A flatlay of audiobook covers

Do you know how your favourite audiobook was made? Image: Ryan McEachern/Penguin

You might think audiobooks are a simple matters of an author or an actor reading the words on the page, but you'd be wrong.

Often, they are feats of innovation and creativity that rival film or TV, from newly composed music to special recordings of the natural world.

Here are some of the more surprising recordings from Penguin Random House for you to download and enjoy.

Incredible 3D sound

Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney (2021)

Sound-effects were elevated to the next level for this recording by deploying a 3D, binaural audio experience. Recorded using a “3D head”, which has microphones in each of its two “ears”, effects are recorded as a human would hear them; with a sense of where that sound is coming from. When usual foley effects – from flapping umbrellas and jingling bells – are made around the 3D head, it means the human listener gains a far more immersive experience.

An improvised surprise

Believe Me by Eddie Izzard (2017)

Those familiar with the print edition of Eddie Izzard’s memoir (of Love, Death and Jazz Chickens) would still find more to laugh at in the audiobook. The comedian took the opportunity to do what she does best – riff – in the recorded version, offering four hours of extra ad-libbed material to her brilliant and poignant book.

An immersive thriller – with behind-the-scenes detail

Forest 404 by Timothy X Atack (2021)

A chilling near-future story about a world without rainforests – and what happens to the woman who discovers their previous existence. Starring Pearl Mackiem, Tanya Moodie and Pippa Haywood, Forest 404 is a feat of audio engineering, blending nine gripping drama episodes with nine immersive, 3D binaural soundscapes and nine talks, as well as a documentary – exclusive to Penguin – that explains how the work was made. Plug in, and be transported.

A historic conversation brought back to life

The Four Horsemen (2019)

Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel C Dennett and Christopher Hitchens only met one time – but that meeting arguably had a greater impact on the ways we think about religion and atheism, science and sense, than years of academia. Now, that conversation can heard, thanks to the unearthing of the original archive recording. With new introductions from the surviving horsemen and a foreword from Stephen Fry, this is a vital moment of revolution caught for history.

A musical audiobook debut

The Christmasaurus Musical Edition by Tom Fletcher (2016)

When you’re working with a polymath such as musician and author Tom Fletcher, it’s only a matter of time until the two talents collide. Fletcher’s 10 original Christmasaurus songs were integrated into the audio recording of the The Christmasaurus, fading in and out of the narrative at specific moments. In true Christmas party style, Fletcher even brought his family in for cameo roles, with wife Giovanna, sister Carrie Hope Fletcher and McFly band mate Harry Judd making appearances. The end result was a fun and vibrant new kind of audiobook which readers adored.

A fictional rock band brought to life

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2019)

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s oral history-style novel posed an irresistible opportunity as an audiobook: a captivating story of the rise and fall of a 1970s rock band. Not only are the voices of these characters crucial to the narrative, but so are their songs. How, then, to bring them as vividly to life over audio? A mammoth team of actors and musicians were brought in to elevate Jenkins Reid’s words from the page, and the production even included specially composed music to accompany the lyrics created by the novel’s titular band.

The sounds of nature

Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (2017)

Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris’s beautiful book was written with an intention in mind: to place the language of nature back into the hands and minds of increasingly urbanised children. The audiobook version takes that one step further, with bespoke recordings created for each of Macfarlane’s “spells” – themselves read by familiar voices such as Guy Garvey, Edith Bowman, Benjamin Zephaniah and Cerys Matthews. The rustle of an adder moving through dry grass, the chorus of ravens and the puff of a dandelion-filled summer meadow are all included in this innovative look at the outdoor world.

Recorded on location

Poor by Caleb Femi (2020)

Caleb Femi’s critically acclaimed poetry collection is rooted in a sense of place – namely, an estate in Peckham. So to bring that to life in the audio version, the Penguin audio team blended studio recordings with the raw sounds of the home that inspired Poor. Slamming doors and chattering passers-by all capture the feel of the area to enhance Femi’s startling words.

 

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