Hana Walker-Brown is an award-winning documentary maker, composer, producer and writer based in London, where she currently works as an executive producer at Audible. In this edition of Career Spotlight, Walker-Brown talks to us about pointing the microphone in the right direction, adversity as a theme, and using your big ‘ol Doc Martens to keep the door open for others.
Hot Pod: Tell me about your current situation.
Hana Walker-Brown: As well as being an executive producer for Audible, I also compose music for stage, screen and virtual reality, write, give talks and masterclasses on sound storytelling and teach yoga. Which means, like any good millennial, I am perpetually tired and will almost certainly tell you this at every opportunity.
Life plan? Oooft. That’s a big one. I guess I just want to make a difference. To make or facilitate or curate things that affect positive change. Even if it’s just in the life of one person. There’s often a lot of talk about “giving people a voice” which I always cringe at, because it sounds so self-serving. People already have a voice, but we have a responsibility as makers, journalists, producers etc to amplify those voices; to use this insane privilege that we have and make sure we are pointing the microphone in the right direction because there are a lot of bad people shouting very loudly at the moment.
I feel like I did this recently with my four part investigative documentary The Beautiful Brain, which looked at the devastating effects of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) — a degenerative brain disease found in people who’ve suffered severe or repeated blows to the head.
It began with the story of FA Cup winner Jeff Astle, then expanded outwards looking at the widows, daughters and families who are left fighting for answers following the death of their loved ones. As the series progressed it lead me away from Britain’s football pitches to support groups for women survivors of domestic violence and beyond, sparking a vital discussion about accountability and the urgent need for further scientific studies into CTE.
It had an incredible response and brought to light the extent to which women have been left out of medical research. It was astonishing and maddening. But it has had a positive impact and lead to further funding and research in the brains of women as well an increase in brain donation which is just about everything I could have ever hoped for.
Hot Pod: How did you get here?
Walker-Brown: It’s been a crazy ride to be honest. I did an MA in Radio at Goldsmiths, which led me to work for Falling Tree Productions. It was the greatest introduction to radio ever. Alan (Hall) and Ellie (McDowall) were incredible mentors but also gave me the freedom to really harness my style and I don’t think I would be where I am now without their encouragement and support.
I’ve since freelanced for a lot of companies (Falling Tree, 24SYV and Reduced Listening are firm favourites) and networks across the globe and have been lucky to travel all over the world, hearing and recording all kinds of stories from cheerleading grannies in the Arizona desert to shipwreck survivors in the Pacific Ocean to rap stars in the Navajo Nation to Gangs in East London and Naked Man festivals in Japan. I have honestly had the time of my life and each story has left me altered. In a good way.
I got approached by Audible at an awards ceremony three years ago and have been working there ever since as an executive producer. My highlights this year were definitely “The Beautiful Brain” and producing “To The Woman,” which was Audible UK’s flagship podcasts series for International Women’s Day 2019. More recently. I curated and produced 21 (!!!) live shows as part of our three-day line up for our first ever Audible Live Stage at Wilderness Festival.
I really hope I haven’t peaked too early.
Hot Pod: What does a ‘career’ mean to you?
Walker-Brown: I never set out to have a “career” in audio/radio. It just all kind of happened. Which I know is the most infuriating thing to read EVER if you’ve been working your arse off. But rest assured, I worked my arse off and then some.
I’ve always been drawn to storytelling and stories of humans overcoming adversity — that have had to fight and come out on the other side. If you look at my portfolio that’s definitely a theme in my work along with women-led stories.
I’ve also tried to carve out my own path which is hard in any creative industry but I was determined to make it work and to find a new way through that suited me and it worked. I did what I knew I was good at, that was authentic to me and cultivated a space for myself within this industry. You need your biggest Dr Marten boots to keep your foot in that door but it’s still there and I always try to keep it open for others. I’m really lucky that I get to do this and I don’t think I’ve ever taken it for granted.
Hot Pod: What are you listening to right now?
Walker-Brown: The new series of Short Cuts on BBC Radio 4. Its hands down the most enchanting thing you will ever hear on the radio. Ellie McDowall’s sensibility, artistry and dedication are second to none. Plus, its where I started my career so it always has a special place in my heart/ears.
I’m also listening to the “Hag” collection on Audible which is a new fiction podcast featuring original short stories from writers including Daisy Johnson, Eimear McBride and Liv Little. There are eight women in total who have reimagined folk tales sourced from across the UK by Professor Carolyne Larrington, a specialist in Old Norse and British fairy tales at St John’s College, Oxford. I’m a huge advocate for anything woman lead so this is right up my street.
And finally, I listen to Brené Brown’s audiobooks and the Headspace app on repeat every day because its 2019 and the World is utterly terrifying without them.