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An audiobook narrator with the perfect voice

By: Alicia Chen

Julia Whelan is famous for her crisp, soothing, and assured voice. She has voiced more than 400 audio books, including the narrated version of magazines like the New York Times and The New Yorker.

Whelan was a former child actress and was fifteen years old when she was cast in the ABC drama “One and Again.” But she figured that she could be happier if she only acted with her voice.

Her narration voice is slightly different from her normal voice, deeper and more formal. Whelan’s narration can vary drastically depending on the book. In “Part of Your World,” she acts like a young woman that is in distress and slightly panicked (at first), but in “The Wife Between Us,” she sounds much more serious.

To Whelan, narrating is like acting. It is acting, but with the voice. When she decides on a book, she reads through it a few times to understand the story and figures out where to put accents and change tone. “Narrating a book really is a performance,” she said, “and it can be harder to do than acting, because I can’t use my eyes or facial expressions to convey something to the audience.”

When Whelan was young, her parents divorced in her teenage years. She loved storybooks, often finding herself lost in make-believe. She started acting at age five.

In 1999, she auditioned for the show “Once and Again”, by Herskovitz and Zwick.

Whelan played the role of a teenage daughter of a divorced woman in Chicago (played by Sela Ward). The moment Herskovitz and Zwick met her, the two knew that the found their teenage actress. “We looked at each other, and said, ‘Check that box: Done.’”

Zwick even said, “There are people that who you meet at an early age who you know cannot be taught.” He mentioned other actors like Claire Danes and Evan Rachel Wood, who he had worked with when they were younger.

Whelan played Grace Warren for three seasons until the show was cancelled.

When Whelan was acting, she was primarily homeschooled. So when she quit, Whelan decided to get a traditional education. She attended Middlebury College and went to Oxford University in her junior year.

When Whelan finished college and went back, she expected to pick up her acting career just as she had left it. She booked many roles, like the movie of the week, and a guest spots on the “NCIS” and “The Closer,” but these bigger auditions just didn’t seem to work out. She felt discouraged and desperate.

During her graduation at Middlebury, a parent of a close friend approached her. She worked at Brilliance, an audio publisher. Whelan was offered a spot. A year later, she called the woman back and said that she would like to try narrating.

And she got hooked.

Recently, she has been combining her experiences with narrating and possibly concepts from other stories she has read.

This results in a book called “Thank You for Listening.” It’s about a young female narrator who gets an opportunity to voice a huge romance book with another man.

Audiobook narrators aren’t just people who read books for the audience to listen to, they are professional actors.

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