5 days to go: fangirling in an audio booth

About a year ago, I had an idea. To help my advertising along, what with my books being set in an orchestra and filled with classical music and all, I thought: let’s find the people who already like classical music, and tell them about the Stockwell Park Orchestra series. It seemed so basic I wondered if I was being daft.

But no! Farrago thought it was brilliant, and so I set about researching radio advertising. First thing I discovered – it is expensive. I shelved the whole scheme, doubting it would be possible. My small publisher doesn’t have the ad budget to devote a big chunk to just one of their many books. Fair enough; I wasn’t expecting special treatment.

Months of dithering ended with me approaching it as I would a business – which of course it is. I wondered how I would feel if I hadn’t tried getting my books to the attention of their perfect audience, and realised I’d be kicking myself. Calling it an investment in my brand made much more sense.

I discovered I could basically buy a week’s celebration of my book on Scala Radio, including a possible spot on Simon Mayo’s Book Club. This was silly money, so I decided against. I am now several layers more cynical about how some books get their shedload of publicity. Looking at it logically though, how did I expect a commercial station to earn its money? 

Classic FM looked more possible. It has a bigger audience, and is split into regions for their adverts. I looked at listener figures vs. costs, and went for their London and South regions as having the most listeners, plus being relevant to the book’s geography (it’s based in Stockwell, South London). I did glance at how much it would cost to advertise UK-wide together with their digital output, and looked away quickly, eyes watering, breathing into a paper bag. Two regions it is.

Over Zoom (where else, darling?) I met the extremely capable producer Tim Fortune, who is part of Classic FM’s in-house creative team. Farrago sent Tim details of Continental Riff, plus info about my other books. Tim sent me an initial draft of a script for our thirty-second ad. He was very happy for me to tweak it, and so between us we spent a week getting it how we wanted. I was terrified Tim would think I was an interfering client, but he was delightfully open to any suggestions I had. Or he was terribly good at smothering his irritation.

We ended up with a script that includes all the info we needed, plus (I hope) enough entertainment to stop it being annoying if you hear it multiple times. The speech is accompanied by the final bars of Strauss’s first horn concerto, which features in the book and gets the whole thing galloping along. (This is a picture of an Alexander full double horn, which costs more than £7,000. Alexanders are my favourite. Yes I named my horn soloist Alexander. The layers of nerdy comedy in this book are astounding.)

I wanted the voice of the ad to be brilliant, so I asked Simon Kane – via his agent – and he said yes! I fell in love with Simon’s vocal dexterity hearing him do multiple characters in John Finnemore’s Souvenir Programme. He has also recently featured in Ghosts. His comic timing is superb.

And so, a couple of weeks ago, I clutched a phone to my ear listening to Simon Kane record take after take of our script, each one slightly different as requested by Tim. The level of nuance they achieved between different takes astounded me. I was efficiently professional at all times and merely said hello and thank you and that was marvellous to Simon when really I wanted to squeak I LOVE YOUR VOICE PLEASE DO THE SCOTTISH TRAIN MANAGER FOR ME. I had to make do with hearing him say ‘Continental Riff by Isabel Rogers’ loads of times instead.

So: starting next week, Classic FM will be running an ad for Continental Riff for a month. If you live in London or the south of England, you might catch it. Let’s hope it persuades lots of people to try the Stockwell Park Orchestra books!