Open Mic Spotlight: Penguin Random House UK

The 2018 New York Festivals Radio Awards celebrates the World’s Best Radio Programs and NYF’s Radio Awards shines the spotlight on exceptional radio content in all lengths and formats and across all platforms from radio stations, networks and independent producers. Prominent award-winning, producers, directors, presenters and content creators from around the globe earned trophies for their compelling content at this year’s awards ceremony in NYC.

Penguin Random House UK’s audiobooks earned Gold Awards in this year’s NYF Radio Awards for John le Carré’s revisit of the world of George Smiley in A Legacy of Spies, Eddie Izzard’s unforgettable turn narrating his own autobiography Believe Me (along with plenty of ad-libbing) and Stephen Fry’s bestselling Mythos. Silver Trophy winners include: The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne and The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman.

Samantha Halstead

Samantha Halstead, Senior Commissioning Edior, Audiobooks at Penguin Random House UK spent a few minutes with NYF and shared her insights on these award-winning audiobooks.

New York Festivals:  What was your ultimate goal for the program?

Samantha Halstead: Our ultimate goal for all of these audiobooks – and in fact for every book we publish in audio – is to create something that listeners will love, and to really do justice to the work of our authors. We’re incredibly lucky at Penguin Random House to work with an extraordinary range of the very best writers, and our job in the audio team is to help give these books a new voice in audio format.

New York Festivals:  To what do you attribute the success of this program?

Samantha Halstead: All four of these audiobooks offer something unique and different to listeners, but all are equally engrossing and captivating.

Believe Me

Narrated in Eddie Izzard’s inimitable style, this is a memoir that will stick with you for months after you’ve listened to it. Eddie’s performance carries you from giddy laughter one minute to pure poignancy the next, and his tendency to go off-script does not waver – meaning it feels like he’s just in the room with you. The audiobook is packed with anecdotes and stories that don’t feature in the print book, making this a truly unique experience. I can’t imagine this book being the success it was without Eddie’s energy and incredible performance.

The Book of Dust: La Belle Sauvage

The fact that Michael Sheen is a true and passionate fan of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series shines through in every line of his performance in this audiobook. His delicate treatment of the young protagonist Malcolm Polstead contrasts vividly with the sonorous tones of Lord Asriel and again with the crazed screeches of a certain Hyena daemon. He handles every character masterfully and his narration has delighted fans worldwide. Philip Pullman was closely involved in the casting of this audiobook and Michael has long been a fan of Philip’s work, so this was a perfect pairing.

A Legacy of Spies

A Legacy of Spies is the first novel from John le Carre to feature his iconic lead character, George Smiley, in 25 years. We therefore wanted to mark the occasion by casting an actor who would lend gravitas and authority to this audiobook, but who was also linked to some of le Carre’s previous work.

Casting Tom Hollander (who played a prominent role in The Night Manager) meant that we were able to draw interest from fans of the TV series and tune them into the audiobook, as well as bring in a narrator who could effortlessly handle the breadth of the story and give voice to a truly legendary character.


Stephen Fry is perhaps one of the most popular and well-known audiobook narrators. His work on Harry Potter solidified him as the voice of a generation’s childhood, and a number of projects he’s lent his voice to since then have been lauded with praise.

Publishing the audiobook of his new book Mythos meant there was only one person who could narrate it, and once again Stephen Fry’s performance is bubbling with wit, intelligence and excitement. He brings to live innumerable characters – from great Greek gods such as Zeus, to villains like Hades and the simple humans mixed up in the fracas of the gods. It’s a real treat to listen to – and if you loved this watch out for his follow up instalment Heroes, out this November.

New York Festivals:  Where do you see focusing your creative talents next…what’s on the horizon?

Samantha Halstead: We’re very excited to be releasing an immersive audio version of The Lost Words by Robert MacFarlane and Jackie Morris, which will be released on October 18th. The audiobook will be narrated by iconic voices of modern Britain and bring the magic of both nature and language to listeners. Alongside these voices, listeners can enjoy a soundscape created by renowned natural-history field recordist Chris Watson, which evokes the stunning artwork and draws listeners deep into the living world. Wren’s songs, raven’s calls, rain falling onto ferns and willow trees blowing in the wind: together, the soundscape and the spoken spells conjure the wonder and variety of nature and place.

We’re also publishing a special edition of Nigella Lawson’s culinary bible How To Eat to celebrate 20 years since it was first published. This is our first ever audio cookbook, and Nigella’s first audiobook, and will be released on October 11th. Yotam Ottolenghi said about this book ‘I want two copies, one to reference in the kitchen and one to read in bed’ – this is why we think How To Eat is the perfect first audio cookbook for us. While it is full of recipes, for everything from a classic roast chicken to Marmite sandwiches, it’s so much more than just a cookbook – it’s Nigella’s philosophy on food and her love letter to eating. It’s full of anecdotes and stories about her life in food and the prose is lustrous, intimate and intelligent – you feel ready to head in to the kitchen and take on anything with Nigella’s reassuring voice guiding you through. We’re also adding in some kitchen-themed sound design, so it should be a feast for the ears!

And just in time for Christmas, we will have a new novelization of The Snowman, written by Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo. We have a yet to be announced star narrator for our audio edition, and I promise you, you’ll want to have this on repeat all Christmas.

That’s not all, though, we have a very exciting Autumn publishing list including books from across our lists from Michelle Obama, to Kate Atkinson – so watch this space!


For more information on New York Festivals International Radio Program Awards please visit: and check out the 2018 winners visit: HERE.



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