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In a new feature to coincide with National Audiobook Month, we select our audiobook reader of the year in recognition of consistent excellence. Our inaugural selection, Simon Vance, exemplifies the best of the profession: a reader who performs a wide range of titles—adult and youth, fiction and nonfiction, serious and seriously amusing. He always exceeds our expectations and more than meets our criteria for outstanding work.
Vance is a prolific reader (more than 400 titles to date) for multiple distributors, including BBC/Sound Library, Blackstone, Books on Tape, Hachette, Macmillan, and Penguin, among others. He has been nominated for 12 Audie Awards, sponsored by the Audio Publishers Association, and was a 2006 Audie winner for his reading of Richard K. Morgan’s Market Forces.
Born in Brighton, England, Vance studied acting from an early age and found his way into radio through the BBC and into audio through the Talking Book Service of the Royal National Institute for the Blind. In the 1990s, he moved to California, where his audiobook career took off.
Few narrators display such range and versatility. From fiction classics and best-sellers to fairy tales and fantasies, the range of titles is amazing and his coverage of nonfiction is just as astonishing. What makes Vance such a good reader? He says that he is “doing no more than simply telling the story.” And perhaps that is his greatest strength. His reading mirrors the words on the page, but he also expertly captures the intent of the author and the underlying mood and tempo of the text. In Vance’s reading of Eric Clapton’s painful and self-revelatory autobiography, Clapton: The Autobiography, his “tones vibrate with the energy of the madcap London arts scene in the 1960s,” and he “convincingly communicates the mood swings of an insecure musician.” In presenting the world and work of Shakespeare in Peter Ackroyd’s Shakespeare: The Biography and Charles Nicholl’s The Lodger Shakespeare, he sets up the background through his straightforward British accent, and makes the lyrical passages sing when reading excerpts from Shakespeare’s works.
Stories matter to Vance, and he appreciates a good tale. Most stories are revealed through the characters, and Vance inhabits characters with skill. In Elizabeth Nunez’s Prospero’s Daughter, he easily suggests “the ambivalence of the bright young British police officer,” and when portraying the dragon Temeraire in Naomi Novik’s Empire of Ivory,“Vance excellently conveys Temeraire’s unique personality, independence, and intelligence, reminding listeners of the dragon’s nonhuman nature,” while revealing much of its humanity.
Vance’s expertise also lies in his ability to reflect the author’s tone. In J. Maarten Troost’s The Sex Lives of Cannibals, he “wrings every bit of irony out of the sardonic prose,” and in Jasper Fforde’s pun-filled The Fourth Bear: A Nursery Crime, “Vance’s appropriately pompous accents and plummy tones emphasize the ubiquitous humor and constant flurry of literary allusions.”
Another skill that sets Vance apart is his facility with accents and language. His crisp British accent makes him a natural choice for titles from across the pond, but he is equally adept with French, Spanish, and Italian accents. Asked about dialects, he claims his skills are a result of “research and preparation” and a “good ear and a versatile tongue.”
Our talented winner is comfortable reading a wide range of stories. According to Vance, “The thing is to present the truth of the material, and this is found inside the text and not placed on top of it by external means.” He admits to possessing “a very active and creative imagination, confidence, a good knowledge of his range and abilities, and above all, stamina.” While Vance argues for sticking to the text, there is clearly magic in his storytelling.
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