“Listen to your inner voice.” That’s the message Maleny author Leigh Robshaw would like to share after winning a $5000 grant to record an audiobook as part of the July 2021 round of Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) grants announced last week.
Ms Robshaw is the deputy editor of My Weekly Preview and a regular contributor to salt magazine and sunshinecoastnews.com.au. In 2019, she published her first book, You Had Me at Hola: In search of love and truth in South America. A colourful memoir about her intrepid years living in Latin America during the 1990s, it won the 2020 High Country Indie Book Award and has received widespread acclaim.
In 2020, Ms Robshaw was in the process of recording an audiobook with her husband Herrin Larkan, a sound engineer, when he tragically passed away.
“Herrin kept pushing me to record the audiobook,” Ms Robshaw says. “I was very hesitant and thought I had plenty of time. The truth was, I felt uncomfortable recording myself reading my own book, so I kept dragging my feet. It’s one thing to write a book; it’s an entirely different thing to have your voice recorded reading your own work. It’s quite intimidating, particularly for a writer who prefers to be hiding behind the keyboard, well out of the spotlight.”
With an estimated 3.5 billion users worldwide, audiobooks are the fastest growing sector of the publishing industry. Most people listen to audiobooks on their smartphones or on smart speakers at home while engaged in other tasks.
“I lost count of the number of times Herrin told me how audiobooks were becoming a huge part of publishing and I had to get on board,” Ms Robshaw says.
“He kept encouraging me to get over myself and just record it. We had only recorded one chapter when he suffered a massive cardiac arrest and died very suddenly in May last year. You think you have all the time in the world, but the truth is, it could be all over at any time, for any one of us.
“Herrin was only 47 and was fit and healthy. There was absolutely no warning. I have two sons and it was a massive shock for all of us. I’ve been in survival mode since then, just trying to get through each day and raise our boys as best I can. Needless to say, I completely abandoned the idea of the audiobook. I didn’t have the money to pay another audio engineer and I just didn’t have it in me.”
Ms Robshaw says she knew nothing about the process of applying for a RADF grant and had never considered the idea, until a couple of months ago.
“Completely out of the blue, a little voice just popped into my head and said ‘apply for a RADF grant’. I wasn’t even thinking about the audiobook and had completely given up on the idea. I really believe when you get a strong message like that – that seemingly comes out of nowhere – you should heed the call. Those little voices that you can’t ignore are your intuition guiding you. So I called Sunshine Coast Council and spoke to RADF liaison officer Saffron Drew, who was very encouraging and gave me brilliant advice on my application.”
As part of her application, Ms Robshaw chose Sunshine Coast colleagues to help bring her project to life. With audiobook recording a burgeoning industry, she says there are opportunities for local audio engineers and audiobook narrators who want to ride the wave of popularity. Ms Robshaw chose Maleny audio engineer Howard Tampling to record the audiobook and Maleny performer Natalie Richy for the role of narrator.
“I realised having a narrator would be a better option for me than recording the book myself,” Ms Robshaw says. “That way, I don’t have to overcome my resistance to recording myself and I can open up the door to becoming an audiobook narrator for Natalie, as well as bring Howie – who is a very experienced audio engineer – into the exciting world of audiobooks, too.
“I am so grateful to Sunshine Coast Council and Arts Queensland for this opportunity,” Ms Robshaw adds. “Without this grant, my audiobook would never happen. It will introduce my book to a whole new world of listeners and hopefully lead to increased sales of the paperback and ebook, too.
“My kids and I have done it pretty tough over the past year or so and this really means the world to me. It’s such a big vote of confidence in me and my work and I appreciate it more than words can say.”
Ms Robshaw is one of seven Sunshine Coast residents who received RADF grants as part of the July 2021 round. The others are Courtney Scheu (in the dance category), Kenny Waterson and Patricia McInerney (in the interdisciplinary category), and Laura Vecmane Bartlett, Claire Letitia Reynolds and Elizabeth Derham (in the visual arts category).
The Regional Arts Development Fund is a partnership between the Queensland government and Sunshine Coast Council to support local arts and culture in regional Queensland. RADF funds are aimed at the development of emerging and established artists, creative practitioners and producers.
RADF funding is awarded to projects that align with the Sunshine Coast Arts Plan 2018 – 2038, which provides a 20-year vision for the region, placing artists at its core.
Visit sunshinecoast.qld.gov.au and click ‘living and community’ then ‘grants and funding’.
To find out more about You Had Me at Hola, visit leighrobshaw.net