News & Views
Voices of the Crowd #15 – Emma Hickman3 October 2022
Eliza was born on 17 August 2020. She was named after the first chatbot, but she was a lockdown baby.
The story evolved through the pandemic, and through the various national lockdowns. We all know what a challenging time it was for the world. The period also shone a light on striking statistics and individual stories of violence against women. This generated deep feelings in lots of us.
When I have lots of feelings, I write. I found that using the voice of a robot-from-the-future helped me to say exactly what I need to.
As my stream of consciousness organised itself into a robot monologue, it occurred to me that the story could work as a podcast. After completing multiple drafts from the safety of my apartment, I recorded an awkward “demo”. It was me reading Eliza (with a performance far more robotic than I’d ever intended). I shared it with trusted ears.
On a permitted outdoor stroll, I told Lou at Crowd what I’d been up to. Given her impressive experience of storytelling through audio (albeit, up to now, non-fiction storytelling), I thought she might have some thoughts around whether it could work. I sent across the awkward “demo” and she had thoughts! So we decided to find a way to collaborate on it. That collaboration happily involved Crowd’s backing.
There was a missing piece of the puzzle. It came in the form of Ella Watts who just happened to be dubbed “audio fiction queen” by the Guardian. With feedback from the team, there were more rounds of rewrites; some incredible work from Ella on casting; and a lot of scheduling and organisation from Catalina at Crowd. We were ready to record.
On the last week of July 2022 we recorded at 2020 Studios. It was wonderful to witness the story coming to life through the actors’ portrayals and Ella’s incredible direction. They just got it. Alexis’ sound design has added such density to the recordings.
It’s also been brilliant to have the Pankhurst Centre and Women’s Aid, Manchester involved in the project. As Eliza deals with themes around violence against women, we were acutely aware of the need to deal with this content responsibly. The charity’s involvement has been so important in reviewing the scripts; assisting with content warnings; and providing signposts for those who may be affected by the story. On a personal note, I’m hopeful that hearing the story from the perspective of a robot will help to provide a similar distance for listeners as it has for me as a writer.
It’s been more than two years in the making and I’m so proud of this all-female production team and everyone involved in the project. I can’t wait for Eliza’s story to be released into the world.