Steve Shanahan: The Voice Behind Jane Harper's Audiobooks

We recently spoke to voice actor Steve Shanahan known for his work with Jane Harper on her audiobooks The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost Man, and his most recent work with Katherine Johnson for The Better Son.


You are now famously the voice behind Jane Harper’s acclaimed audiobooks The Dry, Force of Nature and The Lost Man. How did you get into voice acting for audiobooks?
I studied acting at WAAPA, and moved from Perth to Sydney in ’92. After a few years of acting I worked with several people who also did voiceovers, who encouraged me to give it a shot. I’m really glad I did. Since then voiceover has been very kind to me, and I’ve done lots of commercial work. However, working on animation always feels like I’m drawing more on my acting craft and I can see a real connection between animation and audiobooks. So when I did my first audition for The Dry, it felt like very familiar territory for me.
For a narration perspective, what struck you the most about Jane Harper’s books – was there anything particularly challenging? And do you have a favourite amongst them?
Jane has a very intricate way of articulating character-driven emotion. I also have come to realise she doesn’t write a scene that goes nowhere. So when I’m recording her books I will often check the amount of pages a scene runs before I start it. Don’t wanna peak at page 3 of a 20 page conversation.
The Lost Man audiobook includes an interview with you and Jane. What was that like? Did you enjoy that opportunity?
We had a great laugh that day. She’s really funny and so sharp. We obviously both felt like we knew a bit about each other, so to meet in person and make each other laugh was a treat. 
How long does it take to complete an audiobook narration? And what do you enjoy the most about the process?
Most books hover around the 10 hour mark (that’s the final, edited product). I may do around 15 hours in the studio for that much, so I guess I’m at around a 66% hit rate. I also run a recording studio in Marrickville where I also do music, and I’ve recorded several books there on my own. I kinda like that too, but working with other humans is good for you so I don’t say no to the opportunity.

You are also the voice behind the award-winning The Better Son by Katherine Johnson released in audio this month. How different was the creative process/experience narrating this book to the Jane Harper’s novel?
Katherine’s book is one that I did solo in my studio, Baxter Audio (named after my Whippet, who’s always there with me). That’s a really good book, so there’s half the battle won before you say a word. It was an eery experience… several scenes deep inside a cave in Tasmania, with lots of drama and suspense punctuated with lots of silence. That’s fun to do, but only if you go all the way there. So I’d often be inside my vocal booth, shouting the names of people I was searching for or to get help, and many times I’d finish and emerge from my own little “cave”, to find the sun had gone down and Baxter and I were the only ones left in the building. I knew that was a good sign. If you can lose yourself in a story there’s a better chance an audience will.



What would be your advice to anyone who would like to get into audiobook voice acting?
My advice has been the same I was given 25 years ago (geez !!)… you HAVE to have a demo. Nobody will hire your voice because you have been told by your friends that it’s “nice”. I also run a demo production arm at my studio, and have had several newcomers include an audiobook demo with their final package. This year I’ve had several calls excited from folk I’ve helped to tell me they got a book, and it’s a good feeling. They’re almost always actors who want to get into voiceover, and they know how to apply their craft to storytelling. So my advice has never changed, and I can’t see a day when it will. If you approach an agent or a studio or a publishing house, the first question will inevitably be “Do you have a demo you can send us ?”. If you have to say “not yet”, it’s hard to be taken seriously. Remember… you never get a second chance at a first impression. (I like that one).


THE DRY – Jane Harper
THE LOST MAN – Jane Harper
THE BETTER SON – Katherine Johnson