JAPANESE AFFAIRS by DART TRAVIS
The fourth book in the ELT “Affairs” series takes us to Japan in 1986, just a year on from GREEK AFFAIRS
Cover illustration again by the incomparable Ed McLachlan, shows Junn, Hiram and Zen Sierra
Japan. An English Language Teaching conference in Tokyo, and a major feature film production in Kyoto which is taking place at the same time. Hollywood action hero Donny Kavenagh is starring alongside award winning art film star, Zen Sierra.
The mysterious Junn is an English teacher from Kyoto who dresses in traditional Japanese costume and is a reluctant visitor to the big Tokyo conference, as well as a recruit as a film extra. The film production, set in the Shogunate, is a major part of the story.
Many of the Greek Affairs group are here. Roger Fleetwood is in Japan to cement his teaching guru status (but so is his ex-wife).
Graham Donaldson has just completed American Intercourse which is merely the title of an English textbook.
Their old boss Malcolm O’Reilly is another on his first visit to Japan.
So is Roberta, just promoted from Area Manager for United Universities Press in Greece (in Greek Affairs) to Deputy Sales Director worldwide.
Cosser Grace-Pitleigh is also checking out the Japanese branch of Truman Education.
The Americans contrast with our British party.
Hiram is the local publisher’s rep and is a professional Southerner. Then there’s the elderly and foul-mouthed linguistics expert, Aphra Mosconi, from Chicago, Elaine, Graham’s American editor and Hazel the clearly Canadian conference organizer. Debbie, the Aussie backpacker, turns out to be a karate expert.
OTHER TITLES IN THE ENGLISH AS A FUNNY LANGUAGE SERIES
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INTERVIEW WITH DART TRAVIS
Q: So is it really about Japan?
A: Indirectly. It all happens in Japan, but most of the characters are first time visitors or occasional visitors. It’s more about a group of people in a new situation very much played for humour. I was reasonably careful with DK Guide Books to Japan to get facts straight, and I have been there several times. But no, I was never there long nor would I claim any expertise on the culture. It’s an outsider’s view.
Q: There are new characters.
A: I’m a great admirer of George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series. A few characters … Malcolm O’Reilly, Cosser Grace-Pitleigh and Graham Donaldson appear throughout the series … though Graham Donaldson was only a minor character in the first book, Foreign Affairs.
I like leaving some characters out, then they may reappear in another book … Roger Fleetwood, our dramatic ELT guru is in books one, three and four, but does not appear in Home Affairs. Roberta first appears in Home Affairs, then becomes a major character in Greek Affairs and Foreign Affairs. Barry and Gabriella, who are in the first three books, are taking a rest from this one.
There are several new people in this one, mainly Americans. There are also some reappearing from the earlier stories who were not in the recent ones.
I guess Malcolm O’Reilly is our ongoing figurehead. I couldn’t imagine one without him.
Q: Isn’t it pushing your luck getting so many of the same people together again in a different country?
Thomas Hardy was criticized by E.M. Forster for using coincidence, but coincidence can be a joy too for the author. The thing is, these people all worked at a major and influential English language school in the 70s and early 80s. Some of them moved into publishing as writers or as sales people. They would meet again at conferences all over the place. I did a few myself, and you do meet up with people you saw three months or twenty years earlier on the other side of the world.
Q: A trilogy … now a quartet. Any plans for a quintet?
I don’t know. I’ve just switched back my attention to the Sixties Series to fill in the gap … 1966. I like the idea of American Affairs because I’d like to explore some of the new characters further and pursue them to New York where they can get up to villainy. Spain is another possible and I might use the double meaning and call it Spanish Practices. I’m also going to take a tip from George MacDonald Fraser, and avoid a chronological march. If Italian Affairs ever gets written, and it’s another possible, it may go back in time, possibly into that ten year gap between Foreign Affairs and Home Affairs. Barry and Gabriella will be back.
As I started thinking about this, I realized how carefully Fraser must have kept notes on where characters were and when. In writing Japanese Affairs I was continually searching back through the first three.