Liz and John Sores are experienced teachers and teacher trainers, well-known for their contributions to EFL teaching and methodology. Over the last twenty-odd years, they have written and developed the mind-crushingly dull Headache series for adult learners of English. In an exclusive interview granted to SM, they reveal the secret behind their tedious Tefl textbooks...
SM: Liz, John – you are probably the most famous people in the worldwide ELT market. How does that make you both feel?
LJS: Of course, immensely important, but we don't kid ourselves. In fact, it's quite remarkable, unbelievable even, that an industry can survive such constant contact with our dreadful course books, and then keep on nagging us for more! It's all those dimwit EFL teachers, I suppose, who can't be bothered to do anything more challenging than punch a button on a photocopier. Yes, if it wasn't for those idle gits, we'd still be slumming it at IH with the rest of them.
SM. How do you go about choosing the authentic materials to use in the course?
LJS: Oh, we steal a lot of it off the internet. Of course, everything is chosen for its interest value, but above all you have to be on constant alert to the world around, looking for ideas to rip off from TV, radio, newspapers, magazines, daily contacts, etc. There's also the old shit that daft EFL teachers send us, but practically all of that lies in our cupboards gathering dust and turning yellow before it gets confined to that great authentic dustbin – at the back of the tennis courts over there.
SM: It’s unusual for a series to span from absolute beginners to advanced level, but Headache has done exactly that. How has this come about?
LJS: Well, we have expensive tastes and face a constant cash flow problem, so Headache has been a very convenient milch-cow. I mean, it certainly wasn't intentional. We never had a grand plan. The series simply evolved because of our drug and alcohol habits. And John so enjoys his regular trips to Thailand...
SM. What level do you most enjoy writing?
LJS: Actually we've stopped writing our own books now, and are in the process of setting up a sort of franchise system, in which aspiring EFL authors bid to write the next book in the series. It saves us a whole lot of work, and rakes in loads of cash before the damn thing's even published.
SM: I understand you commissioned interviews with some interesting and well-known people for the latest edition of Headache Advanced. What made you choose these people?
LJS: The obvious reason – they paid us to appear. For example, the foreign correspondent Simon Winchester, and his amazing tale of meeting an anglophile Chinese lady in the middle of the desert. Truth is, he made it all up, but couldn't find a publisher for it, so we offered to run it for him – for a fee.
Then there was the delightful, amusing, and inspiring life story of Joe Downing, a famous American artist who has lived in France for over fifty years. Except he hasn't – he still lives with his Mom in Denver - and he was keen for his fans not to find out. So we obliged with a nice little story for him – very lucrative, that one was.
There was also the Patel brothers, and their tale of rags to great riches – all achieved through bribery and corruption, of course. However, they wanted a 'clean' version of the story published, for family consumption, so we obliged, and picked up a handsome fee in the process.
We could go on – there are dozens of similar stories. How did we find these people? Well, we read about some in the papers, heard others on the radio, and a few are personal friends – all had fascinating tales to tell, but the common denominator in every case was that they were willing to stump up a few grand to 'glam up' their image.
SM: On a personal note, what has been your greatest satisfaction in working in the ELT profession?
LJS: Making pots of money and spending it. I suppose I should mention all the 'usual suspects' and co-conspirators - the huge variety of weird people we work with: deviant students, fruitcake teachers, alcoholic editors and designers, desperate researchers, bolshy illustrators, etc – but I'd rather not, as I prefer to forget them. They're all pathetic little cunts compared to us, anyway.
SM: What would your advice be to young, aspiring authors?
LJS: Fuck off – we don't need the competition.
Or pay us to publish your work under our name!
BTW, I almost forgot this - an interview with Yours Truly, Sandy McManus, can be found here.