Alphie McCourt grew up in Limerick, Ireland with three brothers. His pieces have appeared in The Washington Post, The Villager (New York), The Limerick Leader and in Icons Magazine. Here, he writes about his experiences recording his first book, A LONG STONE’S THROW, as an audiobook.
In our family, when you do something good or achieve even a minor distinction, the saying is-“I always knew it would come to this”-as left handed a compliment as ever there was. And that’s as far as we go. So, when I told them that I was about to record A Long Stone’s Throw, my memoir, with Hachette Audio, there was only a murmur.
Recording your own book is a revealing experience. Anyone who has done readings or has spoken in public more than once, is used to an audience and the gratification implicit in even the occasional smattering of applause. But, when you show up on the day, there’s you in the glass booth and on the other side of the glass are the producer, Jon, the director and the sound engineer, Tommy. You haven’t met them before. More important, there is no audience and, therefore, no barometer.
You are alone in the booth with your sins of a lifetime, your drinking and smoking and wasteful ways, while the priests on the other side offer their encouragement as you embark on the reading of your tell-all memoir. It is not a confessional but there is enough in there to make you wish you had done otherwise on many an occasion in your life but you soldier on. It is one thing to have people read your book but now you are laying it all out for them in front of one woman and two men, (three men when Anthony Goff stops in from time to time to see how you are doing).
Later you will wish that you had listened to the director and “done” more voices. You meant to do that but you were intent on delivering the text word for word. You are easygoing by nature, still, you hate to make mistakes and take up the time of the trinity on the other side of the glass. Besides, you have no experience so you don’t know what’s customary in this situation, or what tolerance there is for errors.
At some point you begin to relax. The day passes with an occasional short break and a big break for lunch. Out on the street you do your deep breathing exercises although you must not seem to be overblown on a crowded street on Manhattan’s East Side. Someone might invoke the ‘see something say something’ mantra and call Homeland Security. You will be hauled in for questioning and forced to reveal the truth, that you were just taking a break from recording your book. ‘A likely story’ they will declare, as they take you into custody. So you try not to betray yourself as you muster up your long dormant yogic deep breathing skills on Lexington Avenue, close to Grand Central Station, in the middle of the work week.
You return to the booth, settling in now and feeling more comfortable. There are a few fragments of song scattered throughout you book. You always feel comfortable when you’re singing. You are no great singer but you can deliver a song under the right circumstances. Jon and the director and Tommy the sound engineer seem to sense that the singing will relax you and so they indulge, even encourage you. The days pass. Sometimes you feel as if it may be hopeless. If it were not for the encouragement of the trinity you might just lay back, let it go, and forget the whole thing. But then a particular passage will take your fancy and you are revitalized. It’s a nice surprise to find that something you had written yourself can have such an effect on you. And you think ‘isn’t that puddle-wonderful?’
Comes the third day. You begin to breathe easier as you head into the home stretch and the smiles on the other side urge you on to do well and to do better. You are mindful that the great Len Cariou has read here many times. Your friend Joe Hurley will take his part in the reading of Keith Richard’s great memoir, a few years down the road and with distinction. You can’t yet know about Joe’s performance but the good vibes are already there and you are buoyed by these two greats.
You redo a few passages, make a few corrections, and it is done. Some time later the package of CD’s is delivered to you. For quite some time you don’t listen to the CD’s, not out of vanity but out of fear, fear that it may be so godawful that everyone will hate and despise it. It is not unlike having photographs taken and wishing that you had looked more animated or, at the very least, that you had offered your ‘good’ side.You wish you had read with more spirit. And that you had read faster. You had been so careful of your diction, especially when it came to the ‘th’ sound. That sound is often a landmine for you and your countrymen. You had sworn to pay attention to it. And so you had been preoccupied, like a Canadian so determined to get over his accent that he periodically falls into saying ‘aboot,’ instead of ‘about’ and thinks all is lost. But nobody really cares. It’s the story people want. Just about everything else is irrelevant.
Later you will record a shorter piece; ‘Saint Patrick, the Hat, the Banner and the FBI.’ That piece, along with two excerpts from A Long Stone’s Throw; ‘The Wedding’ and ‘The Holey Pants,’ are put up on iTunes. In November of this year your three Christmas pieces - what you call your Christmas Trilogy - will also go up on iTunes. While recording these pieces you felt like a veteran. You relaxed. You even took liberties and made jokes. Tommy is the director. He lets you go on and you tell yourself that you have done a pretty good job all told.
If you were to advise someone who was setting out to record a book or a story your advice would be to embrace it and put your own stamp on it, for better or for worse. Listen to the director and try to have a good time because, when you have a good and satisfying time, it becomes infectious. And remember, it’s the story they want.
Politicians are instructed to acknowledge the question and then to go on and talk about whatever it is that they want to talk about. That’s what I have done here. It has been a pleasure. Thank you