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Narrator Interview: Gary Furlong

Originally from Ireland, Gary Furlong worked a teacher in Niigata, Japan; a puppeteer in Prague; an improv artist in Memphis, and a festival performer in Ireland. A naturally-gifted mimic, Gary began narrating audiobooks for a living in 2015 and hasn’t looked back. Gary specializes in accents and dialect, with fluency in Irish, British RP, and Standard American. In four years of working full-time with audiobook production, Gary has narrated over 100 audiobooks spanning Fantasy,Thriller, Romance, YA, and non-fiction for world-class publishing houses and independent authors. In 2018 Gary won a much coveted AudioFile Earphones Award and the Independent Audiobook Award for Romance. He now lives in Texas with his wife and their golden retriever called "Gansey," which means "Sweater" in Irish Gaelic.

When did you know you wanted to be an audiobook narrator?

The year was 2014 and I truly hated my teaching job. I was living in Japan at the time and while I loved the country I was very dissatisfied with my job as an English teacher. I had been interested in acting and voice acting for the longest and had recently started running and listening to Audiobooks. I loved them and thought that might be something I would be interested in. I got in touch with a coach and never looked back.

Did you find it difficult to “break into” audiobook narration? What skill/tool helped you the most when getting started?

I didn’t find it difficult. I went into it prepared to work hard and I listened to everything my coaches and more established narrators told me. I had a lot of help. I also don’t know that I have broken my way in fully yet. I am delighted at the success I have had so far but still feel like there is a still a long way to go on this here audiobook road. I learn something new almost every day and that keeps it interesting and keeps me humble and hungry.

A lot of narrators seem to have a background in theatre. Is that something you think is essential to a successful narration career?

I don’t necessarily think a background in theatre specifically is necessary (although it will help an awful lot), but you have to have some background in acting. I didn’t go to school for acting but I spent most of my university years fully immersed in the Drama society. My main forte is improv. I spent 10+ years working as a freelance actor for a street theatre company called Bui Bolg. This work involved lots of character creation, reading an audience and changing styles on the fly to suit them. I learned a lot from everyone involved. I learned how to act and improvise by watching and working with the other actors. I saw the hard work and long hours that can be involved in the arts when you take it seriously and do it properly. So I think that helped me to enter into the audiobook world with a practical mindset and a good work ethic.

What about this title “Apple Boy” compelled you to audition as narrator?

I love Isobel’s writing and have been lucky enough to work on a lot of her books. When she told me she was writing a fantasy book I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I feel “Apple Boy” is one of my very best performances to date.

How closely do you prefer to work with authors?

Very closely AND not at all. Why, Gary, how cryptic of you!

What I mean by this is that before I begin recording, I want to know everything. I want to know what they have in mind for the characters, how they want the narration to sound. I want as much data as the author can give me. Once recording has begun however I would hope that the author trusts me enough to let me use that data to produce the best audiobook I can without looking over my shoulder.

Isobel and I have gotten this down to a science. She sends me the info I need, I send her some samples of my interpretation of that info. If she doesn’t like something, she tells me and stipulates more on what she wants. This way we get right down to the essence of the story and characters.

How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for narrating?

I’ll let you know when I figure it out. :-P.

Joking aside, I think you first have to recognize that you are approaching burn out or have reached it and let yourself react to it how you will. If that means having a little cry then let them tears flow. When you have had your freak out moment, get a cup of coffee or hot beverage of your choice and sit down and calmly assess your situation. Can you take an evening off, do you have to work this weekend, do you need to go to the doctor for that sore throat, do you have time for a massage etc? Find something you can do for you, something to look forward to. That’s how I have been dealing with the tough times. But in all honestly it is just bloody brilliant getting to narrate for a living so I don’t like to complain too much.

Are you an audiobook listener? What about the audiobook format appeals to you?

I don’t have the attention span to read print. I don’t really have a great attention span when listening to audiobooks either but I can do other things while listening. I can run, walk the dog, close my eyes while sleepy etc. I can consume books and stories far more effectively while listening.

What are your favorite and least favorite parts of narrating an audiobook?

Favourite: Getting to read a great book for work is the best.

Least favourite: The sniffles, sore throat, allergies, lawn mowers, construction across the street etc are all simple things that can ruin your productivity as an audiobook narrator.

Is there a particular genre you feel unsuited for? Have you ever declined a project because you didn’t think you were right for it?

I have indeed turned down projects. I was offered a project once which, once I read it, was clearly aimed at an African American audience. As I was reading through it I felt like I was just doing a bad impression of how I thought African American people would sound, feel and act. I didn’t have the right background or life experience to do the book justice. Had I continued on with that project it would have been a massive disservice to the author, the audience and my co-narrator.

Who are your “accent inspirations”?

Absolutely everyone. I can’t really narrow it down. You can find so many unique sounds just from everyday life. I met an older Southern gentleman the other day while waiting for the mechanic to finish up with my car. He had a great way of speaking and his voice was so interesting.

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