From Our Soundbooth | July 10, 2018

This week, we are so glad to be able to share with you the 2018 Miller Audio Prize winner in Prose. Claire O’Connor‘s sound project, “The Roof Of the World (Part 1)” puts voice and sound to the story of S. A. Andrée’s hot air balloon expedition to the North Pole. Guest Judge Avery Trufelman called O’Connor‘s story an “unexpected” one, “as exciting and unusual as it is slow and beautiful. O’Connor manages to bring the listener to completely new and unexpected surroundings, while still relaying the quotidian, relatable facts of mere existence. It’s [a] story so alien from daily experience, and yet so parallel to it. O’Connor’s prose sparkles over sounds of cracking ice and snowy footsteps, along with touches of music, which compel the listener along on this journey: succinct, evocative, and sublime in its wording.”

O’Connor was able to share with us her process of creating such a story:

I can’t remember where I first read about S. A. Andrée’s doomed polar expedition, but I do recall the black and white photograph of an enormous hot air balloon lying on its side on the ice. The image is surreal, somehow both pathetic and majestic—a cautionary tale and a call to adventure. I’m not the first writer to be inspired by that optimistic and ill-prepared odyssey, and I’m sure I won’t be the last. I spent the better part of a year tinkering with this story from different angles, including one draft composed of diary entries that read like a macabre eighth grade history project. Everything about the true story seemed too tragic and wonderful to pass up, but the more faithful I was to history, the more my story got bogged down with details. Ultimately I gave myself permission to leave the narrative unfinished, and I stripped that part of the story down to a single day, inserted a female presence into an otherwise masculine arena, and honed my essential questions. How do we maintain optimism in the face of absurdity? What, in life, do we really want?

This is my first audio story, and I don’t think I would have made the attempt if The Missouri Review hadn’t sent an email that included a short tutorial for how to use Audacity, the free software I used to record my piece. I had so much fun choosing sound effects, finding the right balance between sounds that were more realistic and sounds that were more evocative. I found I had to cut some lines from my original story because the sound effects rendered them redundant. The process reminded me of a talk by a children’s picture book author who said she had to be careful not to write what the illustrations would reveal. Thanks, TMR, for pushing me to try something new!

Claire O’Connor has taught English and Special Education in New York City public high schools, and she has worked with students of many ages in California, Idaho, Morocco, Malaysia, Greece, and South Africa. Her stories have appeared in Best New American Voices, Fiction Circus, Gravel, the Southern Indiana Review, and Shenandoah. She currently lives with her wife in Scotland.

Listen to “The Roof of the World (Part 1)” by Claire O’Connor*, below:

*all sound clips used in “The Roof of the World (Part 1)” are licensed by Creative Commons and can be found on The following is a list of sound clips used in this piece and their creator. If the author excerpted the clip and/or added any effects to the clip, those edits are included in each entry parenthetically. 

  1. “cavern wind” by Royal (excerpted, added fade-in/fade-out)
  2. “footsteps (snow)” by Dymeiz (looped, added fade-in/fade-out)
  3. “Earth’s Crust Depressing” by benjaminharveydesign
  4. “Bach_fugue_in_gmin” by roby_caso (excerpted, added fade-out)
  5. “bakingbacon” by WIM (excerpted, added fade-out)
  6. “Pencil, Writing, Close, A” by InspectorJ (excerpted, added fade-out)
  7. “Hymn of Heaven” by onderwish (excerpted, looped excerpt, added fade-in/fade-out)
  8. “Turning Pages” by Pogotron (excerpted)
  9. “Rowing” by sinewave 1kHz (excerpted, added fade-in/fade-out)
  10. “20110409.choir.01” by doboride (added fade-in)
  11. “man_breathing_asleep” by harleto
  12. “tuning-orquestra” by xserra (excerpted)