Suzanne Conboy-Hill: The Audio/Book that isn’t an audio-book.

I can’t always trace back to the day I met a particular writer, especially when that writer lives overseas and the furthest east I’ve ever travelled is Massachusetts, years before I took my writing seriously. But with the Internet and social media, the “when” doesn’t matter; the fact is, near or far, in state or not, we can fall into conversation with writers from all over fairly easily.

Such is the case any time I connect with Suzanne Conboy-Hill, a former psychologist, a writer (and an artist!) who lives in England. Suzanne has published essays, flash fiction, sci-fi, and more. Besides being an author, she is also the editor of a very cool anthology, Let Me Tell You A Story. You purchase the anthology in print form, but this is no ordinary book; it’s a collection of stories and poems with a unique reader in mind. I’m thrilled to host Suzanne with the inside story, and there’s a giveaway. I have two copies of her anthology ready to share. CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway by Tuesday, February 6th. 

Now, welcome Suzanne Conboy-Hill!

Let Me Tell You A Story – the audio/book that isn’t an audio-book.

Anyone who’s ever squinted at a book or a leaflet because they forgot their glasses will have had a glimpse of what it’s like to struggle with reading. Others struggle because of a global intellectual difficulty, some because they’re reading in a second language, and a good many because of dyslexia or a neurological condition. Not being able to read means you’re out of the loop and dependent on others to mediate the world for you.

Some years ago I sat with a man with intellectual disabilities who was about to be evicted from his home because he had broken the terms of his tenancy. My job as a psychologist was to understand why that was and try to help, so I started by getting him to read the contract he had signed. He read every word but so slowly and hesitantly that when I probed his understanding, it was clear he had no idea of what he’d read. He had guessed a lot, misunderstood basic words, and taken so long with each sentence that he’d lost any sense of it by the time he reached the end. From the start to the finish of each string of words, his was a hiccupping disconnect of sounding-out and misidentifications.

This goes for fiction just as much as fact – trip over words often enough and you give up, thinking the book or poem is ‘too hard’ for you. Or your reading is punctuated by dictionary searches to help make sense of it, which staggers fluency like speed bumps in the road. Personally, I have a problem with poetry – I read it as though I need to get it finished before some hidden timer goes off and it explodes. The craft and artistry is lost to me. Listening though, that’s a different matter. Hearing the weight applied to some words and the air lifting others; the cadences and the way some parts speed up, wind right down, or drop me onto a cliff edge with a two word sentence: those things become apparent when I hear a poem read.

I wanted to bring this to more people: to readers who need a nudge to find the music in the prose; to struggling readers who can’t hear rhythms over the noise of working out the individual words; to those who already read well but need help hearing words in a new language; and to people who can’t read at all due to cognitive limitations, neurological conditions, or plain old dodgy eyesight.

Luckily, the stars and planets aligned when phones became so smart they could carry apps that unlocked all sorts of worlds with the prod of a finger. Music, audio books, anything, available at a touch. When one of those apps also scanned the QR codes beginning to appear on envelopes and the sides of vans owned by enterprising businesses, the possibility of using that combination to bring the voices of authors straight from the page was not just feasible but easy.

How to demonstrate the idea took some thought. It had to be entertaining and comprise short pieces that might suit different audiences; a buffet not a four course fish dinner.

I chose writers I knew could both write and perform, and material that had already been published so I didn’t have to judge. We also used professional recording studios wherever possible. We were exacting – the audio had to match the text precisely. After all, if the idea was to support reading, we couldn’t betray the trust of struggling readers by allowing the two versions to differ.

Only one of us had ever recorded our work and you’ll hear the quality of that in Phillippa Yaa de Villiers’[1] beautiful readings of her poems. Lyn Jennings also has a profoundly microphone-ready voice. Speech and drama trained, Lyn can project through brick walls but also soften to a whisper when she needs to. The rest of us: Anne O’Brien[2], Tracy Fells[3], Nguyen Phan Que Mai[4], and I, were novices, but you will hear Irish, Vietnamese, and South African voices along with English Received Pronunciation, some of it with hints of Sussex or Yorkshire popping up like a dash of cinnamon in coffee.

This book is, I think, the first of its kind, and I hope not the last. In particular I hope people take the idea and use it to help anyone who is out of the loop. Community magazines, health leaflets, voting slips, the information inside packages you almost need a microscope to read. QR codes bring a personal reader to anyone who, for whatever reason, has trouble with written information or would just like to read along with a poet or storyteller the way they did as a child at bedtime.

There’s plenty more on the Readalongreads[5] site that might help. If you have questions please ask, and if you get a QR project up and running, I’d love to hear about it.

Suzanne Conboy-Hill

PS. A review would be fab!

Twitter: @strayficshion

[1] Phillippa was commissioned to write and deliver the Commonwealth Poem in 2014 before Queen Elizabeth II. She is currently a PhD candidate at Lancaster university, UK.
[2] Anne won the Bath Short Story award in 2016 and is also a PhD candidate at Lancaster university, UK.
[3] Tracy graduated in Creative Writing with Distinction from the university of Chichester in 2016. She was the Canada and Europe Finalist for the Commonwealth Short Fiction prize in 2017.
[4] Que Mai delivered the official International Women’s Day poem in 2014. She too is a PhD candidate at Lancaster university, UK.


CLICK HERE to enter the giveaway for a chance to win one of two copies. Also, Let Me Tell You a Story is available from both Amazon (UK and US) and direct from Lulu.


One-time artist, long-time NHS clinician, now-time word wrangler. Academic alphabet: BA(Hons), PhD, MPhil, MSc, MA. The first four in various kinds of psychology 1978-1998 and the last in creative writing 2014. Nurturing provided by Goldsmiths’ College (university of London), University College London, Institute of Psychiatry/Maudsley Hospital, Leicester university, and university of Lancaster. 

Forthcoming titles from Suzanne include Fat Mo, a novella telling the story of a young woman groomed and entrapped by the charismatic man for whom she works, and Writing as P Spencer-Beck, Not Being First fish and other diary dramas, also available via Amazon and Lulu. (A sample image from the illustrated edition, due in 2018, shown right.)

About Christi Craig

Christi Craig is a native Texan living in Wisconsin, working by day as a sign language interpreter and moonlighting as a writer, teacher, and editor. Her stories and essays have appeared online and in print, and she received an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train's Family Matters Contest, 2010. You can send comments or questions via her contact page.
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