Today I am proud to present an interview with author John Bartlett, who has collaborated with famous British actor Leslie Phillips to create a top quality audiobook.
Q: John, I read your book Chequered Justice a couple of years ago and was totally gripped. I remember I couldn’t put it down all weekend. For people who haven’t read it, please explain a little of what it’s about, and how you came to write it.
A: Chequered Justice is based on my own story of a particular strange series of events that overtook our lives back in the 90s. Chequered Justice reads like a legal thriller but everything that happens in the book, happened in real life. So many people kept asking questions about “Will & Beth Middleton” that I really had to put up a dedicated page for Questions & Answers on a Chequered Justice website! The site also has a blog with the background to the true story, and a video about how we made the audiobook. But here’s a brief introduction.
Only a handful of individuals ever make it in the world of professional motor racing. Only a minute few of those that do make it, experience the devastating effects of becoming seriously injured, with the inevitable collapse of their life’s dreams. Imagine the trauma and torment of losing it all, only to be accused of having deliberately constructed the event of your downfall …by the Crown!
You certainly don’t have to like racing to enjoy the book. It’s the story of a family, a man with a burning ambition and a court case that “many say should never have been heard and, some say, couldn’t have happened”. I felt it was a story that had to be told. I also believe our justice system has many problems that society should be aware of and needs to address.
Q: I know you’ve published the book in paperback, hardback and ebook too, but what made you decide to produce an audiobook version? And how on earth did you persuade Leslie Phillips to read it for you?
A: I really wanted to get Chequered Justice to the widest possible audience and I felt an audiobook would help to achieve that.
I first met Leslie at the age of 7 at my parents hotel in Brighton where he was a guest. I remember my dad introducing Leslie: “This is Leslie Phillips. He’s a famous actor”, he said, somewhat edgily as playboy Leslie escorted my eldest sister out on an impromptu date!
Fifty years later he read Chequered Justice and offered to do a review for me. We hit it off and later also offered to do the audiobook recording for me, during which, despite the age difference, Mary my wife and I became good friends with Leslie and his lovely new wife Zara.
Q: He reads really well and he’s a great character but not so young. How did it go working with him?
A: Leslie was 89 years of age when he did the readings. The finished audiobook runs for around 17 hours but we in fact recorded hundreds of hours of audio and then edited the tracks together in much the way a film is produced. It took around 9 months to do all the recordings, usually working for around 2 to 3 days at a time.
But he’s a grand old man, and charming too. We were so impressed with him that we made a video showing the making of the audiobook. And you can listen to a sample too and see a promo video with Leslie doing the voiceover.
Q: That video is totally amazing, John. Really impressive, interesting and beautifully made. Please everyone, if you’re reading this, click on this link and watch it now!
A: Well, thank you. We enjoyed making it. As I said, he’s a great actor and a charming English gentleman. It was a privilege to work with him.
Q: One of the really professional things about your audiobook is the sound effects. It sounds like a radio play sometimes, especially the motor racing scenes. How easy was it to arrange that?
A: It wasn’t easy but I had a top man, Graham Waller, behind the mixing desk http://www.grahamwaller.com . He’d spend hours putting together a track and then ask me… “Is that as it was? Does that take you back to those times?” If it wasn’t quite right we’d spend hours and hours on each track until it created just the right imagery in the listeners head. We then had a series of test listeners and would make any tweaks before laying down the final tracks before producing the final mix. The sound effects and editing process alone took another 9 months to perfect.
I have always seen Chequered Justice in my head as a film, and being very dyslexic I tend to see things very visually. Of course I lived through all the events in the book, but I now see it all as scenes. So when it came to producing an audiobook I wanted to make it as close to a film type process as I could, to bring the emotion and drama of everything to life.
Leslie not only narrates the book but also gives each character their own voice — the backing tracks, music and sound effects brings the entire listening experience to life. There are even subsonic effects that you can’t hear but that have an effect on the listener. It’s the first time an audiobook has ever been produced in this way.
The overall finished effect was so dramatic I was transported back to those times!
Q: It took me eight or nine months to complete recording and editing A Game of Proof – partly because I kept making beginner’s mistakes, but still, that’s a terribly long time. How long did Chequered Justice take you?
A: It took 9 months to do the recordings with Leslie but that was split over a few days per week and their were times when we took a couple of week break. The editing process took a similar time frame. We then had another week or two recording retakes with Leslie.
Q: I remember being interested in audiobooks too at the time but ACX told me they were only open to books from US based authors. But that didn’t put you off. What did you do?
A: Jeremy Clarkson coined that phrase “How hard can it be?” Well, throughout my life I’ve tended to think that way and rather recklessly jump into things, never realising there were obstacles. So whenever I was told things were impossible I simply bashed away until I found a way through!
Q: At the end of your book there’s a section with yourself and your wife speaking. That sounds ok to me. Have you thought of making an audio version of your prequel, with you reading it yourself?
A: It’s always possible and if the film of Chequered Justice ever happens, then I think Dark Horse will definitely get produced as an audiobook.
Leslie was going to record the prequel and has already voiced the opening sections… Sadly however, just before Christmas he suffered a stroke. He was recovering very well and even did some filming work with the BBC, but he’s now suffered a seizure. He is however a workaholic and whenever I go up to see him he tells me we must get the prequel recorded!
Q: We’ve got the books and the audio. The next thing is the film. I have a film script ready for A Game of Proof, but haven’t got anyone interested yet. How about you?
A: Leslie was pushing to try to get something underway for me. He even arranged a meeting with a production company at Pinewood Studios last year, but that’s as far as it’s got. It’s all down to money and the production cost is estimated at around three million pounds for a 2 or 3 part TV drama.
I have also had another studio ask me for a screenplay, which I don’t yet have so I’m off to Cambodia very soon for a few weeks isolation to write it…. Never attempted anything like writing a screenplay before, but how hard can it be!
Q: For you, not hard at all! Thanks John – see you at the film premiere!