Brothers and creative duo Luke and James Vyner talk about their passion for producing original and exciting audio-based content (like A ghost’s guide to London and The magic cat series here on onestopenglish) and share a couple of ‘anecdotes for the boys’ in this illuminating tag-team interview.

Luke and James Vyner

Tell us a little bit about yourself

Luke: Well as the surname suggests, we are brothers. I’m the younger one. I’m a Cambridge DELTA-qualified teacher/teacher trainer. Our mother was a secondary school teacher and teacher of the deaf as we grew up, so there has always been a gentle inevitability that we would both be involved in teaching in some way.

James: I’m an audio producer, sound designer and creative writer. Having worked in teaching as a music technology tutor, I also have a background in musical composition and audio tour production.

Luke: Together we join forces to create magical, cinematic listening resources for the EFL classroom through our company, Creative listening. Firstly, we have our London Courses designed for language providers based near London. These courses provide schools with audio players and a coursebook, allowing schools to run their own audio tour lessons.

James: And secondly, we design and produce audio-based courses for the classroom – like our ‘Ghost’s guide to London’ series for onestopenglish. Our audio production and lesson design aims to draw learners in through the use of immersive sound effects, music and exciting content and activities. The scripts, which we write together, are specifically designed for this purpose and are great fun to produce.    

In five words, how would you describe yourself?

Luke: Haha, maybe we should answer for each other! Well, what can I say? Here are two options: I am an introverted extrovert or inconsistent, impatient, coy, passionate and imaginative.

James: Logical, creative, heartfelt, considerate and er … ginger.

How did you start your writing career?

Luke: I think that happened quite early on in my teaching career. As a student I taught in Thessaloniki, in Greece, and even back then I was putting together my own lessons – mainly due to the fact the internet at that time was almost empty of resources and I had no money to buy any books! Several years later I completed the DELTA and I wanted to start creating materials on a more serious level. It was around this time that we started Creative Listening.

James: In a broader sense I’ve been writing music for most of my life, however the scripts I write for Creative Listening come from the numerous audio tours I’ve created over the past decade (for Soundmap Audio Tours). I still see creative writing in terms of songwriting – in my eyes, the technical arrangement of a great song has a very close resemblance to a great narrative.

Where’s the most interesting place you’ve taught?

Luke: Well most of my teaching career has been in London. Level 38 at Tower 42 is pretty fantastic. I taught a one-to-one lesson there recently; the weather was particularly stormy and the whole building was shaking. My student seemed very calm and said that was pretty common.

My ex-girlfriend taught French in a beautiful Mexican city called Guanajuato and that’s where I’d like to teach if I could choose anywhere in the world. That could be an add on question – if you could teach anywhere in the world, where would you teach?

What are you most proud of in your teaching and writing career?

Luke: As for teaching, there have been so many lovely moments in the classroom that have made me very proud. Every so often a class comes together and everyone seems to click. I remember one class in particular, at Regents College in London, who were so happy with the course that on the final day they insisted they teach me how to Salsa dance – they even brought in the right music to play and had designed the whole lesson in English to impress me!

With the writing there’s been a few great moments but it’s still early days, so I hope that there will be many more to come. Some well-known authors have given Creative Listening great support and testimonials which we’ve been really chuffed with. However, the thing that makes me most proud is the consistent positive reaction of students to the material we create – it continues to amaze me!

James: I think the Shoreditch episode from our A ghost’s guide to London onestopenglish series is up there. Recording the voice actors for the conversation was utterly hilarious, everyone got the giggles and some of the outtakes are really very funny.

What’s your most embarrassing teaching moment?

Luke: Be very careful what you write on the board. I remember on one occasion early on in my career, teaching a class on the subject of gender stereotypes or something along those lines. The students were shouting out ideas and I was throwing them up on the board in my messy writing. One of the girls in the class shouted: ’men only think about sex’ and, without thinking, I immediately wrote it up on the board but actually wrote ’we only think about sex’ – at which point my Director of Studies came in to introduce a new arrival to the class!

James: Erm, I farted during a one-to-one session in a small enclosed studio space. I didn’t know if I should apologise or ignore it. In the end, I opted for leaning over and turning the air conditioning on. Kept teaching – didn’t miss a beat – a real pro …

What’s your favourite joke?

Luke: Erm, no idea … There are jokes I love but I’m not one for remembering them. James – any ideas?

James: Did you hear about the magic tractor? It went down a lane and turned into a field. Actually, my favourite joke is in the script for the Soho episode of A ghost’s guide to London. So you’ll just have to listen to it!

What are your tips for becoming an ELT author?

Luke: I’d like some more tips myself to be honest! Haha! I think there have been a lot of great ideas from previous Authors and I recommend any aspiring authors to read through those. The one thing I will say, is that we work in a small industry and you can make a lot of headway creating a blog and getting a Twitter account. It’s much easier to network and find yourself amongst the thrall than it is to create great materials and content – so get your ideas in shape first, that’s my only tip!

James: Write all the time and don’t be afraid to discard material, even if it’s quite good. Also really think about whoever’s going to be reading and using the materials – what you write may be relevant and interesting to you but is it to them? Strive for originality, ask for advice and make everything you do brilliant.