Audiobooks and me.

Audiobooks Saved my Life.

I lay silent for months, unable to move. Then, one day, words come out of the darkness and exploded in my ears.

Not everyone likes talking books. “You’re not getting the whole thing”, my friend Dave once claimed, “just an actor’s interpretation of it. I want to read it for myself.”

Well, each to his own, although oral storytelling is presumably as old as human language itself.

I studied English at University but it was only when I became too sick to read I finally discovered the real power of words. They can save your life.

A recording in a New York studio by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas in February 1952 kickstarted the modern audiobook industry. He recited his poetry for a new company called Caedmon Records, founded by two 22-year-old women, Marianne Roney and Barbara Cohen. Cohen later said, “We had no idea of the power and beauty of this voice. We just expected a poet with a poet’s voice, but this was a full orchestral voice.” ‘A Child’s Christmas in Wales and Five other poems’ went on to sell 400,000 copies. Though not the first commercial voice recording, Caedmon was the first label to specialise in talking books, planting the seed of today’s $2-billion spoken-word industry. They often featured authors reading their own work.

Dylan Thomas

Spoken words helped reconnect me to a world that felt like it was gone forever.

At roughly twenty five minutes per side, vinyl audiobooks had to be skilfully, but ruthlessly, abridged. In 1978 a salesman called Henry Trentman, who listened to sales tapes while driving long distances, was struck with the idea of making unabridged audio cassette recordings with professional actors. The term “audiobook” arrived when libraries began renting out books on cassette tape. In the mid 1990s Audible released a mass-market digital audiobook player. In 2005 Librivox began recording public domain audiobooks using volunteer narrators.

I have suffered from myalgic encephalomyelitis since 1994 and have had to spend long stretches of time lying down. I have been lucky. Some people are too ill even to listen.

Smartphones, tablets and entertainment systems in cars continue to popularise the spoken word.

I’m able to read the written word  now, but I still listen.

I’m grateful for the convenience of modern audiobook technology..

People have their favourite readers. It’s fair to say opinions differ, a lot. I like to hear authors read their work. My personal picks for professional narrators  are Jonathan Cecil reading P.G. Wodehouse, Patrick Tull reading the Patrick O’Brien Aubrey/Maturin novels, William Hootkins reading Moby Dick and Robbie Coltrane reading Kidnapped.

One of the annoying things about audiobooks is that a recording by a particular reader can go out of print quickly. Also different territories use different readers, so you have to shop around a bit.

A few years ago audiobooks helped me again, during an initially bad prognosis for cancer. I will be forever grateful for being distracted by Bob Brier’s lectures on Ancient Egypt for the “Great Courses.”

Listening kept me connected to storytelling and literature. I think the novels I’ve written so far are fruits of that – and my unexpected survival.

Here are some links.


Free public domain audiobooks, “read by volunteers around the world.” It now boasts a catalogue that includes thousands of works.


A selection of Caedmon recordings. Free to listen. Includes Kurt Vonnegut reading from “Slaughterhouse Five,” Anthony Burgess reading from “A Clockwork Orange” and Coretta Scott King reading from “My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr.”

The “Audio Books and Poetry” section allows you to listen for free to LibriVox along with digital and archive recordings put up by site users.


Spotify has an audiobook collection that includes classic recordings by Basil Rathbone, Anthony Quayle and James Mason. It’s free to listen but you need a “Premium” monthly membership of e.g. £9.99 in the UK if you want to listen to the files in the right order!


Lit2Go hosts free audiobooks, plays and poems designed to be classroom friendly

Loyal Books

Loyal Books shares free audiobooks from books in the public domain.You can submit reviews of books and read those of others


Audible is a megalithic audiobook company owned by Amazon that needs no introduction/advertising from me! It’s £7.99 a month in the UK, which includes a “credit” to buy a book. (or local equivalent)

In the UK:

Listening Books

Disabled folk can join Listening Books for as little as £20 a year. The company describe themselves as “a postal and internet based audiobook service to over 50,000 members who find it difficult to read the printed word in the usual way.”

Drawing “Cape Misfortune.”

I drew sketches on a tablet at the beginning of writing “Cape Misfortune” to help immerse myself into the the world(s) of the book. They can  be characters, maps, locations or anything, really.  Here are a few…

Our hero, Deputy Cassandra Dollar
The Old Wessendorf House – a do-er upper.
Using the patrol car’s Mobile Computer Unit, courtesy of Venice County Sheriff’s Office.
Ex-Detective Charlie Playfair, “The Levitator.”

Other writers use drawing. Günter Grass claimed, “Invariably the first drafts of my poems combine drawings and verse, sometimes taking off from an image, sometimes from words.” Kurt Vonnegut found oil paint “such a commitment,” and watercolors “too bland, too weak,” but he loved the “brilliant colors” of Magic Markers.

“Welcome to beautiful Cape Misfortune. Come for the rugged coastline and unspoiled beaches. Stay for the quaint customs and friendly welcome.” Just don’t ask about the people who are going missing…

Thanks for dropping by.

Interesting chat with fellow author Justin Alcala

Read the interview on Justin’s website

Oh the magic of books. What would life be without them? More importantly, where would we be without their authors? We take for granted all of the dreamed up stories on our bookshelves and iPads. We forget about all of the work, love and struggles that goes into each word.

Today on the Justin Alcala blog, I’m excited to interview Solstice Publishing author, Henry Anderson.  Henry Anderson is a former news reporter who has written for national UK newspapers. He spent time as a farmhand in Australia before working in publishing and journalism. His current novels, “Cape Misfortune” and “The Mouth” are fantastic tales available on amazon. But before you pick them up, let’s learn a little bit about the man behind the stories. Let’s learn about the talented Henry Anderson. 

Thanks for joining us Henry. I wanted to start out by asking about the great journeys you’ve taken to get where you are. What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?

I suppose in the old days pilgrimages involved seeing sacred relics like a piece of a saint’s finger. It made things seem much more real. Similarly an artefact like a book or the page of a handwritten manuscript makes the writer seem less remote. Seeing Shakespeare’s birthplace was amazing. I was lucky enough to study at the same college at Oxford University as Oscar Wilde. I visited his grave in Paris. We used to wear green carnations in his honour on exam days.

What are common traps for aspiring writers?

Take a step back and think about whether other people will find your writing relevant or important! 

What is your writing Kryptonite?

Self-doubt is the enemy of most art. On a bad day the words look terrible.

If you could tell your younger writing self anything, what would it be?

You have the ability to get something published. Stop procrastinating and get on with it.

What was an early experience where you learned that language had power?

I wrote a play once and stood at the back of the audience on the nights it was performed. It was incredible to watch people being so involved with the story. 

What do you owe the real people upon whom you base your characters?

Nothing, unless you are writing autobiography. I suppose if you admire someone you might try and do justice to them. If you feel someone has mistreated you there is always the villain.

How many unpublished and half-finished books do you have?

I have a screenplay, several short stories and two unfinished novels kicking about. I hope to return to them one day.

What did you edit out of this book?”

Anything that didn’t advance the story. I find if I stray off the path, description or dialogue loses meaning or relevance.

Do you hide any secrets in your books that only a few people will find?

I suffer from a chronic illness called myalgic encephalomyelitis. There are a few hidden references to that. They don’t make any difference to the story but they add a bit of depth for me. I suppose the trick is not to be too self-indulgent.

What was your hardest scene to write?

There is a scene in the book where the characters are travelling astrally, out of the body, over the Pacific. That was difficult. It was the first part of the story that was out-and-out fantasy. There is a devil sitting on my shoulder that is scornful about straying from realism. It’s now one of my favourite scenes.

Henry, what advice do you have for unpublished writers?

The Internet has changed the literary landscape. There is less stigma about self-publishing now. I haven’t self-published yet but would do so in the future rather than hang on to a manuscript for years. You have to roll with the punches and move on.

Henry, thanks so much for joining us on the blog. You can learn more about Henry on his website. All links are provided below. And please be sure to pick up Henry’s latest novel, “Cape Misfortune” available on amazon.

Justin Alcala links:

Website’s blog: