Work on the third audiobook (The Sentinel’s Alliance) in my Silent Sea Chronicles trilogy is coming on really well so today I thought I would do something to celebrate all the hard work of my narrator, George Ellington. He has done an amazing job on the books and I could not be happier with the end results.
Back in Nov 2020 he gave an interview on Audiobookworms blog tour for The Lost Sentinel. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to share it, so here it is.
First there are a couple of quotes from reviewers on Audible that I’d love you to read. I’ll share a couple more after the interview.
‘…oh my goodness, I must gush about this voice! George Ellington’s smooth Scottish accent gave the story a medieval highland feel that I think suited it very well…’
‘…Narrator was Superb, with excellent vocal pressure, and the perfect voice narration of this audiobook. The vocal pressure used gives the listener the sensation of sitting by a campfire listening to a Master Storyteller!‘
‘This author and narrator pairing is great. The narrator really brought the characters to life and made you feel the tone of the story. He has a great voice, good vocal range and fantastic pacing…’
Interview with George Ellington
- How did you wind up narrating audiobooks? Was it always your goal or was it something you stumbled into by chance?
Narrating audiobooks was not something I was looking to do, although for quite a while I was attracted to the notion of voice acting. I’m a language teacher; I’ve been teaching English in colleges and universities in the United States, Turkey, and Japan for several decades now. So I love language and voice and accents, but it was my wife who guided me to the ACX platform where I found Suzanne Rogerson’s novel The Lost Sentinel and for which I subsequently auditioned. My wife, Laya V Smith, is an author herself, and she has always tried to help me find the work that would be most fulfilling for me. When she guided me to audiobook narration, I immediately took to it. I loved it! And I am very grateful to her as well for having chosen me to narrate her own novel, The Lumbermill. That was the biggest challenge I had faced—narrating my wife’s novel. I think you should always work closely with your authors, but to have the author there in the recording booth with you is a different matter. Especially if you’re married to her! Which is not to say that she was micromanaging; she was performing all the female and children’s roles in the story, so she had a very good reason for being in the booth. And fortunately for me, The Lumbermill is a fantastic novel, and Laya was very good at guiding me and inspiring me to find the right voices. The Lumbermill is a neo-noir thriller, and Laya knows that I am a huge fan of Dashiell Hammett’s work and Humphrey Bogart’s performance in The Maltese Falcon, so when I was struggling with voicing for her novel, she suggested I “channel your inner Bogie.” And it worked. I am very happy with my performance in her audiobook, and have heard people who know my normal speaking voice, remarking how unbelievable it was to find out that, yes, that really was me performing The Lumbermill.
- A lot of narrators seem to have a background in theatre. Is that something you think is essential to a successful narration career?
I can absolutely see the benefit of having a background in theatre. I wish I had had such a background. In a way, what eventually brought me to audiobook narrating was the fact that I had always been too shy to endeavor performing on stage. For some of us, voice acting and audiobook narration is a chance to act, but in a safer environment where no one can see us. But yes, it is still acting. In fact, with Suzanne’s audiobooks, for the first time I found the courage to change my audiobook credits from “narrated by” to “performed by.” It’s not presumptuous to think of ourselves in this way. In fact, to some extent I have been acting throughout my profession as a college teacher. But with audiobooks—and in particular with Suzanne’s stories and my wife’s novel and Zach Abrams’ mysteries—I have been given a chance to really indulge that desire in me to perform. I listen to many audiobooks, and at least in the realm of fiction, those I am most likely to stop listening to early on are those audiobooks in which the narrator—for whatever reason—chose not to perform, chose instead to deliver a multi-character story with essentially one voice for everyone and very little alteration in the style of speech.
- What would you say are your strongest narration abilities?
With my background in languages, not only teaching language, but also working closely with students from all over the world, and by virtue of the fact that I am the product of generations of immigrants, I feel most confident in my ability to empathize with characters in stories, to convey the emotional experiences they are engaged in, and to provide authentic voices for each one. I was born in the United States, and a California accent comes natural to me, but most of my audiobook narration has been closer to my mother’s background, whose family came here from Scotland, while my father immigrated to the US from Germany. Throughout the day, without even meaning to do so, I dialect switch, changing my pronunciation and lexicon depending on the situation and on whom I am speaking with, so it is not much of a struggle in narration to create new voices and to perform them in distinct dialects. In fact, it’s one of the things I love so much about audiobook narration—playing with different voices. I can’t imagine any other job that would allow me to have so much fun with my own voice, modified to become many different people. I do the same thing at night, reading stories to my weans before bed—lately I’ve been performing a lot of Winnie the Pooh for my four-year-old son. But with audiobook narration, I actually get paid to do it. Brilliant!
- What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
I have spent my life reading quite voraciously, and only in recent years discovered and fell in love with listening to audiobooks. And there does seem to be some confusion about perhaps the intention of audiobook production. Reading a book is a completely personal experience that calls upon ones own experiences and expectations and imagination to make a book—in particular, a novel—come to life. And that is a wonderful experience. Nothing can supplant that, including audiobooks. But you see, that’s just the thing—audiobook listening should not be seen as replacing the experience of reading for yourself. With an audiobook, you’re trusting in someone else to help bring that story and those characters to life. Listening to an audiobook is a different kind of experience—an experience in which the work of the author is enhanced by the skills of the narrator or performer. I see nothing odd about a reader, having read a book for themselves—and having thoroughly enjoyed it—deciding to then listen to the audiobook for a very different experience. I sincerely hope not only to attract new listeners to Suzanne Rogerson’s novels, but also to entice those who have already read her novels to come back and listen to my interpretation of them—to relax and let me bring the stories to life for them in my own way.
- What about this title compelled you to audition as narrator?
My first real love as a reader were fantasy tales. I recall well how enthralled I was back in high school reading Tolkien’s works. If this fantasy realm was populated by warriors and wizards, by elves and dwarves, then I had to read it. But then I went to university, majoring in literature, and suddenly had no time to read fantasies any longer. It was all Dickens and Shakespeare and Hemingway and Joyce, all of whom I still love, but I think I never quite stopped longing for a good fantasy. When I saw book one in Suzanne’s Silent Sea Chronicles open for auditions, I couldn’t believe it. Not that I ever thought she would choose me, but I had to give it a go. There was no way I could pass up the opportunity to narrate such a fantastic trilogy. The Silent Sea Chronicles has everything in it I love about fantasies: a keen understanding of characters populating these tales, including those you love and those you hate, and all of them are compelling. I love to see how magic in Suzanne’s tales is not just some supernatural element dropped into an otherwise unrelated environment, but that in fact—comparable perhaps to Native American or Celtic beliefs—the world is animated by magic. There is a strong sense of respect for the world in Suzanne’s writing, and for how what we do impacts the world around us.
- How closely do you prefer to work with authors?
I feel much more confident with the work I do when I can work closely with the author. Yes, the narrator brings their own interpretations into the performance, and that is as it should be, but I also need to know what the author wishes to hear from all of the work I do, including voicing, characterizations, pacing. When an author can say, these three characters mean a lot to me, and I want them to sound like this and this and this, then that makes my job all the easier. It helps a narrator no end to know up front the parameters within which the author foresees an audiobook sounding like. From what I gather reading feedback from other narrators, it is still an unfortunately common occurrence that a narrator continues on with a work, even unto its completion, only then to discover that a character or, even worse, the narrator does not meet the author’s expectations. Narrators should always work closely with authors. Suzanne has been a joy to work with, giving me such useful feedback every step of the way, even helping me with finish editing, catching things I might otherwise have missed, and still otherwise, giving me a great deal of free reign to interpret and perform as I choose. Zach Abrams was like that as well, for whom I narrated three books in a police procedural series set in Scotland, always encouraging and helpful in guiding and polishing his audiobooks. I’ve been very fortunate with the authors I’ve worked with.
- Have there been any characters that you really connected with?
In Suzanne’s novels, characters are so well developed and so sympathetic that I find myself caring about many of them. My first real connections was with Rike and Garrick, perhaps because they were primary characters in my audition for the work, but more so because they are just very good men, striving to help others, seeking to overcome their own failings and face the incredibly daunting threats that surround them in these stories. They have fine hearts and struggle with love, and possess those very same talents that make for a great fantasy: one the keen, sensitive mystic, the other the big warm-hearted bear of a warrior/protector taking care of the mystic. There are great relationships in these stories, and characters like Rike and Garrick made me love the series from the start.
- Do you read reviews for your audiobooks? If so, which ones stand out to you most, positive or negative?
I’ve been warned a number of times to not pay too much attention to reviews, but I can’t help it. Of course I look. Sometimes daily! I’m not sure how many readers and listeners out there understand how crucial it is for the success of authors and narrators that they actually take the time to rate and review the works they read and listen to. Especially within the online medium that we depend on more and more to choose our next read or listen, and how search results are generated—reviews are critical. (No pun intended.) So yes, I look, and negative reviews hurt, and fortunately for me, most of the reviews that have been written about my performances have been very good. What still surprises me—and makes me blush—is that the greatest number of positive reviews I have received have been for romance performances. One novel in particular, Storm the Castle by Jolie Vines—another great author to work with!—has evoked some rather gushing praise that pleases me so very much of course, although I wonder how much of that is due to the popularity of a deep-voiced Scottish accent in a romantic lead. One reviewer talked about my performance melting her clothes off. Who wouldn’t blush at that? So yes, I love reading positive reviews. I’m sure we all do.
- Who is your “dream author” that you would like to record for?
I have already had the glorious good fortune to work with authors whose works I have enjoyed and whose talents I have deeply admired. As I have said, Suzanne Rogerson has been a joy to work with. Because I have spent so much of my life reading, I know many authors whose works I wish I had had the chance to narrate: JRR Tolkien, AA Milne, Ernest Hemingway, Raymond Carver, Graham Greene, Val McDermid. The list goes on and on, really. A couple of authors whose works I truly love and would have given anything for the chance to narrate are John Le Carré and Ian Rankin. Deeply intriguing stories, wonderfully constructed characters. Just brilliant. As a listener, I am grateful that narrator James Macpherson was brought on to continue narrating the Rebus stories; he does a fantastic job of it! But yes, I do wish I could have had a chance at narrating something from Ian Rankin. Dream author, indeed!
Disclaimer – These questions were thought up by Justine at Audiobookworm and were part of the tour she ran for me in November 2020 (see a summary here). If you’re looking to to spread the word about your audiobook check out her website.
Here is a sample of George’s narration.
At the weekend The Lost Sentinel is having a blog blitz run by Rachel’s Random Resources, so I hope to have some more review snippets to share with you then.
I’ll leave you with a couple more reviewers quotes from Audible.
‘…told by narrator George Ellington who I found I could easily listen to for hours.’
‘…amazing book made better by the narrater George Ellington…’
‘…I can only hope the narrator is going to do Second book in this series. He has an awesome voice and this is an awesome story.’
Suzanne Rogerson – Author of epic and heroic fantasy
You can follow me on
You can also join my Newsletter for writing updates and news of promotions.