Actor Christopher Ecclestone talks about narrating Cold Bath Street by A J Hartley, published by student-run not-for-profit publisher UCLan.
How did you come to narrate Cold Bath Street?
I was playing Macbeth in Stratford-upon-Avon for the Royal Shakespeare Company and a man who runs the Shakespeare Institute felt, quite rightly, that there were parallels in Cold Bath Street and "Macbeth", with the fact that both rely heavily on the notion of the supernatural, ghosts and death. Very Catholic. We did an event where Andrew [Hartley] talked about his book and his notion of the supernatural, and I spoke about playing Macbeth and my notions of the supernatural. It helps that the book is set in Preston, Lancashire, and I’m from Salford in Lancashire. We’re from a very similar generation. We seem to have an odd understanding of each other.
How does narrating an audiobook compare to acting on stage?
What I found relatively easy was the characterisations that come out through dialogue, but when you’re describing the thought process or going into a detailed description of an area, that’s different. That’s texture, and it uses different mental muscles.
Apart from the supernatural, was there anything else in the book you were drawn to?
The "Lancashireness". I grew up in the 1970s in Salford and the characters of the mother and the father are not exactly my parents by any stretch of the imagination but they certainly felt like people I know, with the very specific way they use words and the language of the North. There are accents and turns of phrase that me and Andrew would have picked up in the ‘70s but would sound quite antiquated now to kids of today.
How is your memoir with Simon & Schuster going?
I’m writing it with somebody. It’s going slowly. It’s a memoir of my father, focusing quite a lot on his dementia but it becomes a bit of a (it’s a grand word) meditation on the father/son relationship.
Is it a hard process?
It is, yes. I find myself, a bit like with [narrating] the audiobooks, tired after it. It’s very exposing and causes me anxiety about how it’s all going to come about. But it’s an opportunity, and my dad’s ambition, had he ever been able to express it, would have been to have his own name on a book. He never wrote but he read voraciously and he had an obsession with the written word. Mine and my dad’s big connection was over literature. He was very intrigued by me becoming an actor, and very supportive. Unlike the clichés you see in "Billy Elliot" and all that bollocks. He was a good parent because he realised [becoming an actor] was such a left-field idea. It was very good parenting.
The memoir, was it your idea?
I did a piece in the Guardian about my father’s dementia. It was my words verbatim. Then I was approached by Iain McGregor of Simon & Schuster, who said: “Have you ever thought about doing a book?” I said no, then I said yes, then I said no again, then I said yes again.
Why the indecision?
I think, if I’m honest, I struggle with the idea that I’m being ghostwritten, even if it’s going to be me verbatim. To me if you write a book, you “write” a book but for various reasons I can’t do that at the moment. For me, it’s going to be very exposing and we will have to see whether it leads to a second one where I take the reins.
Will you show anyone a draft or do you want to get it perfect first?
I think I’m being really quite compliant at the moment, and I’m going to get really awkward soon, knowing me and my process, particularly because it’s so very personal.
What’s it like working with a small publisher like UCLan compared to S&S?
Well S&S has managed to fool me that they’re the same. I don’t spend any time in the offices. Iain is very personable. He’s a writer himself.