Disclaimer: While I record a podcast with InEar’s founder and have helped out on some of their other projects, I had no involvement with the creation of this audiobook.
“Never write a bad review about someone who calls themselves crazy.”
- Magdalene (‘For Those With Eyes to See’)
If you know me, you know that I love audio dramas and audiobooks – I’ve easily spent several thousand hours of my life consuming everything from novels narrated by one actor to full-cast productions. When I was told that InEar Entertainment, the same company that produces the free sitcom Supermarket Matters, was going to foray into for-sale audiobooks, I was very excited. And when I learned that Katy Jane, who those of you who came to the 0D Cinema plays in March might remember as the mother and the computer respectively, was going to be one of the two narrators, I was even more excited. I have liked her voice since casting for 0D, and was sure I would quite enjoy listening to her as a narrator.
Despite all the initial excitement, I found the sample sobering: Charlie Elliott, the male voice actor, unfortunately has quite a prominent lisp, which I found fairly distracting. Of course, the actual story matters as well, but if I am going to sit down to listen to someone read that story to me for roughly an hour and a half, I want to find that voice pleasant to listen to. Nevertheless, I was willing to give this a chance and sat down to listen to the audiobook for the first time. Worst case scenario, I would get at least half of the audiobook read to me by Katy Jane, and that was enough to sway me.
Elliott’s lisp stays fairly noticeable throughout the reading, but the stories – there are eight of them – by Troy Blackford, an American author hailing from the Twin Cities in Minnesota, proved powerful enough to grab my attention and often to the point of losing myself in that world and forgetting Elliott’s lisp. This leads me to argue that despite my scepticism, he is a strong narrator, because he managed to make me forget my being annoyed at his speech impediment and let me enjoy the world Blackford creates.
The Blackfordian world is a strange one – strange in the best sense of the word. Something is always slightly off, and much of the fun is trying to figure out the twist before it hits you at the end. I didn’t manage to achieve just that even once – which is a huge plus, because the stories stayed enjoyable and mysterious all the way through. Two stories stood out for me.
The first one is ‘Monday Morning’, read by Elliott. I could argue that the story appeals to me because I recognise a bit of myself in the main character, who is having an atrocious Monday morning trying to get to work and gets annoyed at everyone around him – but derives an almost masochistic pleasure from his misanthropy. When he eventually manages to arrive at his office building, annoyed and with coffee stains on him from one of the incidents on his way, he realises his company has vanished and his keycard isn’t working anymore. This is where things take a turn for the weirder, and Charlie goes on a quest to find out what is happening. The Blackfordian (I’ve used it twice, it’s a word now) humour shines through here with fantastic lines such as:
“He’ll get to the bottom of this situtation even if it meant going to the top floor, where the company’s management offices were housed.”
The second one is ‘All In Your Head’, read by Jane. It tells the story of Mike Ballantine, who goes to see a doctor claiming he has a deviated septum, but planning to use the endoscope for a particularly nasty procedure on his nose. If this sounds like horror, it isn’t: the story stays true to Blackford’s style in this collection of weird and captivatingly creepy. I won’t give away what Ballantine’s plan actually is and why he does it but suffice to say even when you think you’ve figured out the twist, Blackford appears behind you and slaps another surprise right in front of your face.
Mike stood awkwardly before the cart, hunched over so he could still see the scope’s output onscreen. He worked the thin tube up his right nostril. Dr. Trefusis had been right: even with the anesthetic spray and lubricating gel, this felt strange. If a stranger had been doing this to him in an alley, he’d be yelling for the cops.
I would have liked it if Katy Jane and Charlie Elliott had switched back and forth between reading stories, and provide another aural cue that a new story, with a new set of characters, was about to begin, but this didn’t distract from the actual narration and is more of a personal preference.
When I listened to the audiobook a second and a third time, I almost forgot about Elliott’s lisp and, while I still wish he didn’t have one, to not buy the audiobook because of it would be giving it too much importance and distract from how wonderful this collection is. This is fantastic fiction, read by two great voice-actors, and I am convinced that all three of them have a wonderfully bright future ahead of them.
You can buy a DRM-free MP3 for £3.50 (or €4.20 and $5.50 respectively) on InEar Entertainment’s website. It’s a minor hassle, but make sure to create an account and don’t just purchase as a guest, so you can go and re-download the file in case you ever lose it.
InEar’s stated mission is to discover and support up-and-coming writers and voice-actors who aren’t established enough yet to make the big jump to Audible (which has several constraints and isn’t supportive of small-scale indie products), and the next audiobook (a fantastic science-fiction novella, which I edited for recording) is being released in the near future. If you want to support this mission, and get a great collection of short stories for it, then head on over to InEar’s webshop and grab They Who Cry Out Seek to be Heard, and if you like it, tell your friends about it.