Clambering up the learning curve: A Season One Retrospective
It’s been just short of four months since Chris and I first documented our thoughts on what would later become Tales from the Aletheian Society - after a visit to the Dynamic Earth Exhibition in Edinburgh where we alternately chased our respective small children in and out of a miniature submarine in semi-darkness, while trying to brainstorm ideas for an audio drama loosely based on Victorian adventurers and the occult. As it happens, the combination of pursuing fast moving kids and creative writing has served us well over the years - but this time, instead of plotting out a LARP event, we were planning something completely different.

At this point I'd be remiss not to mention and thank Ritch Keeling, not only for voicing Godalming with consummate skill and professionalism, but also for having previously invited us to be a part of his excellent production of Tales from the Free Cities, an audiobook based on the Guild Ball short stories by Sherwin Matthews. You’ll recognise a few familiar voices in these tales of blood, betrayal and ballgames - and it’s safe to say that without Ritch giving us the bug for podcasting, our own Tales would never have been created.

Season One was written between the 6th of March and the 3rd of April, in an energetic frenzy of words and ideas, writing 3 episodes each to a pre-agreed framework and editing them as a team. Neither of us had a clear idea how long each episode was likely to end up, and we more-or-less arbitrarily set a 15 page limit per episode, thinking that the story would progress at a rate of about a minute per page. It turns out we were completely wrong almost by a factor of two. Interestingly, even though we both adhered rigorously to the same page limit we were accidentally using different line spacing - but despite this, our episodes remained a remarkably consistent 27 - ish minutes regardless of primary author.

It’s safe to say we had no real plan for how we were going to put the episodes together, and that my vague intent to “just record the actors and add a few sound effects on the computer” was soon revealed to be woefully inadequate as the scope of the project increased. Enter the marvellous Stoo Goff, composer, audio engineer and all round wizard whose role rapidly increased from “doing some recording” to taking on the extremely detailed audio production in its entirety, as well as composing the theme tune and incidental music. I can’t emphasise enough the contribution he made to the show and the debt of gratitude we owe him - without Stoo and the hundreds of hours he contributed, Tales from the Aletheian Society would still be a pile of slightly inconsistently spaced scripts.

Casting was already in progress before the writing was finished, and most of the major characters were written with their future actor in mind. Cadwallader and Jessie were Chris’s and mine respectively from the start, Sophia was written specifically for Lindis, and despite having written Gillespie as a dour Highlander, once Graeme had made the role his own we couldn't imagine the Castellan of Hunter Hoose as anything other than a sinister, gravelly voiced Glaswegian.  We initially wrote the Tribune as a man, but in an inspired stroke of genius tried Rhi out in the role and through her virtuoso performance the querulous aristocratic old lady came to life. Arthur was more of a problem - hard though it is to believe, actors who can do a convincing English public schoolboy accent are thin on the ground in Glasgow (we suspect podcasters in Edinburgh and St Andrews don’t have this problem). Luckily, Henry is a former English public schoolboy, and brings a lovely sense of authenticity to the part of the charming but completely gormless lord. 

Our first recording session was on the 1st of May, and none of us had any idea what to expect. My rather naive assumption that we would all just gather around a single microphone and read the script in order was soon dismissed, and instead we recorded the material in a complex series of subgroups that Stoo could then mix together to his own specifications. The first episode took the better part of three weeks to edit into its final form, and we re-recorded many lines as part of the learning process. Over the course of the six episodes we’ve acquired an additional microphone, an extra pop shield and some jury-rigged screens to try and dampen the echo of a traditional high-ceilinged Glasgow tenement. It’s worked beautifully for the majority of the cast, though those of us with higher voices still have a tendency to sound like we’re trapped in a well. 

We’ll publish Stoo’s thoughts on the technical aspects of recording in a separate post, so I’ll say no more here than to add that he got much, much quicker at producing the finished audio files as we went on. We got faster at recording, too- by the end of the series we could easily rehearse and record two episodes in three hours- which is fortunate, as all the cast and crew are incredibly busy people with abundant work and family commitments. That such gifted individuals should choose to commit their time and enthusiasm to this project is nothing short of miraculous, and I’m humbled and eternally grateful to them for helping us bring this off the page. 

As release day got closer, our minds turned to cover art, and we were lucky enough to benefit from the astonishingly talented Daisy Abbott, who developed a vague idea for a cover involving a Glasgow skyline into our fabulous blood spattered betentacled silhouette. Not only that, but she invested hours of intense work in the season one trailer, going from “can I put some old photos on your desk?” to “never mind, I can draw the desk myself!” to “here’s the finished trailer” in what seemed like a few days.The sheer level of detail and complexity of it is staggering - I’ve found myself watching it over and over, finding new and delightful references to the show every time.

The complete scripts for Season One are going up on our website today, and we hope they’ll be of interest not only to listeners who like seeing the changes from script to audio episode, but to people who prefer the written to the spoken word when it comes to their sketchy Victorian tentacle adventures. Looking back through them, I’m pleased and surprised to notice the changes from the originals as written - all of them improvements - as our actors took ownership of the characters, including some truly superb off-the-cuff improvisation. 

Season One has been an astonishing learning experience for us all, and we’re moving on confident in the knowledge that we can build on what we’ve achieved to do something even better. Writing for Season 2 is close to complete, and we promise to keep you posted on progress throughout. To tide you over, we’ve got four minisodes ready to go, as well as regular blog posts, new images and music to download, technical commentaries and an interview with the creators planned before the Season Two trailer goes live.

It’s been a wild ride - and it’s far from over. Thank you for joining us on this exhilarating, surreal, sometimes stressful and always enlightening journey of discovery - we hope you’ll be with us for many seasons to come.

Jude Reid