Listen

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One of my very best birthday gifts from my husband a decade ago was a week’s worth of boot camp for screenwriters given by one of the most sought after gurus in LA. I flew across the country with completed script in hand, excited and somewhat confident. It was, after all, the second screenplay I was working on – my first was optioned - so I was as high as the 747 whisking me off to Hollywood.

Jim Mercurio - our esteemed pundit - not only taught master classes in screenwriting, he directed and produced movies. Jim’s irrepressible energy, dynamic delivery and years of experience blew the minds off our small group and we immersed ourselves from dawn to midnight.  Our brains were saturated with cleverisms and hard-learned rules that if followed, hinted at box office billions.

Jim took our vastly different works seriously, and coached us to look for clever ways to awe the agent, titillate the talent, dazzle the director and placate the producer.

It seemed no matter what the depth of crappola we’d spewed onto our pages, Jim coaxed our best writing selves to turn our poop into “Private Benjamin” or “Princess Bride”. First though, we needed a lesson in humility. But such was Jim’s skill at the build-break-build – the fall during the BREAK phase was cushioned by our guru’s assurance that we had POTENTIAL. That “P” word like a well-stuffed pillow not only blocked out the pain, but hinted that our work may have a minuscule dash of William Goldman and Nora Ephron.

But minuscule can grow, right?

So like mercenaries on a paid culling spree, we chopped away at our story flaws, eliminated wishy-washy characters and filled our grab bags with rhythms, styles and techniques to build funnier, scarier, twist-ier, more box-office-worthy screenplays.

On the second last day, when we foolishly felt we were close to earning our own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Jim commissioned 4 actors (2 of whom I actually recognized) to spend the day learning a pivotal scene in each script. Although these versatile pro’s kept the theme, plot, characters and dialogue as we’d intended, at the “table read” we realized their interpretations were entirely their own. WOW! The great advantage of collaboration!

Hearing and seeing our words come to life was at once shocking, embarrassing and hugely lacking. WTF? We thought we were D-O-N-E! Frantic rewriting ensued in rehearsal as we amped up stakes and toned down secondary characters to make our stars shine for their full five minutes.  

On the last day Jim’s gift to us was watching our work being performed by professionals on a real stage. It was at the end of the most stimulating week of my life. (Okay, apart from my honeymoon ;o) I flew home with first-hand experience of how performance art elevates the written word.

But then I wrote my first BOOK. It was 447 long pages mainly because my heroes were allowed to have voices in their heads. What a concept! You see in movies, heroes and heroines can’t THINK or contemplate or cogitate. They just DO.

That my novel characters could imagine and deliberate and consider without talking was like finding the yellow brick road. Pietro and Iris suddenly had their own ideas. Boy, did they ever! I just took notes.

But I still longed to elevate War Serenade by performance.

Well…if she couldn’t be seen at the movie theater, she needed to be heard!

The quest to find the perfect narrator was thwarting. I listened to scores and scores to find that “Perfect Voice”, cocking my head this way and that, like my Aussie shepherd. I HAD to tune in to discover that special infliction that “spoke to me”.  After a very necessary ear cleanout (yuk)…finally – EUREKA!

Peter Noble’s cadence caught my tired ear. Of course it helped that his diction was perfect and his accent was neutral (well, to me). Peter’s timbre kept pulling me back to listen again, and again.

I shared his honey-tone with my Importants, and they agreed. Peter was the right one.

HOW WRONG WE WERE.

Peter Noble was so much more than ‘right’. Peter invaded the characters and EMBODIED the story, breathing in new life with his fantastic talent!

But then I understood. Some of Peter’s perfection had nothing to do with the velvet of his voice. He was fated to bring my baby to life for so many reasons.

You see Peter grew up in Pietermaritzburg, where War Serenade is set. He is an English-speaking South African who now lives and works in London. Peter’s walked the landmarks in the book, he’s spent time at the Howick Falls, he’s even familiar with the Catholic Church built by the Italian POW’s. I had no idea when we commissioned Peter how close his ties were to my story - and we’d only just begun.

Lena and Sofie’s delicious Zulu accents rolled off his tongue, as did the Afrikaans characters’ intonations. Listening to Peter’s Italian characters blew my little mind. And then he sang “O Sole Mio” as part of the story, and my socks were knocked clean off!

You see, Peter Noble’s mother was a soprano. She studied singing at the University of Cape Town a generation ago under my uncle  - the very one on whom Pietro’s fictional character was modeled! Peter is not just a voice in a million he’s a singer and actor.

How’s that for a potpourri of coincidences? I think it’s serendipity. Kismet. Providence.

Work on the audiobook began and Peter’s voice became my staple as I “listened” to my book for the first time.  Hearing my words read out loud was at once thwarting and terrifying, fabulous and surreal.

I thought of Jim’s gift that was my first true understanding of how performance brings stories to life and Peter Noble embodied that in every way.

In mere weeks, War Serenade will be available as an Audiobook. I am so excited for you to hear “her”.

Clocking in at a whopping 14.26 hours, it’s goodbye to my dreams of this baby becoming a film. Who could eat enough popcorn or sneak in a pile of cushions soft enough for that one-movie-marathon?

But then I hear Jim Mercurio’s voice over my shoulder: “Alley-oop and hello, hello, HELLO Nexflix-Prime-Acorn-HULU-Masterpiece-Crackle. At that length, she’s a series, Baby!”

I hope you will devour Peter Noble’s wonderful narration as I did. I can’t wait for you to hear Iris and Pietro, Lena and Sofie, Beefy guard. Perhaps you’ll let that nasty Tap Tap whisper in your ear and you’ll feel the chill up your spine like I did.  

And when you listen, I hope you’ll forgive me if Pietro and Iris think too much. But may I say it’s entirely their fault – I just wrote down what they told me!

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P.S. I nabbed the marvelous Peter Noble JUST IN TIME! While he was reading my sample for the gig, he was commissioned to narrate two of Wilbur Smith’s audiobooks! I can’t believe I will share Peter with my favorite author!