Tales from the Aletheian Society

Tales from the Aletheian Society is a serialised comedy-horror audio drama about the misadventures of a society of Victorian occultists.

Universal Suffering

When we started the design process for Tales, one of our priorities was to make sure that women were properly represented and had a fair share of the “screen time”. Of the original four “main” characters, two were male and two female - and although Arthur and Sophia are a couple, we wanted to be clear that she wasn’t just an accessory defined by her relationship to him. If anything, she’s the driving force in the marriage and he toddles along happily after, doing what he’s told.

But that said, working within a broadly historical setting posed challenges. Attitudes to women at the time were pretty despicable - and we chose to have Cadwallader embrace the misogyny of a man of his time, though we made sure to be clear that he is utterly wrong, given that the women he disparages are considerably more competent than he is. Jessie and Sophia are deeply flawed human beings, but their failings aren’t related to the fact that they’re women. Overall, we thought we were getting the balance about right, and were feeling quite proud of the fact that we’d written such a show with such good representation of women.

How wrong we were. Rhi (who plays the Tribune in Season One, and does the best monkey noises of any human alive) reviewed the scripts for episodes 1 and 2, and shockingly, in episode 1 only 20% of the words were spoken by women - 10% by Sophia, and 10% by the other female characters combined. Cadwallader had 52%, Gillespie 16%, and the remaining 12% were spoken by Arthur, Godalming and other minor male parts. Even accepting that Cadwallader was the narrator and therefore would have a bigger share of the lines, the demographic was still hugely skewed in favour of the men. We kept going - surely episode 2 would be better - after all, the women were doing all the actual work while the men blundered about ineptly. Well, yes and no.

In episode 2, the women do have greater than 50% of the dialogue - 62% is shared more or less equally between Sophia and Jessie, but there are only two other female parts giving a total of 66% to the women. Remove Sophia as narrator and only 35% of the remaining words are spoken by women - which is astonishing given how female-dominated it seems on first hearing.

We’re aware of the unconscious bias that makes people think that non-men are dominating a conversation when they’re only half of the participants - but it was still a surprise to see it so obviously in our own writing. Part of the problem is that we’d wanted to keep the backdrop historical - so of course butlers, police officers, ministers and similar ended up as men. We’d vaguely intended on introducing Mrs Gillespie as a character, but we never quite got round to it, and while she’s there as an offstage presence (maybe contributing to the impression of there being more female characters about) she never actually appears. The other problem that we ran into was that - for the simple reason that the women were staggeringly more competent - it was harder to get them into ludicrous and funny situations, and their share of the plot suffered as a result. The final contributing factor was that when the casting call went out we got a lot more interest from men, and when seven guys turned up to the first session compared to three women we ended up finding bit parts for them to play. This had the effect that roles which could theoretically be played by any gender ended up as men by default. If we hadn’t taken the last minute decision to make the Tribune a woman, it would have been even worse.

So, what are we going to do about it? We realised by midway through season one that we were going to need a new regular female character, and we hope you’re looking forward to her arrival considerably more than Dr Cadwallader is. We’ve recruited another regular female cast member, and we’ve made sure that there are more parts for women throughout - a cursory examination of the gender balance of roles for the season appears roughly equally balanced, though we won’t know the final statistics ‘till we’ve broken it down line by line, which we promise to do once the season is recorded. And in the meantime, we’ll keep writing strong characters with motivations and story arcs of their own, and we remain utterly committed to seeing the women of the Aletheian Society and their excellent actors getting their fair share of the limelight.

Jude Reid

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Fiery Orb Seen In Sky Over Glasgow

This week has seen relentless sunshine and the highest local temperatures ever recorded in the city of Glasgow - as a result, locals have been seen outdoors with their jackets off, eating ice cream, smiling in public, and generally propagating a sense of cheer and goodwill on the streets of this benighted borough. Clearly it’s the result of some dark incantation to an Elder God, but fear not, the Society will ensure that universal drizzle and gloom are restored to Hell’s Darkest Pit before long.

In the meantime, we have new content! First and most excitingly we are releasing our first minisode as a special thank you to our Patreon supporters - so if you want to listen to the society’s official Guide to Handling Supernatural Artefacts head over to our Patrons’ area! This week we’ve also posted new content on Hunter Hoose including a report on the Gasworks explosion - keen eyed illuminates may notice a few of the more important details missing from the “official” account, but it would be just like the Society to conceal the truth in some dubious way…

Also on our website you can find our newly finished press pack - a handy quick-reference guide containing all the information (we hope) you’ll need if you’re inspired to write about our show.  And even if you’re not with the press, we think you’ll still enjoy the cast bios, photos and our shiny new Season 1 audio trailer.

As always, we’d love to hear from you, so if you reveal the truth of the Gasworks explosion, are horrified by how different the actors look to the characters in your head, or just want to let us know what you think drop us a line to theincident@hunterhoose.co.uk!

Jude Reid

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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

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Tentacles, crypts and monkeys

Episode 5, Death Masks, comes out today, exactly one month after we released Episode 1, and it’s been tremendously exciting seeing how our audience (now our fans!) have responded to the results of all our hard work. This week a lovely review by Ely in Audio Dramatic astutely highlighted the influence that the work of HP Lovecraft had on the Aletheian Society- you can’t write Victorian Gothic Horror Adventures without a tentacle creeping in somewhere. We like to think that Howard Phillips would have been genteelly horrified at the actions of our most unladylike female characters - we hope he would have liked the evil monkey, though.

Speaking of Victorian Gothic, this episode our “heroes” visit the Necropolis, one of the most beautiful and macabre sites in Glasgow. Built in the early 1830s on a hill overlooking the city, this prestigious graveyard for the rich and powerful of the city’s industrial heyday is laid out haphazardly with a network of criss-crossing paths, designed to help you lose an afternoon wandering in quiet contemplation amongst the departed. It’s absolutely festooned with enormous marble funerary sculptures, ornate crypts and marble-covered lairs - in a time and place that seemed to take such little care of the living, they certainly knew how to look after the dead. Haunted? Who can say…

As always if you’re enjoying the show we’d love to hear from you, so drop us a line to theincident@hunterhoose.co.uk, leave us a review on itunes or on our Facebook page. Next week we release the explosive finale for Season One, where Glasgow’s murkiest secrets may yet be uncovered...

May the Light Reveal the Truth!

Jude Reid

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What is the Aletheian Society?

Our fabulous artist Daisy is not only responsible for the brilliant Aletheian Society cover art, but has just completed an extra-special secret project for us which we can’t wait to show off. It’s a trailer for Series One, a tantalising glimpse at some of the history behind the show and a stunning work of art in its own right - and we’re releasing it to our Patrons in advance of general distribution as a heartfelt thank you for your much appreciated support!

We’d also like to point out that while you’re watching, you’re listening to the full version of our theme tune, composed by the equally fabulous Stoo Goff, audio engineer, sound designer, producer and all-round wizard, without whom, it’s fair to say, this show simply wouldn’t exist.

So on that note of all-round misty eyed gratitude, I leave you with the question on everyone’s lips...

...what is the Aletheian Society…? 

Jude Reid

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