Makes It Up
Available on the 28th of September, 2023
This book grew out of a moment of high drama conceived and performed by a group of actors in 1977. A Redcoat soldier from 1745 marches across a school playground. A wall of ten- and eleven-year-olds, their gobsmacked faces, noses pressed to the classroom window, staring in disbelief. As their class teacher, my life and career were about to change on that extraordinary day. The moment of incitement that begins the story of Mr Harris also shifted my teaching to a drama focus. Drama without make-up, scenery, curtain calls and prompts, but instead a style of classroom teaching that uses many of the conventions of theatre but without an audience, a script, or heavy velvet curtains.
What followed that auspicious day in July 1977 were years of learning the craft. The craft of using drama for learning, with a key strategy right at its centre: teacher role play. In other words, a teacher shifts into a new way of grabbing children's attention. Creating dialogues 'as if' he was not their teacher but someone else, The Mayor of Hamelin, Goldilocks's dad or a nineteenth-century Beadle disparaging the work of Dr Barnardo.
AVAILABLE AS AN AUDIOBOOK
AVAILABLE AS A PAPERBACK
AVAILABLE AS A HARDBACK
AVAILABLE AS AN EBOOK
The Story of the Audiobook
It is clear from the first page that Mr Harris Makes It Up is a dialogue-heavy tale. Accents from South Wales, Liverpool, the Black Country, Dublin and Manchester are scattered liberally throughout the story. Central to all these voices are those of children. In sharing work in progress, listeners wanted to hear more of these characters. In response, I took the manuscript to an Arvon course for radio plays at Lumb Bank, Yorkshire. Over the week, I could discuss and experiment with the form, and while I decided against shifting to a radio play, I felt convinced that Mr Harris Makes It Up would work as an audiobook. I tested the theory at a recording studio, and it worked well.
Then came Covid! Change of plan. With the help and advice of an experienced sound engineer and some research on the YouTube channel, I embarked on building a recording booth. Plumber’s plastic pipes, soundproofing foam tiles glued to A1 sheets of cardboard and layers of duvet cover covering the roof. The booth was wrapped in soundproof blankets and held with Velcro and staples. Heath Robinson lives! A good microphone, stands, mixing board, headphones, a laptop and quality recording software finished the project.
However, I didn’t envisage the stifling heat inside the booth on a hot summer’s day. Cooling fans were introduced although they had to be switched off during recordings. Soundproofing in front of external windows was needed to block the noise of dogs barking, tractors spluttering, and birds singing. Oh! The central heating and hot water tank also had to be switched off. The sensitive mike picked up every sound.
I used an iPad to display the text and an app that automatically scrolled as I read. There were warm-up activities to prepare my voice for reading each chapter. I recorded at the same time each day, as my voice changed as the day progressed.
Characters’ accents had to be checked for authenticity. I even hired an actor to coach me using a North Dublin accent. What a challenge!
The sound engineer edited and prepared the recordings for testing, as audiobook recordings are required to achieve an ‘ACX standard’ to get approval from Amazon Audible.
The learning curve was steep, but by the end of Covid restrictions, I was well on the way with the project. I was ready to send the recording to Troubador Publishing three months later. All the work that had entailed making an audiobook meant I had a version of the story that complemented its dialogue-heavy profile.