really supportive since I landed the role) and she’d heard about this audiobook that they needed a narrator for. So she messaged me and said, “You ought to go for this!” So I sent off the files and got through the various stages and eventually got chosen to be the voice which I’m delighted with!

What did you think of 337?

Brilliant! The fact that you’re always guessing and trying to work out what’s happened is great and it touches all the time on people’s perspectives and how your own perspective can change over time. You can add things to a memory or take things away or change things as well as adding everybody else’s versions of events. As well as your own bias, things that happened before, happened since and so on… So anything you’re being told and anything that you’re reading – you can’t trust. You don’t know what to believe… What is the truth? That’s something that I think is really intriguing as a reader of the book.

Overall, how did you find the experience?

The experience of narrating the book has been fantastic. I’d never done any narration for audiobooks before. I’ve done a lot of performance in the past on stage and I do a lot of poetry nowadays but I’d never narrated an audiobook and found the whole experience really enjoyable. From a selfish point of view, during lockdown, it was ideal because it gave me something to work on that had a very targeted approach. I’d need to do this many chapters by this date and I had my little calendar above and highlighting them off each day. It was a very enjoyable process, I really enjoyed it!

In usual times, this would have been recorded in a studio, how was it recording from home?

To have the equipment here was ideal! To be honest, I think I’d have preferred to do it this way because if you’re sat in a recording studio and you’ve got a set amount of time – you’ve got eight hours a day – you’re thinking how you’ve got to get so many chapters done and how you need to do it like “this”. Doing it from home, there was no feeling of being rushed or sentiments of “That’s not right but we’ve got to clock off for dinnertime!” and all the rest of it. So hopefully that’s reflected in the quality. Obviously there was a bit of anxiety with it technically: is it right? Am I recording it right? Am I being consistent in where I’m sitting? How I’m directing it, the volume, the pitch… But Ed, the editor, was really helpful with all that, giving great feedback throughout.

The author was very keen that the voice of 337 sounded local, with a detectable Yorkshire accent, why do you think this was so important?

He’s obviously written the book with a place in mind and people in mind, so if my voice is a reflection of that then hopefully that adds something for the reader. And some of the posts I’ve seen on social media about how positive it is to hear northern voices in a medium that’s normally dominated by southern voices is really inspiring. For me personally, I’m really delighted.

Which was your favourite passage to read?

Some of the sentences and passages are written so, so well that there were drops of words in silences that I just felt “woahh” as I said them. It sort of fell off my tongue and I thought, “That’s going to sound really good.” And hopefully it does! One chapter in particular where there’s a confrontation, the writing meant that it had to be done hell for leather. That chapter in particular I’m really excited to see what people think because that did feel crazy to record.

What about your favourite character?

Each character brought something different to read – it was great. The brother was probably the most enjoyable because he seems like a complete dosser and a loser at first. Before beginning the recording as well, my remit was to “Try not to put on a character too much”: to remember that it’s the narration of a book, not a monologue on a stage. So I was always very cautious to not do impressions. The character voices obviously needed to be differentiated and each voice needed to be clear for the reader to follow it but Tom, the brother, was an enjoyable one to read.  

There are some upsetting moments in the book, how did you approach these?

Obviously the material helped a lot with the incredibly accurate and beautiful descriptions of seeing an elderly relative towards the end of their life. My aunty Marge is ninety-nine, my aunty Ida lived to be one-hundred-and-six, my aunty Mary lived to be one-hundred-and-five so I could really relate to those scenes. But to get through them, I’d think of my nan and think of the pride- she would be so proud that I’m doing this. It just spurred me on to do it and to do it justice, do it well.

What was your process for recording the audio?

We had a firm deadline so I began by breaking it down into chapters per day then and how many of those chapters I would plan to do per day. And then once I finish work at 5pm, I’d have a cup of tea and get the laptop out at my desk in my bedroom. Then I’d go through the chapter I was working on and I’d highlight any bits that I thought needed stressing, or slowing down, any words that I needed to get my tongue around – I’d research exactly how things should be pronounced. So I’d do that here in my bedroom and then I’d take my laptop through into the spare room to do the actual recording. Like having one space as a rehearsal room and another as the final production room, I suppose, the recording studio.

Have you listened back to it yet?

I’ve listened to bits, bits that I really wanted to listen to. And I thought maybe I’d wait until it’s released to listen to whole piece! Maybe that sounds daft but to listen to it at the same time as everybody else, there’s something a bit special about it. It’d be like going to the premiere of your film!

Do you think listening to an audiobook changes the experience of a book? How?

One of my questions really early on was about how to approach certain words that I wouldn’t, in normal speech, say as they were written in the text. Like, if the book reads “it is”, is it alright if I say “it’s”? If the word is “yes”, is it alright if I say “yeah”? I expected him to be all cool and casual because he normally is… but he wasn’t. He explained to me that the text is what it is. That every letter and punctuation mark is there for a reason. And he compared it to notes on a music sheet. So I really took that on board and thought that if they’re they notes on a music sheet, then I’m the musician or the singer, so I needed to make sure all those notes are bang on. And hopefully the audiobook is a great reflection of the original music. That’s what I’m hoping for, that I’ve done it justice. I thoroughly enjoyed reading 337 and thoroughly enjoyed narrating it, so I’m hoping everybody will enjoy reading it!

You can listen to Matt in action and download the 337 audiobook here.

Note: some answers have been edited for clarity and sense.