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Telling the Tale of Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster

Actor/Narrator Sarah Coomes

To be creative is to embrace the possibilities life offers. Sarah Coomes most certainly has done this. A successful actor with a variety of productions to her credit, she’s found a great deal of success contributing her immense talent to the world of audio books. The popularity of this format has skyrocketed with so many of us embracing work and play “on the go.” The opportunity to be entertained on our commute, workouts, or travel adds to the enjoyment of daily life. Coomes is known for her ease with a host of accents, augmenting her acting and resulting in exponentially increasing opportunities for the actress. Her recent work as narrator for Jonathan Auxier’s Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster, the follow-up to his New York Times Best Seller The Night Gardener, won Sarah a 2019 Earphones Award from Audio File for her work. Set in the Victorian era this tale is packed with surprises as it tackles child labor and anti-Semitism via a little girl and her friend who happens to be a golem. The subject matter provided a ripe emotional environment for Coomes to display why she is one of the most successful in this field.

Sarah heaps massive praise on author Jonathan Auxier for creating a character like eleven-year-old Nan Sparrow, the protagonist of the story. Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster is character driven and the reader/listener learns a great deal about her world and the times directly through her. While still undertaking her character notations, much of Sarah’s typically needed research of the era was already in Auxier’s text. The fear and desperation of an adolescent chimney sweep like Nan communicates the harshness of this period of London’s history; a tone congruent with the author’s other books. His work often creates a bridge that prepares children to contemplate some of the less than nurturing aspects of the world. For an actress/narrator such as Sarah, this magnifies the range of emotional possibilities that can be communicated in the audio book medium. Coomes conjures up a moment of great intensity in the first scene, setting the tone for the book. The chimney sweeps are competing for the position of Apprentice to the Master and when Nan becomes stuck in a chimney, another chimney sweep [Roger] uses the “Devils Nudge” under the pretense of helping her. Roger’s duplicitous intent is actually to remove Nan from the competition by means of this; perhaps even resulting in her death. As young Nan finds herself amidst flames and struggling to free herself or succumb Coomes describes, “It really is an awful passage because this is how Chimney sweeps were treated. It was very difficult to narrate; you have to show enough urgency and emotion in your narration so that the listener becomes involved and yet not so much that you alienate your listener and they feel they can’t emote themselves. The audience, on the whole are children themselves, so you have to keep this in mind while narrating some of the very harrowing scenes.”

Audio books create the perfect bridge between traditional literature and films in that they challenge the listener to do the vast majority of creativity in terms of imagination. It’s a facet with which Sarah herself is keenly aware. An actress with many theater and film credits, Coomes regards the use of her talent in the audio book world as yet another challenge in her career. Her work with Audible, world leader in audio book production, has seen her narrate books set in India, Newcastle, Wales, Morocco, Japan, Ireland, Scotland, England, Europe and America, with the accompanying authentic accents. The audio book realm has provided more fertile ground for the actress to wield her abilities. Her work on Frank Cottrell Boyce Book The Unforgotten Coat resulted in Sarah’s reception of another Earphones Award. She relates, “The setting for this book was in Liverpool. A liverpudlian/Eastern European accent was definitely a challenge, and I was really thrilled to have won an award for it. I’ve narrated books set in Ireland, Morocco; so many different locations. It seems that if there’s a very difficult accent or lots of Characters in a book, I usually get the call.” Being a first call narrator for an industry leader like Audible has allowed Sarah Coomes to continue her career as an actress while accumulating acclaim in an industry similar yet altogether unique. In her mind, it’s all a part of being the creative artist she has always been as she relates, “As a narrator you have such a privileged place; to breathe life into these books. They stay with you. I often think back to characters in books and want to be back there with them. Like any collaborative artform, acting or narration is only enriched by the presence of a good director. I find that the relationship between your engineer or director is a really important one whether I’m in the recording booth or on set.”

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