Audiobooks New Zealand
Michiel first started working at the (then) Blind Foundation in 1976 at the age of 16, doing tape to tape transfers for the National Library as they adapted to a two-track system for print disabled people, (people who had difficulty holding books or reading them.) He desperately wanted to work in the library and fought out 3 other applicants to do so. He’s been in various spaces in the library since, and currently works in Accessible Format Services for (now) Blind + Low Vision NZ as a scanner operator, getting digital copies of books through to engineers. Now aged 60, he’s been working in and around the creation of audio content his entire professional life.
We were supposed to be discussing the debate; does listening to an audiobook count as much as reading one? Purists will say that you’re not getting the full experience of the book without having read it yourself, every gruelling page with every grammatical reference. I don’t know how that can stand up as a fact, given the complexity of learning difficulties and often sheer lack of time these days for people to really engage in a story - not to mention the accessibility factor - it would mean that any book you’d been read, or had heard, wasn’t ‘counted.’
Hence why I thought to bring in Michiel, to see what someone who had been living and breathing the medium had to say about that. What transpired was more of a gas bag about his life by way of favourite titles, styles, flavours and the desired effects of stories.
He boarded at Homai College from 1965 (now called BLENNZ) and first heard talking books through his blind friends on their talking book machines. Ironically, the students there didn’t get their education via audiobook, they were listened to purely for entertainment. Born with cataracts but still partially sighted, Michiel wanted to make sure he used his ability to physically read as much as possible (because he could!)
He recalls listening to lots of CS Lewis, Narnia and The Last Battle on vinyl. The days, aye? Back then they got a lot of British and American narrations and titles, still we both agree there’s nothing quite like hearing a Kiwi story in a Kiwi voice. If the narrators back then made it seem like a chore, I’m sure there would have been plenty of Kiwi actors chomping at the bit to have a go at the job...just sayin.
Michiel speaks about his reasons for enjoying audio storytelling, how there’s a particular nuance about a real person that engages your imagination. His favourite collections are always sci-fi’s or medieval fantasies - the classics from the 50s through to more contemporary. He loves worlds where the physics are different in a way no one needs to explain, just as much as he likes musician’s autobiographies and memoirs.
Michiel is a music, performance, story, actor and magic lover, with a penchant for escapism through the pages and sounds of literature. He’s also a great talker and always keen for a convo, and while we could have spent all the time in the world hearing about his past, there are a few key reasons we unearthed in favour of audiobook consumption, which I had to bring in - because of our topic.
These came from a study of the opinions of several groups of new audiobook listeners. If these are their main reasons for opting for an aural version of a book, I’m pretty sold too.
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Romy Hooper, Audiobook Narrator, Actor, Writer and Podcast Host