The Elite Anthology Interview: Toby Longworth
By Rose Thurlbeck
In anticipation of the imminent release of the A-Book of Elite: Tales From The Frontier, we thought we should meet the actors reading our stories.
Rose Thurlbeck - Could you tell us something about yourself? Who is the man behind the voice we will be hearing read the stories?
Toby Longworth - Well, I started in comedy in a double act called the Rubber Bishops, with Bill Bailey, but I began to long for other people to write my scripts and to not have to be constantly touring around the country. So I found a home on Radio doing loads and loads of different shows, including Weekending (for 5 years), It's Been A Bad Week, The Treatment, Rent, Hitchhiker's and many, many more. After a stint at the RSC reminded me how hard touring can be, I spent some time at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester doing several plays. Since I got married and settled in London, I have mainly divided my time between TV sitcoms (Not Going out, The IT crowd, Phone Shop) and audiobooks. Over the last couple of years I have returned to live theatre with "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Live" ...touring... but now in much more comfort...
RT - We know you've worked in science fiction before with some of the biggest names, but had you heard of Elite when this job came up with Fantastic Books Audio? What attracted you to the project?
TL - Like many people Elite was one the first computer games I ever played. I have to admit to having absolutely no aptitude at it (I can't remember ever successfully docking once) but I was absolutely fascinated by it. I well remember being transfixed by the stars whipping past my cockpit before yet another inevitable early demise... The idea of an entire universe to explore; to be able protect yourself against attackers (and to attack!); to forge new alliances and trade, to boldly go.. well you get the idea. I found utterly inspiring, even though it would be a few years before my gaming skills developed properly. So when the opportunity to flesh out the Elite universe [came along], I jumped at the chance...
RT - I would love to ask which of the stories is your favourite in the collection, but that would be unfair as you read my story 'Cat's Cradle'. Were there any moments that stood out for you - a scene, or perhaps a character or piece of dialogue - that you really enjoyed reading? Were you haunted by any since recording was completed?
TL - Well, Of course, it would be unfair to pick any one story out (there was this one called...'Cat's something'...hmm) but I must admit I was a little haunted by the man alone in a spaceship miles from safety who believes suicide might be his only escape. Spooky...
RT - How much do you prepare for a reading? Do you get much time to get to know the characters, and what techniques did you use in your performance to make the characters more 3-dimensional?
TL - I try to get a feel of the general atmosphere of the story and characters. I always liken it to an artist who squints slightly at the view he is about to paint - you don't want to get absolutely every detail fixed and solid, you want a sense of the symbolic role each character represents so you can choose a characterisation that will give the listener an idea what role they fit into. I try to use references to familiar actors or characters from films or plays so that between us, the producer and I can 'Cast' the book with an eye to making the book as accessible and vivid as possible.
RT - I know from my own experience reading to my daughters that long sentences can prove to be difficult to read aloud. Would you have any advice to give to authors whose works are going to be recorded for radio or audiobook?
TL - Well, short sentences are a very, very good idea and, particularly in the world of SF, it's definitely worth making sure that central characters have names that can be spoken! There's no point in calling your leading man 'F'nack-iki-crunmnm' if you have no idea how to say it! I did Iain M Banks' 'Matter' as an audiobook, which includes the character 'Djan Seri Anaplian', so I called him up for some advice. "I honestly never thought anyone would ever say it out loud!" said the great man. So we had a chuckle and agreed a mutually satisfactory pronunciation... The other big point to make is that the world that you are creating may be new to us, it must be extremely familiar to the characters. This means any tech they might regularly use would probably be abbreviated or have some slang reference. It is sometimes very hard to make a thing like 'The Aft Portal Hatch Interface Slipway' sound casual and familiar, however 'The Aphis' trips off the tongue a little more easily. Assuming we all know what we are talking about in the first place, of course...
RT - You've worked with people like George Lucas in your career. What was it like working with Anthology author Christopher Jarvis as your director?
TL - I did enjoy working with Chris enormously, I'm not going to compare working with him with working with George, except to say Chris never forgot to record an entire scene (I'll leave you to draw your own conclusions there). Normally, my producer will work in a separate room, but Chris was sitting right behind me...so when lunch beckoned, our stomachs would egg each other on to make louder and louder gurgles. Mine won, I think.
RT - And finally, did you enjoy the experience? Did Dan Grubb treat you well enough? Did you get to meet Milly (his Labrador)?
TL - Dan, Chris and everyone treated me very well, as I'm sure Milly would have, had I met her... I had a delightful time, and I might add, there are some very delicious local restaurants hidden away, so all in all I had a magnificent time. And I am as keen as anyone to hear the results!
RT - Toby Longworth, thank you very much.
Listen to an extended extract from Toby Longworth's reading of The Easy Way Out, by Ramon Marett.