Interview // Alison Ragsdale, Author of The Art of Remembering
How did you select your narrator?
I worked with ACX to find the perfect narrator for this book. Initially, I searched through the available narrators/producers who met the criteria I had: primarily a female and a native Scot, who was versatile with accents. Then I uploaded an audition script and waited to see who would submit an audition reel. I also sent direct messages to a couple of narrators whom I felt would be a good fit. Soon the audition reels began to come in and I listened to each one, closing my eyes and letting the voices soak in. When I heard Heather McRae’s reel, the hairs literally stood up on my arms and I knew she was the voice who could bring this cast of characters to life. When I contacted her, she agreed to take on the project and, the rest is history.
How closely did you work with your narrator before and during the recording process?
I worked very closely with Heather, listening to each chapter as she uploaded them, making edits as we went along, and no doubt driving her crazy with my attention to detail. However, she dealt with all my concerns and edits, quickly and gracefully, so the book began to emerge exactly as I’d imagined it.
Did you give them any pronunciation tips or special insight into the characters?
Yes. The book includes characters from various regions of Scotland, England, and Sweden, both male and female, so it was important to clearly differentiate between them as they were read. The book is also choc-full of ballet terms that required some clarification, here and there, on pronunciation. I also gave Heather information on the characters’ motivations and emotional temperatures, in certain scenes, to help her interpret particularly intense sections of dialogue. She brought wonderful drama, where it was needed, that made me well-up when listening to it back.
Were there any real-life inspirations behind your writing?
Yes, there were. I am a native Scot, a former professional dancer, and a brain tumor survivor, so to a large extent, I mined many of my personal experiences for this book. However, I always make a point of clarifying that it’s not MY story and that those are the only things I have in common with Ailsa. It is still, however, a very personal book to me, in many ways.
How do you manage to avoid burn-out? What do you do to maintain your enthusiasm for writing?
As far as avoiding burnout, I rely on mother nature. I take long walks every day, with my sweet dog Maddie, soaking in my surroundings without any technology invading my mind-space. It’s meditative and lets me recharge my sense of calm and connectedness to the earth. I also do yoga and spend time with my husband and sisters, who help keep me sane.
Maintaining my enthusiasm for writing hasn’t been a problem, so far. I am an avid reader and the more great books I read, the more motivated I am to keep learning, and producing books I’m proud of. In terms of my process, I give myself license to take breaks from writing, even as long as a few weeks, in some cases. That way I’m removing some of the pressure to produce when I may not be feeling inspired, or the story just won’t come.
What do you say to those who view listening to audiobooks as “cheating” or as inferior to “real reading”?
I’d say, think again. Whatever method a reader uses to enjoy the written word is as legitimate as any other. Also, think about all the keen readers out there who aren’t gifted with sight, or those who are so busy with life that the only way they can absorb a book is to listen to it while going from point A to point B. There are so many things that may influence this choice, that to judge it as an inferior method of ‘reading’ seems unfair.
How did you celebrate after finishing this novel?
It had been 3.5 years in the making, so it felt like a major accomplishment. My husband cooked me a lovely dinner and we cracked open a special bottle of Tuscan red wine we’d been saving. It was the perfect way to celebrate, and mark reaching the finish line.
Have any of your characters ever appeared in your dreams?
Yes! Jeffrey Mere, the protagonist in my debut novel, TUESDAY’S SOCKS, first came to me in a dream. I woke at 3.00 am with his name, his face, his personality quirks and a basic outline of his story – all glowing in the dark. It also happened with Heather Forrester in FINDING HEATHER, and then again with Ailsa, in THE ART OF REMEMBERING.
What’s your favorite:
- Food – I love rich, comfort foods like hearty soups, curries, and veggie dishes. I also love fish, and the fresh mussels from the west of Scotland are the best in the world.
- Song – I can’t think of a song, but my favorite piece of music is Vaughn Williams’, Lark Ascending.
- Book – The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera.
- Television show – Call the Midwife
- Movie – Julie and Julia
- Band – Genesis
- Sports team – I don’t follow sports
- City – Edinburgh or Florence
What bits of advice would you give to aspiring authors?
The best advice I can give would be to start writing. Don’t put it off because you feel as if you might not be good enough, or that others will judge your work. I was crippled by fear in the beginning – fear of failing, fear of letting myself down, fear of sharing my work etc etc. The best thing I ever did was join a writing group. I found a circle of wonderful people who all wrote from the heart, in a diverse range of genres. It was a safe place to share, and discuss each others’ work, and we all grew as writers as a result. It was the first place I shared anything I’d written, outside of with my family, and it helped me get over what was holding me back.
What’s next for you?
I’m now working on the third draft of book number six, titled DIGNITY AND GRACE, which is a very poignant tale about family, loss, and redemption. When that is ready to go back to my editor, I’ve already got book number seven planned out, so I’m excited to start writing that one. The wheels keep on turning.
A former professional dancer, and marketing executive, originally from Edinburgh, Alison now lives near Washington DC with her husband and dog. She was educated in England and holds an MBA from Leicester University.
Alison is the author of five, bestselling novels: TUESDAY’S SOCKS, THE FATHER-DAUGHTER CLUB, FINDING HEATHER, A LIFE UNEXPECTED and THE ART OF REMEMBERING. She is also a two-time IPPY Award-winner with THE FATHER DAUGHTER CLUB being awarded the IPPY 2016, Bronze Medal for Best Regional Fiction – Europe, and A LIFE UNEXPECTED, winning a Bronze Medal in the 2018 Popular Fiction category.
THE ART OF REMEMBERING, released in July 2019 debuted as an Amazon bestseller, was a finalist in the American Fiction Awards Literary Category and was selected by BookBub for their Best Book Club Booklist in both July and August 2019.
Heather McRae is from Falkirk in Central Scotland, but met her husband whilst studying at Lancaster University in the North of England, where both were very involved with the Theatre Group. Having moved back to Scotland in 2006, she and her brother took over the music and advertising business their grandfather had started back in the ’60s, and she’s currently in the process of setting up a glamping business to support the maintenance of a listed building. She also sings in two choirs, and she and her husband breed pedigree Tiffanie cats and are very involved in the cat show world.
Reading and writing have been lifelong passions, and Heather won numerous awards for poetry recital and public speaking growing up (though now prefers to be backstage). In 2018, some people commenting on a video she had uploaded to social media mentioned that she has a soothing voice, that would be good for audiobook narration. Seeing this, one of her friends pointed her in the direction of Amazon’s Audiobook Creation Exchange, and helping authors to bring their books to life has become a new source of much enjoyment in her free time. She has developed a fascination for dialects and accents and now drives her husband mad by trying to learn to mimic every new accent she encounters.
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