In the middle of August in this exceptionally odd year of 2020 I was winding down, ready for a holiday I had barely dared to believe could happen, when I received an email telling me I had won an Earphones award from AudioFile Magazine for my part in the narration of “Lost Girls of Devon.”
I was ecstatic. It was a huge boost at the end of a long and arduous seven and a half months of working, alongside supporting my children with remote learning, and trying to maintain my sanity during a collection of restrictions that sorely tested my sense of self-sufficiency.
It was also wonderful to win for this particular book.
Lost Girls of Devon
I love all the books I read, I wouldn’t do them if I didn’t. But, like most teachers (and parents) I do have my favourite children. This was one of them.
It is a book about four generations of women in a family who are all suffering their own sense of disconnection, and struggling to find a way to be in a world that often makes that harder than it might be.
A Talented Ensemble
It is an ensemble piece so the cast gathered via Zoom to talk over how we would approach this gorgeous book. I was lucky enough to be cast alongside Helen Lloyd and Pearl Hewitt, women whose company I enjoy and whose work I really admire, as well as Sarah Naughton, someone I didn’t know before this.
Helen played my grandmother, now suffering dementia, while Pearl played my mother, from whom my character, Zoe, was estranged. Sarah played my teenage daughter, who was causing Zoe characteristically teenage problems.
My character, Zoe, was a challenge. She was back from America to her native UK to investigate her missing friend, and also, as it turned out, to find some new healing in her family dynamic.
The first challenge was technical. Zoe had an accent that was a mix of American and English, after living her life on both sides of the Atlantic. The novel is written as a first person narrator so I needed an accent I could sustain throughout the narration while also giving me the freedom to live Zoe’s story, without having to constantly check my vowel sounds.
This was overcome with a bit of practice and the support of the ensemble. We exchanged snippets of our character choices and narration, both to be able to match each other’s energy and also to give each other a sense check.
The greatest challenge was the acting, finding and speaking Zoe’s truth through the text.
The writing is exceptional which always makes the fluidity of the reading easier, but also provides the actor with so many more layers to evoke in the complex and poetic characterisations.
Then there was COVID and lockdown. I found myself narrating this at one of the toughest times I had in the midst of it.
I had started strong. I’m an introvert. I work from home. I love my family. How bad could it be?
I threw myself into working, into trying to sort out my son and his remote working, into recording prayers, poems and passages to give others comfort. I kept going and doing as a way of avoiding my discomfort.
Then it all started to catch up with me.
While I am an introvert, I am a sociable one. I come from a large chaotic family of six siblings, all with partners and children, held together by my mother, who has always been a huge part of my life.
I went for 12 weeks without seeing her. The longest time in my life. Though we spoke every day on the phone I missed being in a space with her, sharing a place, a silence, a sense of being together.
I also really missed my friends. Though there weren’t many people I wanted to see in person, I found the people I did want to see I missed with a physical ache.
During this time my younger sister went into hospital with Covid symptoms, unable to breathe properly. She stayed for two nights before being sent home to rest. She lives only a few miles away from me with her family but she may as well have been on a different continent. I felt helpless to help her. I couldn’t go to her in hospital. I couldn’t offer to look after her children so her husband could go. All I could do was pray and let her know I love her.
My children struggled too. My daughter missed her friends and the social politics of the teenage world, while my ten year old son became increasingly distressed by his sense of isolation and loneliness.
All of this left me deep in a sense of personal loss and grief.
And then came Zoe.
Zoe was losing her grandmother to dementia, the woman who had brought her up; she was estranged from her mother, whom she believed abandoned her; she had lost her friend, who was missing in mysterious circumstances; and she was navigating how to be a mother to her increasingly independent daughter. She too was deep in a sense of grief and loss.
So art and life collided.
There was challenge but also catharsis. In a time when self-expression felt restricted, I could pour all of my pain, heartache and hope into my work.
I lived Zoe’s story and through living her story I lived my own. Through her trials, her journey of acceptance and release, I found my own acceptance and release.
And as the final sentences emerged and the beautiful closing scene played out I found catharsis. I completed the narration, stopped the recording, and cried.
Tears of Love
I cried for the beauty of the story, for the love of my work, for the love of my family and friends, for gratitude that I love enough to feel such grief and loss and for the hope of reconnection to come, the new life that lies at the end of this Covid story.
And for this I won an award, alongside the rest of the ensemble, the writer and the producers. I did not do this alone.
So how did I win an award?
I won this award, given by a critic for what they described as a “remarkable” performance, because I am a very lucky lady.
I am lucky to be cast in a wonderful piece with exceptionally talented and dedicated women. I am lucky to have the chance to live my dream and be an actor. I am lucky to have discovered voice acting. I am even luckier to have received my first audiobook casting. I am lucky to know how much this means to me. I am lucky to be able to dedicate my time, energy and money to becoming better at this. I am lucky to keep receiving wonderful books to fill my working days.
Love is All
In the end I do it all for, with and because of love. I love books. I love stories. I love acting. I love connecting. I love my work. I love my life. I love.
And that is how I won an award.