Author and reader Lee Ridley is also known as Lost Voice Guy. A stand-up comedian, writer and tech geek, Lee developed cerebral palsy as a baby and communicates using an iPad. In Lee's words: a bit like Stephen Hawking, but better looking. He is a BBC New Comedy Award winner, his Radio 4 sitcom Ability has had two series and counting, and he is the winner of 2018’s Britain’s Got Talent. Lee has appeared on Live at the Apollo and at the Royal Variety Performance, sold out at the Edinburgh Fringe and had his first nationwide tour in 2019. I’m Only In It for the Parking is his first book.
When it came to recording the audiobook, there was no question that Lee himself would do it. Alice Twomey, his Editor in the Audio team said:
'I’m Only In It For The Parking is a first for Penguin Random House Audio as Lee has narrated his audiobook using his communication machine. At Penguin Random House we’re always looking for new and innovative ways of telling stories and we decided with Lee that this would be the best way for his story to be told in audio. We’re so thrilled that Lee’s hilarious account of his not-so-ordinary life is going to be available in audio with Lee telling his own story. I’m Only In It For The Parking skews perceptions of disability, so it’s fantastic that Lee is performing the audio edition using his voice machine, rather than having an actor read out his words.'
But what are the difficulties that come with a machine reading, rather than an actor? Lee gave us an insight into his recording process...
'You probably think that recording an audio book when you use an iPad to speak with is easy, right? Surely I can just copy and paste the text from the book into the speech app on my device and press play? To be honest, I’m a bit of a lazy bastard at the best of times, so I wish it were this simple. The reality is quite different, though. It isn’t just a case of speaking each of the 65,000 words on my iPad and hitting record on my computer. It’s much more complicated than that. This is for a number of reasons.
Firstly, there’s the issue I have with pronouncing certain words. I have a whole chapter about this in my book so I won’t give away too much here. Suffice to say that there are some words that my iPad refuses to say properly. So, to record the audio book, I had to go through the text line by line and listen out for any words that didn’t sound clear enough. After all, if I can’t understand what my iPad is saying then the listener certainly won’t be able to. For any unclear words, I had to play about with them and make them sound like actual words. Sometimes that would require me to spell them completely incorrectly – and, as I’m a stickler for good English, this offends my eyes!
Another thing that I had to consider when recording the audio book was the pace of my speech. When I’m talking with my iPad day to day, I’ll often find that some words get lost because they seem to blend into the next word. Obviously, I can’t really do much about this when I’m having a conversation generally, as I don’t have time to say what I want to say over and over again until it sounds perfect. I’m slow to respond as it is; I doubt any of my mates would like it very much if I took even longer to respond than I already do just because I want every sentence to sound absolutely spot on. But, for my audio book, it was very important to get this right. It meant adding extra punctuation to break up the text a bit, so that it flows better when read out loud. As a self-confessed grammar pedant, this was another difficult pill to swallow.
Recording this audio book hasn’t been a complete pain in the arse, though. One of the main advantages is that I didn’t have to go into the studio to do it. Instead I was able to record it on my computer at home, saving the audio files as I went along. At least half my book was recorded when I was still in my pyjamas. I’ll leave it to you to work out which chapters those are.
All in all, it’s been a unique experience. I’ve certainly never done anything on this scale before but I’m really glad that I’ve done it. Not least because I’m probably the first person who uses a communication aid to read his own audio book. When you think about it, that’s a pretty cool boast to be able to make. I just hope you can understand what I’m saying!'
Lee's book I'm Only In It for the Parking is available on audiobook from 16 May.