THE HEARD INSTINCT

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The Independent Culture
Bring-bring! New audio-publishers Watershed on the line, telling us about their first list, specialising in sex and politics. As in Alan Clark's Diaries, or Edwina Currie's parliamentary bonkbusters? No, as in Nelson Mandela's Long Walk to Freedom, Anais Nin's Delta of Venus and Pauline Reage's The Story of O, all abridged (well, presumably not Nelson) "to keep the rude bits in". Founder Chris Wallis, a former Archers producer, has an intriguing angle: "I trained as a zoologist ... there are clearly fundamental differences in arousal mechanisms between men and women: visual stimuli seem to deliver everything a chap needs to get going but women ... tend to read and listen to books." His research shows that listeners don't want to associate audio erotica with famous voices and he's therefore using experienced radio actors under noms de voix.

All audiobooks run the risk of the actor's voice being irritating rather than seductive. Juliet Stevenson's lisping, sibillant rendering of Penguin's Villette scuppered poor Lucy Snowe. Stevenson's in much better form with To the Lighthouse, well suited in its symphonic structure to the CD format (Naxos pounds 6.99). The Naxos books use music, in Woolf's case Greig and Delius, to great effect. Brian Cox gruffs his way through Aubrey's garrulous Brief Lives to the accompaniment of Orlando Gibbons, and best of all, young actor Benjamin Soames thrills to Tales from the Norse Legends, with Mahler, Grieg and Smetana.

A Shakespeare audiobook, out from Hodder in November, called The Prince's Choice, features Prince Charles playing Prince Hal to Robert Stephens' Falstaff. The POW consulted a voice coach, but Stephens cooed: "You don't need to do that, because you're the Prince of Wales playing the Prince of Wales." Funny, he's always seemed pretty inauthentic at that, too.

! Watershed Productions: 0161 449 7686.

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