Interview with Peter Viney
Peter Viney is the co-author of Streamline English, American Streamline, Grapevine, Main Street, Survival English, Basic Survival, Handshake, IN English and Fast Track to Reading. He is the series editor of Oracle Classics Readers, and n the board of the Extensive Reading Foundation. Peter & Karen Viney are prolific ELT video authors, including Grapevine Videos 1-3, Only in America, Mystery Tour, English Channel 1-3, the 80-unit My Oxford English and the ELT versions of The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave and A Grand Day Out. Their first two videos A Weekend Away and A Week By The Sea have been republished on DVD with new Study Guides by their publishing imprint, Three Vee.
Three Vee has moved into “non-ELT” fiction publishing of novels as eBooks. Peter is a director of Three Vee.
Q: So what is “Foreign Affairs”?
A: Foreign Affairs is the first of a trilogy of novels set in the world of ELT. The three books are humorous, but they also reflect on how ELT has changed over the years. FOREIGN AFFAIRS is set in 1972 in a very large Bournemouth language school. These were the glory years of ELT in England with student numbers increasing year by year, and with well-equipped schools and small classes. One major difference in Bournemouth at least was the high percentage of male teachers.
Q: Weren’t you teaching in Bournemouth in 1972?
A: I was.
Q: Is that all you’re going to say?
A: Yes, absolutely … but I’ll add that 1972 was important as a date to bring various plot strands together. We discussed rewriting it and moving it forward in time, and even to “now” but that was quickly squashed. The central character, Zenubia, is a Swiss actress of Romany origins, and the story of how Romany babies were forcibly adopted during and after the war is important. The story also needed a character who’d fought in World War II, plus the date takes us to the IRA bombing campaign at a point where large numbers of Libyans were studying in England. It all comes together.
Q: A lot of humour comes from non-natives speaking, doesn’t it?
Some does, and the student population reflects 1972. Swiss, Germans, Italians, Libyans and Brazilians. In the 1982 sequel, where we meet some of the characters ten years later, a lot has changed. The schools are going through much leaner times, and the students in the story (HOME AFFAIRS) are from Iran, Argentina, Mexico, Japan. You’ll notice that the date coincides with the Falklands War, and we also have the aftermath of the Iranian revolution which sent many schools out of business because of unpaid fees.
Then in 1985 (GREEK AFFAIRS), everything takes place in Greece, by which time the characters are involved in publishing, as authors or ELT representatives. The books spread it around! In Book Three the plot plays with coincidence in getting so many of them in one place, but it is feasible.
Q: Do all the characters continue?
No, they don’t. Some do. A model here was George MacDonald Fraser’s Flashman series, not that there is a central continuing character. But some of them appear in one story and then disappear. New major characters appear in books two and three. In fact, a fourth (set in Japan) is in the early stages and in that a major character from book one, who has missed books two and three, turns up again.
Q: So who is Dart Travis?
A: The author of the ELT trilogy.
A: Take a look at the website:
Q: OK, the cover is an interesting reference to one of your books.
A: Yes, we had fun designing that. The design was my idea and the illustration was drawn by Ed McLachlan, who illustrated many of my books and many other ELT books too. I think older ELT teachers will be able to guess the colour of book two.
Q: Some of the sections seem to come from teacher training experience. Yours?
Everyone’s! They do. That shouldn’t interfere with the story for non-ELT teachers at all, but yes, there are half a dozen short sequences in classrooms, which could provide a glimpse at “How not to do it” in various ways. They’re all part of the story and the way the story builds.