Thoughts from a Sound Editor involved in our audio project

In May 2018, Penguin Random House Audio and Ministry of Stories launched their first ever audio collection of 35 short stories, written and recorded by children aged between 8 and 12 and and published as an audiobook CD entitled The World was an Avocado. The unique publishing project is part of a partnership between Penguin Random House UK and Ministry of Stories, which is now in its third and final year.

Click here to read more about our audio project. Ministry of Stories’ has released 10 stories on its podcast, available on Apple iTunes. An additional story will be released every Monday morning with some podcast episodes are introduced by authors, and Ministry of Stories patrons, including Charlie Higson, Nick Hornby, Nikesh Shukla and Sophie Kinsella.

Richard Hughes, a Freelance Sound Editor involved in the project, shared his thoughts.

Adding sound and music to a story is always a lengthy process, no matter how short the piece is! The surprising thing is how precise the effects often need to be – otherwise you can easily confuse a listener and rather than them following the story you’ll leave them wondering what on earth they’ve just heard.

However, this process of noisy trial and error is without doubt one of the most enjoyable aspects of what I do!

One of the trickiest parts of this job is deciding what to add where. Which bits of the story need audio illustration? However, with the two wonderful Ministry of Stories pieces I was given, there was so much happening in each of them it was impossible to resist adding effects throughout.

Both authors, Bunmi and Jack, had such action-packed stories that it was usually pretty clear what was needed. For instance, when Jack writes in The Mutated Man “…it sounded like saws being smashed against each other…” I knew exactly what was needed! In that case, it ended up being not just the sound of two saws, but also a large laser printer, a forklift truck, a motorbike revving up and an effect from my library labelled only as ‘time machine’ – which I’m afraid I have no idea about the origins of.

That well demonstrates the strange truth that often you need other sounds to create the effect you’re aiming for – the sound of two saws clanging against each other was effective but didn’t express the real chaos and intensity of the moment (in this case, Doctor Butthead powering up his giant robot).

Composing and adding music is a different challenge altogether. The key to this is usually in pinpointing the ‘feel’ of a story – what’s at the heart of the piece? With Bunmi’s The Greedy Unicorn, the themes were clearly there in the title, so my composition partner Dan Martin and I set about trying to represent both the unicorn’s beauty, and the ugliness of greed… which in this case manifested as an airy harp arpeggio over the top of a much more earthy trombone bassline – thus contrasting the themes of the story right at the outset.

Adding music and effects to any audiobook can be a hair-pullingly frustrating challenge – but the Ministry of Stories audio project really felt tailor-made for it. The stories were all so intensely imaginative, that it was a delight doing anything at all to bring them to life – though I do feel it should be pointed out that without the authors, there’d be nothing for the sound engineers and composers to do! So I really hope some of these budding young writers go on to bloom in the future.

Easy Sounds To Be Found At Home:

Anyone can record their own sound effects! It’s perfectly possible to find bits and pieces around the home that work very nicely doubling up as all sorts of bizarre effects…

  • Got any creaky doors at home? Try opening them reeeeally slowly – and voila, the sound of trees bending in the wind, a spooky castle door, or a giant ancient chest being slowly opened…
  • Water effects! Try filling a sink with water and pushing an empty plastic bottle into it – the glugging sound is perfect for the sound of a mad scientist’s laboratory, or a fish swimming by, or a bubbling swamp… And record that gently trickling tap for an instant stream or babbling brook.
  • Grab a roll of Sellotape and record it unpeeling at different speeds – and you’ve got the sound of all manner of ripping, tearing and stretching effects. Even the sound of crackling electricity if you get it just right!
  • Try opening and closing an umbrella for the sound of wings flapping – a giant eagle soaring majestically by, or if you do it much faster, a bat flapping manically.
  • An empty crisp packet being very slowly scrunched up in the hand makes for a surprisingly convincing crackling fire.
  • You’ll need some help with this, but if you very gently slide the top of the toilet cistern off, you get a great effect for a stone sarcophagus opening in an ancient tomb…
  • Careful with mess on this one, but if you pour a fizzy drink onto the floor you can get the sound of the sea washing up against the beach!
  • If you want to get a little more complicated, try filling a tray with flour and walking on it for the sound of footsteps on snow.
  • And finally, for a whole host of weird sound effects: try cranberry sauce for bizarre squelchy noises, a set of keys for all kinds of metal effects (money or chainmail armour for instance), and biting into an apple for all kinds of useful gory crunching effects (breaking bones, the impact of an arrow – or of course just your classic ‘chomp’ for monsters and humans alike!)



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