The voice of Russell

One of our long-time friends here in the LRK web world is “Laidee Marjorie.”  Marjorie has been an enthusiastic part of meet-ups and discussions, and she is the chief puzzler among us, inventor of the diabolically clever Russell puzzles during weeks 3, 5, and 9 of the Fifteen Weeks of Bees.

Social networking is a phrase much bandied about these days, generally indicating a somewhat cool and distant form of human contact.  Marjorie is an example of how online contact can take the next step, into the formation of a community: LRK readers may be wide-spread in their interests, background, and location, but when they meet in person, an extraordinary alchemy takes place, and friendship results.

In planning a meet-up in New York next week, Marjorie took it into her head to contact the actor who reads the Russell books on tape for Recorded Books, and see if she might like to come along.  Because Jenny is part of the family as well: When you’ve spent as many hours with a woman’s voice in your ears as some of my readers have—soon to be nine books, of 12 to 15 hours each—you feel you know that woman pretty well.

If you’re interested in the Manhattan Meetup (or those in Richmond, or SF, or Detroit…) check the thread on the Virtual Book Club, but in the meantime, here is an interview about the audio books that Marjorie and Jenny did.

Two women who humble a mere writer with their greatness.



Jenny Sterlin, the voice in the audio book recordings of all the Mary Russell books, is an actress, director and the voice on over 70 audio books for both adults and children by many authors.  She has appeared on and off Broadway and she is currently directing  a play that is part of the BritBits 5 play festival from the Mind the Gap Theatre in New York City from April 26 to May 5, 2009.    

Laidee Marjorie: Ms. Sterlin, welcome.  You have recorded the audio books of all of the Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King including the newest in the series, “The Language of Bees” over a fifteen year period starting with “The Beekeeper’s Apprentice”.  Can you share with us what kind of preparation you do in advance of the recording for these books?  Do you speak with Laurie to get any suggestions from her?  Or are the recordings all your own artistic input? 

Jenny Sterlin: As with all books that I record I read it carefully from cover to cover making notations of characters as they appear on the page and any particular aspects that are included, particularly any accent stated or where they live or originate from, noting how long they have now been in the present environment. All other aspects like, like how old they are, whether they are fat, thin, tall, short, kind, mean, happy, sad,  their social status, profession, if they are self possessed, nervous, arrogant, humble etc. are all noted and a picture emerges in my mind of each person and a ‘voice’ developes to impersonate that character.  Obviously with recurring characters when I am doing a series those stay the same apart from aging or as relationships develop, subtle changes of playing take place.  With Laurie King’s series I do go back and listen to the last book I recorded to keep the integrity of the characterizations as they go from one adventure into the next.  At the time of the first book “Beekeeper…” was going to be recorded the Jeremy Brett series had been shown and loved by many and was the latest Sherlock Holmes to be in the readers minds and it was suggested by Claudia Howard the director of Recorded Books Inc. that I bear him in mind when I was preparing the book.  I had had the good fortune to be Jeremy Brett’s dresser when I was at drama school and adored him and I did feel this wonderful link with him to the books and so I also watch my videos of that series.  The night before I am going to a recording session I reread and rehearse those pages that I will record the next day.  I have never spoken to Laurie King about my interpretation of my recording of her books.  Before the beginning of a new recording our research department is in contact with her about pronunciation of names and places.  I had the good fortune to meet her briefly when she came to the studios to do an interview.

LM:  Can you give us an idea what the actual recording process involves?  

JS: I go into a studio and sit in a booth and my voice is tested for sound quality and then I begin to read.  I may stop to redo something that doesn’t sound right to my ear or the engineer/monitor/director may stop me if to his/her ear something is not right.  I will have a short break after 2-3 hours and then back into the booth.  For some projects I work a seven hour session for others a four hour session depending on the studio.   

LM:  How much time does it take to record an entire novel? 

JS: It depends on the length of the book but a rough estimate is it takes 2 minutes of recording for each page.  For The Language of Bees the end result is 16 hours of recording which took about 24 hours of studio time. 

LM:  And how does the director of an audio book assist you? 

 JS: Their job is to monitor my work to make sure it is clear vocally and correct to the text.  He or she is the outside ear artistically.

LM:  What is the biggest challenge in doing the recordings? 

 JS:  Bringing the words to life orally and with clarification.

LM:  I would imagine that a group scene with many characters speaking in the same scene would be difficult. 

JS: Sometimes but not if one has the different characters fully fledged in one’s mind, in fact that is often the fun part 

LM: What is the hardest part of bringing a book to life? 

JS: It’s all a challenge but bad writing or dull writing can present an even bigger challenge.

LM: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions.



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  1. Heather J. on April 22, 2009 at 6:45 am

    That was fascinating! Thanks for putting this together. I would have loved to ask just one more question though … what is her opinion of the Mary Russell books?!

  2. strawberry curls on April 22, 2009 at 7:50 am

    As an avid fan of the audio books this was such a treat to read. Jenny Sterlin does an amazing job with all the Kanon and I look forward to “hearing” LANG. Thank you so much for this, Marjorie.


  3. Laidee Marjorie on April 22, 2009 at 10:17 am

    1. Thanks to Laurie for posting this and writing such a flattering introduction. I am humbled. Also, thanks to Merrily for being a wise sounding board for me and the idea.

    2. Heather – I thought about asking her about her own book preferences and how she feels about the Russell series, but then I thought that even if she didn’t like them, she shouldn’t have to say so in public! However, she does such a lovely job with the readings, that it would be hard to believe that she doesn’t have a fondness for them at the very least!

    3. Alice – My plesure. My passions include mystery books (with Laurie as my literary Queen Bee) and theatre, so this was just a nice sort of intersection of my interests.


  4. Laidee Marjorie on April 22, 2009 at 10:08 pm

    Update! I have forwarded Jenny the question from Heather about her opinion of the Mary Russell books as well as for some more information about Jeremy Brett (as some people have mentioned to me off site). Here is her reply:

    “Please tell Heather that i do indeed like the Mary Russell books…for several reasons. Firstly, they are extremely well written and as an English major that gladdens my heart, secondly, I love a good mystery, thirdly they are always an educational read without being overtly didactic and lastly, I love playing Holmes and Mary and Mycroft and Lestrade etc. It is like settling back in a comfy armchair with familiar and fascinating old friends. What could be nicer?

    As to Mr. Brett…I was very young and quite besotted but I was also Wendy Hillier’s companion while she was in the theatre and believe me she took up much of my time. Jeremy was just delightful and funny and a bit of a relief from Wendy’s somewhat earnest approach.

    Best wishes

    (For those of you are aren’t familiar with Dame Wendy Hillier, she is probably best known these days for playing Eliza Dolittle in the film of “Pygmalion” (1938), but I love her most for a lovely film called “I Know Where I’m Going” (1945). And to tie her back into the world of mysteries, she was also in “Murder on the Orient Express”.


  5. Merrily on April 23, 2009 at 6:08 am

    Marjorie, thanks so much for making this delightful interview possible. As you know I am a HUGE fan of the audio books and truly it is Jenny’s voice I hear in my head when I now read Holmes and Russell.
    It is good to know that Jenny was not only besotted with Jeremy Brett (likewise moi) but that he was “delightful and funny.” I’ve read a great deal about him and you find virtually no one who didn’t like him. He appears to have been a delightful man despite the mental health issues that made his later years a trial.
    Thanks again, and it was a pleasure to help out!

  6. strawberry curls on April 23, 2009 at 6:37 am

    I love that Ms. Sterlin loves doing not only Russell and Holmes, but Mycroft and Lestrade, both are favorites of mine and she captures them so beautifully.


  7. Jessica on April 24, 2009 at 12:47 am

    It is so wonderful that Ms. Sterlin enjoys the Mary Russell books. I am a dedicated audiobook listener, and it is Ms. Sterlin’s voice that so often accompanies me on my daily activities. It is fun to hear about the process of production that goes into each performance. Thank you Marjorie for provinding this glimpse “backstage” as it were.


  8. Meredith T. on April 24, 2009 at 11:31 pm

    Dear Marjorie, thank you much for the treat of the interview and then the postscript. I absolutely have to hear those audio versions. I’m quite a fan of Wendy Hiller myself. What I remember quickly is “Pygmalion” from the early days film and in her older years, a formidable lady on the “Mystery” series based on a P.D. James book (man is found murdered in a church, title escapes me at present). She became more beautiful with age, which is no doubt true of our Miss Russell. thanks again!//Meredith

  9. Laidee Marjorie on April 25, 2009 at 3:58 pm

    Alice, Merrily, Heather, Jessica and Meredith,

    You are all very welcome. I am glad that you enjoyed reading about how Jenny Sterlin does her wonderful work for the audio books. I am currently listening to OJER, the 4th audio recording that I took out from the library (where they are, of course, free to borrow!), and I have found new details in every book so far by listening anew to what I had read before by myself. I also love hearing the different pronounciations of words and names (Mahmoud!). And I enjoy her Holmes very much, too. I am so glad that I finally took the audio book plunge! It makes my one hour commute much more enjoyable.


  10. aar on December 8, 2009 at 9:06 pm

    Jenny Sterlin is “the” best narrator of audio books, especially, the Mary Russell series – I have listened to all nine several time and anxiously await the Green Man.

  11. Lenore Garon on July 8, 2011 at 11:16 am

    For those who are fond of science fiction in general and Connie Willis in particular, Jenny Sterlin has done a dynamite reading of “Doomsday Book.”

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