Realer… an audio exclusive performed by Gemma Whelan

A few years ago, when I was working on one of my earlier audio exclusives, someone in book publishing took me to one side and asked, ‘Why do you bother with this stuff? It’s so small.’

I don’t think anyone would ask that now. Storytelling in audio has exploded in recent years as people have discovered how powerful a medium it is, and how easy and convenient for audiences to access. But I loved audio long before its present fashionable status. This is narrative art in its purest form, a chance to put a real voice in the ear of a listener’s imagination. When it works there’s nothing quite like it.

And now I’m delighted to be able to announce my latest audio exclusive, Realer, a brand new standalone chiller set in a dystopian near future and narrated by that wonderful actor Gemma Whelan, whose many great roles include the fabulous Yara Greyjoy from Game of Thrones.

The project I was writing when I had that conversation, an adaptation of Romeo and Juliet with the amazing voice talent of Richard Armitage, went on to win an Audie, the audiobook equivalent of an Oscar. Realer is an idea I started working on in a buzz coming back from New York after we won that award, keen to keep on exploring the many exciting possibilities audio offers.

Note that word ‘performed’. The best audio storytelling is more than narration – someone simply reading the words in a book. It is a very. intimate kind of theatre, which is why actors with wide stage experience, like Gemma and Richard, excel at the task.

At the heart of Realer is Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Mackintosh, a solitary girl from an impoverished family in near future Yorkshire. I desperately wanted to write about the North, the region I come from, one I love, one whose future I fear for which is, in part, at the core of this tale.

Charlie witnesses the murder of her father through a virtual reality system and then realises she must use that same system – which she hates and fears – to find his killers. It’s a story about broken families, the control technology is coming to hold over our lives, and the cost of lockdown. When I began I saw it not as a book but more a one-woman play divided into short, accessible chapters, a first person narrative that might be told directly to an audience in a theatre. Or to a bunch of people on a broken down bus.

Charlie speaks to you personally, a funny, emotional and occasionally unreliable narrator telling the story of how she came face-to-face with tragedy and – no great spoilers here – found a way to survive and defeat the challenges of a post-pandemic world. Can you tell this tale in a conventional book? Yes, and one day Realer may be just that. For now though I wanted it to be delivered in the direct and personal way that only great performances in the studio can manage, which is how I first imagined it a couple of years ago on the way back from New York. I’m very grateful to WF Howes for the opportunity to produce this latest audio exclusive, and to Gemma Whelan for bringing her formidable talents to the task.

For those of you who use NetGalley I’m delighted to say the service now handles audio release too – so if you head to the Realer page you can apply to be one of the pre-release reviewers. Just go here on NetGalley.

And here’s the cover copy…

‘Life is real.. but this is Realer…’ Realer promises a new virtual reality, a safe and sanitised window into a virtual existence without the risks of the real, crumbling, post-pandemic society beyond the door.

Sixteen-year-old Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Mackintosh is a loner whose father works for the company. He gives her Realer for her birthday – only to be murdered as she watches through her high-tech hood at home.

Alone in a tense, post-lockdown world, Charlie has to turn to Realer to find his killers. She’s soon trapped in a murderous conspiracy behind a system that’s steadily beginning to take over people’s lives.

Charlie comes to understand that she can only hide from outside dangers for so long. In the end, the only way to defeat them is face-to-face, in the real world. A place she fears more than any.

A brand new audio exclusive for WF Howes, performed by Gemma Whelan (Game of Thrones). Available through Audible, Apple iTunes, Amazon and other audio outlets on October 29.