The Not-World is a non-Tolkien fantasy novel with elements of historical fiction and classical mythology. Set in mid 18th-century England, it chronicles the shared adventures of three extrordinary characters: Deirdre, a romance novelist who suffers from chronic pain and disability due to a childhood accident; Dylan, a discharged Royal Navy seaman who has taken a second career as a carriage driver; and Thomas Chatterton, a real-life 18th-century poet who, after his suicide as a teenager, is largely credited with inspiring the Romantic Period.
Deirdre hires Dylan to drive her from London to Bristol, where she will stay with her aunt while London suffers from an outbreak of the plague. Along the way, they are supernaturally drawn into the forest beside the road between Bath and Bristol, known from local folklore as "The Not-World," a realm inhabited by dangerous creatures from ancient Celtic and Roman mythology. With the help of the teenage poet Thomas Chatterton, who enjoys visiting the woods, they escape back to the road and get a new ride to Bristol. But the connection between the sea-worn Dylan and adventure-starved Deirdre is too much for either to go without. So when Thomas sends Deirdre a letter begging her to come and visit him in The Not-World, she again enlists Dylan to take her there -- this time in a hydrogen balloon, accompanied by her melodramatic Aunt Adeline.
The author died in 1976, but his work in literature and literary criticism was widely influential among his peers. Sadly, he is mostly forgotten by modern audiences, despite the fact that many of the modern world's favorite fantasy authors were taught or influenced by Swann. Most of his books were nominated for the industry's most prestigious awards.
Dylan's voice is described early in chapter 1 as being a mix of many regional country dialects. My original audition took this description seriously, and the result was comically indecipherable but damned accurate. On second try, I decided that since Dylan is an educated and intelligent sailor, he should have less of a regional dialect. I took it down a few notches and gave him a generic British country accent; you can tell he came from somewhere rural, but has worked hard to mitigate his farmer accent. His dialogue has a Clint Eastwood-like cadence, so that's how I read it; poetic, considered, and powerful.
Deirdre is a disabled, single, upper-class lady of 30. And we all know that in the British aristocracy prior to... er... recently?... being unmarried beyond the age of 20 meant that a woman was consigned to a life of shame as a socially-rejected "old maid." Unless of course you decide that your situation is a kind of freedom instead of a kind of condemnation, which is exactly Deirdre's attitude toward life. While she is confident being single, she is also lonely for love and physical intimacy. I performed her voice with quiet, articulate confidence. Deirdre has no problem communicating her feelings tactfully, though she is used to men treating her like a child who must be protected from harsh reality.
Aunt Adeline is an older, obese, and unabashedly effusive version of Deirdre. And the only way to play that, I thought, was to imagine Miss Piggy playing the role of the Dowager Countess of Grantham. It's over-the-top, but so is Aunt Adeline.
Thomas Chatterton was a difficult voice to nail down. He's a teenager, and the book makes him out to be a sort of magical character. He's described as a harmless Puck, so I made him playful and kind, which ended up sounding a bit like a young Carey Elwes. Since he is a highly educated lad, he has a perfectly-enunciated received pronunciation accent with one exception: Bristol. Since he's from Bristol, I figured he should pronounce it like a local (BRIZZ-doo). After all, the pronunciation of one's hometown is the one thing that everyone who comes from a regional dialect never needs to change, right?
Arachne is introduced as a sultry young widow who chases after teenage boys. I imagined a voice like Kate Mulgrew, so that's how it ended up. Later in the book, I applied an effect similar to the Erana effect from The Hero, with a reverse-reverb when she is particularly emotional.
Deirdre's parents have ridiculously sanctimonious viewpoints on life, so I made them into upper-class caricatures similar to Adeline. I imagined Graham Chapman as her father, and actually warmed up to do his voice by saying, "Goooooone. Antelope? Nibbling at the croquet hoops?" The cartoonish silliness of Deirdre's parents is contrasted with the young, passionate seriousness of teenage Deirdre in her flashback to her disabling accident. The book is filled with contrasting or competing emotions or moods, so I wanted to show that in the voice acting as much as I could.
Squirrel only has a few lines, but I sure had a good time performing them. He's a Bristol native, so he gets the "pirate" or "farmer" accent that modern audiences are so familiar with. This is particularly comical when he accuses Dylan of "looking like a pirate."
For the hooded dwarves, I developed a new effect that boosts the bass and lowers the pitch, which makes them seem burly within their smaller dimensions. Each dwarf got a different attitude (angry, drunk, docile, horny, happy), though only three have individual voices. The other two are only heard when singing.
Speaking of singing, as Thomas Chatterton I sang a very old poem written in middle English. I looked up the original tune, learned it on guitar, sang along with it until I had it down, then recorded it a cappella. It's at the top of my range, but it worked out well. The dwarves sing some original songs, which I performed like iambic pentameter chants. Considering the context, that seemed the best option. When Dylan improvises a song about brewing beer, I set it to the tune of "The Mingulay Boat Song." It's period-appropriate, and fits the meter. It seemed like the author might have intended to use the pirate song from Treasure Island, perhaps not realizing that it was not a real song until a stage production in the early 1900s. I did think about using that, but it would be an anachronism, and if I can avoid that, I will. Dylan's a sailor, which means that every shipboard duty he performed was accompanied by some kind of song. The rope-hauling songs had verses that were too short, and the only tune I found that I could make work (and I spent two work days on this) was "The Mingulay Boat Song." Dylan sings it like a sailor: loud and proud. Adeline and Deirdre sing it like a soprano and alto (respectively) who are used to singing in harmonic parts, such as in a church hymn or madrigal. Hadreus sings it like he's reluctantly participating while mostly drunk.
I took this project because I saw a lot of challenge and potential in it. It's a great story of adventure and romance, told through the beautiful and unique narrative of an author who was enchanted by mythology and classic literature. I learned a lot, and had a great time producing The Not-World, and I hope that transfers well to your experience as a listener.