I am thrilled to have the talented narrator of my historical fiction book, The Edge of Revolt, here with me for an interview. If--like me--you are curious about the craft of breathing life into stories, come join us to hear what Bob Sterry has to say about his craft. And be sure to take a listen to one of his touching poems at the end of the interview.
Uvi: Just from reading your online profiles I am curious to know how you found your way to narrating books. Your background is intensely technical and your career in sales reflected that.
Bob: I think I am fortunate and unfortunate, blessed and cursed, to be one of those people whose left and right brains are so much closer or equal than usual. As a child, I was fascinated by how things worked. I took things to pieces all the time. I drew bicycle frames and accessories. I tried to read my Father’s engineering notes, his text books and magazines. I scoured the local dump for radio parts. At ten I had a complete set of drawing instruments; a compass, set square and parallel ruler. I could read at an early age. At the same time as I was attempting technical drawings I was reading my Fathers book club issues before he got to them. I was at home when the postman delivered them! For my tenth birthday, an Aunt gave me my first book token (does anyone know what that is anymore?). I took a bus into town, bought a book, and had read more than half of it on the ride home. I still have that book, The Wind in the Willows.
Uvi: So, did your education point you towards literature?
Bob: Not at all. When I was eleven I went to my secondary school which was twelve miles away. From the age of fifteen onwards I studied nothing but science and mathematics. To get to school I took two connecting public bus journeys. It took about an hour and a quarter. But on those bus rides, when I should have been reading my notes on Organo-Phosphorus compounds, and when I was not fighting with other kids, I read, Huxley, Orwell, Waugh, D.H. Lawrence, Camus, De Maupassant, Gide, Sartre, Moravia, Wodehouse, Greene, Amis, even Baudelaire! and any science fiction I could find. My ten shilling pocket money went on books. My interior world, my universe was the expanse of literature. I don’t think there has been a day when I am not reading something. In the house, on a plane, at the dentists, the doctors, in bed, you name any place where one waits.
Uvi: And did things change for you at college?
Bob: Again, no…I went to a College of Technology and studied nothing but chemistry for four years, and got a job in chemical research. I became the world’s worst chemist. It was not that I did not like science. I loved it, but not very good at the theory! Whatever slight knowledge I had managed to absorb did actually help me get a technical career in America, for which I am profoundly grateful. I am a proud immigrant.
But narrating? As my technical career wound down I started working with my partner, wife, Anne-Louise. She is a true polymath. A Pysch nurse, a musician, a speaker, a singer-song writer and trainer. I started singing myself, I started performing, I did a few plays, some musicals. I started writing, short essays, poetry, finding my voice. And those who heard my voice liked it. At first I thought I should try getting work as a Voice Over actor. Not easy. The market is full of actors, ‘between roles’, whose agents are only too glad to get them work with advertising agencies. And the agencies really don’t seem to want to explore new voices. If I had to choose between Bob Sterry and Morgan Freeman for an insurance promotion I think I know who I would choose! I have done a few pieces for local companies which took me nowhere. It was then that my love of books and poetry combined with book narration began to make sense.
Uvi: What were your first recordings?
Bob: Ha! Me singing with Anne-Louise in one of her shows, and then I had a videographer record one of my cabaret shows. But for genuine narration it was me recording my own poetry, editing with some images so I could post them on YOUTUBE.
Uvi: What do you enjoy most about narrating?
Bob: That is not a straightforward question to answer. There is no single feature of the work that stands clear, but perhaps a combination of several. The interest in reading a work that I would probably have never chosen for myself; the knowledge that someone somewhere in the world is listening to my voice and it is adding to their enjoyment of the book; the pleasure, actually a challenge, of finding ways to express an emotion in what at first seems a simple phrase, actually adding to the whole artistry of the work; and of course, the idea that I will get paid for my work!
Uvi: And I have to ask, what do you enjoy least about narrating?
Bob: Editing! It is a rare studio session when everything goes right, and the track is pristine and ready to go. There is inevitably some editing to be done before the track is clean. Add to this that it is an essential part of the business that authors get to request changes in pronunciation and delivery, after all, it is their book. It is necessary, time consuming, but not a lot of fun, even with modern recording software! Not to mention that my studio, although fairly well soundproofed is not able to filter out the sounds of my neighbor’s chain saw and chipper! So, waiting for a ‘sound break’ in the ‘noise cloud’ of the neighborhood can be tiresome. I am often in the studio late at night and into the morning hours. It can be frustrating when one is trying to meet a deadline to be held up by local forestry operations….
Uvi: Do you listen to audio-books yourself?
Bob: Ah...well, no. I am embarrassed to admit I am one of those readers who believe I can populate the virtual theater of my imagination without prompting. And of course, it could be like asking violinist Joshua Bell to compare his performance with that of Gil Shaham, Itzhak Perlman, or Simone Lamsma! But truthfully, I have not really explored the idea of listening to books myself to thoroughly. There are probably voices that I could listen too without thinking, you know, that pause was too long, or she should have put in a little sob just there.
Uvi: And what do you hope for the future in your work?
Bob: I think every narrator hopes that their voice will be ‘discovered’ by, say, A.J. Rowling, Stephen King, or another best-selling author. But for the moment I am happy to have been ‘discovered’ by best-selling author Uvi Posnansky. Looking forward I would like work on not only narrating audio books but documentary narration. It would be a new challenge and I think all artists need that.
Uvi: Any last thoughts, Bob?
Bob: Apart from you should read all of Uvi Posnanzky’s books, subscribe to her blog and listen to the audio book editions? Buy books, keep reading, encourage writers and hug your children.
Our Helium Warrior Returns