Well, I knew the publishing company was small, and I knew I was going to record in a house, not a studio, so my expectations were - how can I put - moderate.
How did my recording an audio book come about? Well, I'm going to be honest, its not because I submitted my scripts and some publisher came back and said "wow, that's great, we want to publish you." No, its because I attended a training course about something completely different, NLP. The man who runs the NLP training company also runs the publishing company, and he 'offered' to publish an audio book of anyone who wished to submit.
Not very discerning, is it? But I guess he was in a good place to find authors (at least three people I spoke to on the programme were also writers) and why not? He could, I suppose, discover some great talent or maybe its just a way to build his portfolio of publications as the business grows. That, I think, is most likely.
Well, I accepted the offer, and the arrangement was made. I sent him my stories, which came back with 'Thank you, I enjoyed your book, please...' followed by instructions for how to contact the engineer and start the process. Yeah - it read a bit like a standard letter, and I'm not sure he ever read the stories, but I don't care. I was thorough in my editing, and I had the help of a very good writer too who helped me plug lots of gaps in my stories.
A date was arranged for the recording - 11 am on March 9 2007, in Tonbridge, Kent. The day before I did a 'dry run' at home, reading through, timing, even doing some last minute edits. Amazing how differently stories sound when read aloud.
Well, 9 March arrives, and with a two hour journey ahead of me I set off early. The M11 and M25 journey is a dream... easy! Eh? That's odd. Usually a nightmare. I arrive in Tonbridge at 10.10 - but the first thing I see is a sign to a country park. Off I go. Follow that road - and arrive at Haysden Country Park. It's March, and the sun is shining, and the walkers and their dogs and the grandparents and their toddlers are out and about enjoying a brisk but bright morning.
I parked the car and walked down towards the lake. The path was flooded. Turn back? No - what the hell. Posh boots, not wellies, but look - a lake (no doubt full of wildfowl) and half and hour to kill. Sit in the car? Visit the town? No way - I'd come here is if programmed it seemed.
I splashed through the flooded path and reached Barden Lake. A huge flock of Canada geese, a few ducks, a coot. I walked round the path a way and then down to the water's edge on a fishing pontoon. The water was being rippled by the wind and it felt as if I could sense the movement of the earth. I looked out towards the scraggy island in the lake and there were two more water birds - Great Crested Grebe. It was early in the season, but as if on cue they began their courtship dance: head wagging, bobbing, and circling round eachother. It was half-hearted, not the full display (and indeed their plumage was still not in full colour), but it was like a small show just put on for me. I loved it.
As I walked back up to the path, smiling at the birds' dance, a huge shaggy white dog bounded up to me. All the other park dogs had ignored me, but this one wanted to play. He pranced round me, smiling in a square faced, laughing dog way. He daubed my leather coat in mud, and looked up at me imploring me to come play too. His owner called him, throwing a ball for him to pursue. "Beautiful dog," I said. "What's he called?"
"Cromarty. His mother was called Dogger."
I smiled. "As long as he doesn't German Bite.." yeah, she'd probably heard that one before. But the dog was beautiful - big, creamy white, and if it hadn't been for his square, otter hound type face, he could have made a passing fair wolf.
Back to the car, revived by the fresh morning air after my hours in the car, I found my way to the house in Tonbridge where we were to record. A small, modern semi in a very nice residential part of the town. Tim was there, with his recording gear all set up. One room had two microphones, three baffles and a chair (my 'booth'), the other (wires trailing under doors) had his recording gear (a small desk, his CD recording machine - no idea what type, but good broadcast quality).
We exchanged pleasantries, planned the track list, and began. It was that easy. I read, I stopped if I bumbled, and re-read where needed. We stopped for tea whilst a local builder's compressor provided a subliminal hum we were not keen on. At one point Tim thought the compressor had started again - but it was my stomach.
I read, we reviewed, I did some 'extras' for him to dub in, and corrected the odd passage. I even re-wrote one small part because it made more sense for the story.
It was amiable, easy. I did not cringe quite as much as I usually do over the sound of my own voice. Maybe because you don't have to be 'in tune' for reading (and most of my recording time has usually been spent singing). I gave him two CDs with music on for segueing. The house owner returned - Jo. I had met both her and Tim at the training programme programme originally. They remembered me. Tim told me that so far John (the trainer and company owner) had got four audio books done so far. Ah - so it is a very new publishing company indeed! One about stress, one childrens book, one horror stories and next week Tim was recording some one with some erotic fiction. Well, I guess my ghost stories fit in fine then!
So, at the end of the day (we finished about 3.15) I left Tim and Jo with my thanks, and started the drive home. The sun shone. The rain fell. Rainbows arched the motorway. I drove home happy.
No - I wasn't hitting the big time with a national publisher. Yes, I have to wait three weeks for the proof disc. Yes - I have to sort out the cover pictures and make sure all the text is in place. No, I probably won't make a fortune, nor will the publishers. Yes - I can say I am published. I will have an ISBN number on my work. I will be able to sell the books myself as well as through on-line resources and through John's network. Yes, I am confident that though maybe not the greatest collection of ghost stories in the world, the stories are good enough to be enjoyed by others.
It won't be a finished product for a month or two. But when it is, I hope I have some sense of achievement. At the moment I still feel that its closer to self-publishing than commercial publishing. But I'm going to reserve judgement. I need to be objective instead of my usual hyper-self critical.
It can't be too bad - because as I left Tim said "Do let us know if you want to make another." And I just so happen to have another collection of stories ...