Saturday , June 15 2024

Exclusive Interview: Award-Winning Sherlock Holmes Narrator David Timson on his Audiobook Career

On January 1, a number of copyrighted books in the United States moved to public domain, including Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes. Before you embark on creating and publishing your own stories about the detective and his friend, Dr. Watson, it’s the perfect time to immerse yourself in the classic stories. You might try listening to the complete and unabridged stories from Naxos AudioBooks, recorded by actor David Timson (Poirot, The Russia House).

Timson spent 10 years recording all four novels and 56 short stories for Naxos Audiobooks, taking listeners through Holmes and Watson’s intriguing journey of solving cases, interrupting crimes in progress, and building their friendship from the 1880s to pre-World War I days. Timson’s prolific career also includes doing more than 1,000 broadcasts with BBC Radio Drama, directing four Shakespeare plays with Naxos, and recording numerous audiobooks.

We spoke on Zoom recently to discuss more about Sherlock Holmes, preparing to record audiobooks, and also his love of Charles Dickens.

Cover art of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from The Return of Sherlock Holmes, as read by David Timson
Courtesy of Naxos AudioBooks

On Sherlock Holmes

Interestingly enough, Timson and Naxos initially didn’t plan on recording the entire Sherlock Holmes collection. “I did a selection of about half a dozen from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the first collected volume of the short stories. They went so well, it was decided we’d do the whole lot,” Timson recalled.

During this successful undertaking, the British actor kept busy. “I lived with Sherlock Holmes and Conan Doyle for 10 years. I did a lot of research into the background and the writing, and into Conan Doyle’s life. Gradually, I began to appreciate him more.”

While Timson had read the stories in school, he wasn’t a great fan until these recording sessions. He enjoyed many of Conan Doyle’s stories, readily pointing out a favorite from the later years. “Holmes disappears in the clutches of [Professor] Moriarty over the Reichenbach Falls. That one is called The Empty House. I always feel sorry for poor old Watson though. He thinks his best friend is dead and then suddenly [Holmes] turns up out of the blue, which is a bit of a mean trick to play!”

Cover art of Holmes and Watson at a bridge for The Casebook of Sherlock Holmes, as read by David Timson
Courtesy of Naxos AudioBooks

On Preparing Behind the Scenes

Good actors prepare well in advance of recording sessions, Timson explained next. That was helpful in how he captured the contrast between Watson’s and Holmes’ personalities from Conan Doyle’s writing. “You get both sides: the emotional impact of the story and the intellectual, reasonable, rational side of the story. It’s clever.”

Timson reads his scripts and practices the voices so he can create a world for audiobook listeners. “I actually have to hear the characters before I can see them. It’s very important I get in my head how they would have sounded. After all, that’s what the listener is going to have, just the sound. They’ll have nothing visual to help them.”

Timson appreciates his opportunities to record not only unabridged audiobooks, but also the abridged releases. “I did the abridgments on all my recordings for Naxos. It was my selection in a way. I think that’s rather gone out of fashion now. I don’t think many people do abridged ones anymore because people want the full thing.”

David Timson: Director

In addition to directing others, including Kenneth Branagh in King Richard III, Timson directs himself when he records. “Most audiobooks now are recorded at home. You don’t go into a studio. Certainly in Britain, it’s expected that actors have some sort of setup at their home. You’re in total control, both of the technical side, but also the direction and performance.”

Photo of David Timson smiling
Courtesy of Naxos AudioBooks

Directing gave Timson valuable information about how actors work. “I understand acting from my perspective, but every actor has a different perspective on what acting is, and what they want to achieve, how they want to sound, what they’re aiming for.”

Directors have an important job in bringing actors’ different approaches together into a coherent piece. The task is more challenging when you need to direct yourself and consider your options. “There’s nobody there. You get no advice. Nobody says, perhaps you’d like to try it this way, or could you do it that way? Or don’t do that accent, which of course, most actors would like.”

On Charles Dickens

After Sherlock Holmes, you should listen to Timson’s recordings of books by Charles Dickens, an author he absolutely loved since childhood. There’s a lot to Dickens that continues to fascinate Timson today.

“Dickens actually wanted to be an actor. He didn’t want to be a writer. He became a writer almost by accident because he got a cold when he was supposed to have an audition for Covent Garden.”

Cover art depicting a bridge at night from Our Mutual Friend, as read by David Timson
Courtesy of Naxos AudioBooks

Dickens, Timson continued, was offered another audition opportunity but was hired as a newspaper reporter and never went back to pursuing an acting career. But acting still formed a basis of his writing process. “[Dickens] used to act out his books in front of a mirror, improvising. Once he got the character and the speeches right, he would then rush back to his desk and write it all out furiously. That’s how Dickens worked.”

Because the characters are theatrical, Timson appreciates the richness in voice, accents, dialects, age ranges, and class ranges in the text. “You’ve got a terrific opportunity. I can’t imagine any actor turning a Dickens novel down to read. They wouldn’t be in their right minds!”

Watch the clip below for a behind-the-scenes look at David Timson reading Sherlock Holmes. Then visit Naxos Audiobooks to listen to more of Timson’s audio samples.

About Pat Cuadros

Pat Cuadros is Pop Culture Editor for Blogcritics Magazine. She frequently covers TV, film and theater. Her portfolio includes interviews with Ndaba Mandela and actors Juliette Binoche, Fran Drescher, Derek Jacobi and Brent Spiner. She's also spoken with notable voice actors Petrea Burchard, Garry Chalk, Peter Cullen and Brian Drummond.

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