Richmond Essential English Course | Syllabus

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Alastair Lane

How long have you been writing ELT materials?

I have been writing ELT materials since 2006. My first assignment was working on International Express for Oxford University Press. Since then, I have been working on books for several world markets including Mexico, Saudi Arabia, and Spain.

How did you end up in ELT?

In 1996, I had just finished my degree at Bristol University and I didn’t know what to do next. I knew that I wanted to travel but I had no idea how to go about it. I didn’t have any money and flights were still pretty expensive back then. So when a friend told me about this strange world of ELT, I was quite excited about it. The idea of teaching my way round the world really appealed to me. The first job I was offered was in Finland. I went there because I had never been to a very cold country before and I wanted to see what it was like. And it was freezing: -25c on Christmas Day. It was also a beautiful country with some untouched forests stretching all the way up to the Arctic Circle. After that, I went on to teach in Germany (Cologne) and Switzerland (St. Gallen). I ended my teaching career at the St Giles School in London.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?

I wouldn’t say that there was one highlight but I used to enjoy teaching FCE classes. It’s a very challenging exam and often my students were in real danger of failing when they began the course. It was a real thrill when they passed at the end, and I could feel that I had made a (small) difference to their lives.

What would you be doing now if you were not writing?

I’ve always had a taste for adventure so I would probably be travelling the world or learning something new. But, the fact is that I love writing and I wouldn’t really want to do anything else.

Which is your favourite country to visit and why?

I absolutely love Brazil. I just love the energy of the people and the spectacular scenery. It’s both a  place to relax and a place where you can have an adventure. Last time I was there, I went walking on a small tropical island. My guide had a hard time trying to stop me from stepping on highly venomous snakes. Thankfully, he kept me alive long enough to write this.  

Would you rather run or swim a mile?

I’d swim a  mile any day. As a writer, I spend a lot of time behind a desk so I need to do some exercise every week. I often go to the swimming pool here in Barcelona (where I live). It’s next to the sea and it’s heated so you can swim outdoors even in December. Well, I swim outdoors then. There aren’t too many other people there...

What are you scared of?

Like most people, I’m afraid of illness. I went to my bank manager recently and she tried to convince me to take out some health insurance. She did this by giving me a five-page list of possible illnesses that the policy would cover. It was terrifying. I didn’t know most of the names. I was even afraid to look them up on Wikipedia. I didn’t take the health insurance in the end, by the way. The Spanish medical system is very good.

Who is your favourite author?

There are so many that I love. I get all Umberto Eco’s books when they are translated into English, and I also always look forward to the latest Margaret Attwood. Both of them have the trick of taking you into another world and making you believe in it. The introduction to The Name of the Rose is a classic example of that.

What is the last film that you recommended to a friend?

I couldn’t pick out a single film but I love David Lynch’s movies. He makes films like nobody else. Nowadays, you can watch a film or a TV programme and predict what is going to happen next, because we see so much fiction in our lives. David Lynch doesn’t play that game at all. His films are strange, mysterious creations. He’s brave enough to ask the audience to figure out the film for themselves. There are very few people who can do that, and who can be commercially successful at the same time.

Interview with Alastair Lane

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