June/July 2019

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30 n AudioFile/ AudioFile's Josephine Reed spoke with narrator Julia Whelan, who brought home the 2019 Audie Awards for Best Female Narrator and Autobiography/Memoir for her narration of Tara Westover's Educated. This is an excerpt—hear their full conversation in a bonus episode of our podcast, "Behind the Mic with AudioFile Magazine." Josephine Reed: You had a very successful career as a child/teenage actor, and you took time off to go to college. Julia Whelan: Yes. JR: What did you study? Where'd you go? JW: I went to Middlebury College, and I studied English and Creative Writing. I didn't do theater while I was there. I kind of left acting for those four years and just focused on developing this other skill set and interest of mine. JR: Were you always interested in writing? Was that something that had grabbed you from the beginning? JW: I was. Yeah, as long as I've been acting. I was an only child, so I think part of it is just entertaining yourself and the world-building. But I remember dictating plays to babysitters before I could even physically write. It was the process of writing; it was coming up with stories and coming up with characters. So that was something that I definitely knew I wanted to do more of. Acting had worked very well for me at that point in my life, and I was ready to put it on pause and focus on something else. JR: You narrated Gone Girl with Kirby Heyborne. How did you deal with the ten- sion and the pacing in a book like that? JW: That book was so much fun. JR: Oh, that book was so much fun to listen to, let me tell you. JW: Part of it is that as an actor you always want to play the sociopaths. They're just so much fun. And she's so unfiltered and honest and raw and funny and dangerous, and there's so much going on in that character that that was probably the two best days I've ever had in the booth. The interesting thing about that pacing is first of all, trying to match Kirby; he recorded first. And so I remember telling Jill, who directed it, that I wanted to go super-fast because this character—because she's crazy and she's overeducated and she's working at a pace that her very slow husband cannot keep up with, and she's always three steps ahead of him. And that was kind of my first lesson in audio: You can't. You have to give the listener the moments to download what they've just heard. So in, I think, the slowness of it, I think that what that brought out unintentionally, but I think worked really well, was the sort of plotting, sadistic cat-and-mouse thing, like slowly backing him into a corner. That was not my first instinct, but I think it's better. JR: You've narrated memoirs as well. And doing a voice for somebody we actu- ally know, how do you grapple with that? Because you're not going to mimic them. JW: No. I think that's probably the worst thing you could do because you're never going to live up to that expectation. When it's a celebrity memoir, I agree that I think that that's a sticky wicket. And I think at that point you just have to say, "I'm the professional storyteller here. That's what you're going to be listening to. You're going to be listening to the pro - fessional version of this." But when I do memoir with someone who isn't known, like I did Educated by Tara Westover, which is an incredible book, then I think it depends on the writing style. She's such a beautiful writer, the prose, just on a craft level is so gorgeous that it's not that far off from first-person fiction. The only thing I would do differently is always defer to the text, step back on character - izations a little bit, but really deliver it as the story that it is. Memoir is tricky. With memoir I feel an even greater sense of responsibility to the author. JR: When you're picking a book to narrate, what draws you to a book? Is it language? Is it character? Is it plot? JW: At this point in my career—and I'm starting to have this discussion more with producers because I think I'm choosing books that serve a purpose to me as a writer more than anything—that they're people I want to read. They're authors that I either know by reputation or books that I've heard about in, you know, in the kind of whisper network of publishing. I want to know more about this person and how they do what they do. And I will always take a very "voicey" charac- ter-driven book. And at this point I'm Narrator Julia Whelan Photo by Max Flatow podcast Behind the Mic with Julia Whelan

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