James has been in exile for most of his life, working “under the alien sky” in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. He specialised in second language education (TESL) and he completed his Ph.D, thesis on ‘Linguistic Problem-solving’ at Trinity College Dublin in 1992. He retired in 2008, having spent 14 years as a Senior lecturer in Language Education in the University of Brunei. Since his retirement, he has turned to writing fiction and has published two novels, a collection of short stories and two plays. However, he is still passionate about second language learning / teaching, and he is currently working on two textbooks for an ESL publisher. James describes himself as a very normal family man, deeply interested in Irish history and heritage. He should not be confused with the many eccentric characters he describes in his short stories and plays.
Academic Record:
Teaching Diploma, Dublin. 1960.
B.A. General. University College Cork, 1968.
M.A. Applied Linguistics. University of Essex. 1978.
Ph.D. Linguistic problem-solving. Trinity College Dublin. 1992.
Published fiction:
Confessions of an Alien
(2016). Xlibris, UK. Paperback. ISBN 978-1-5144-6539-4
Confessions of an Alien is a story about alienation. The narrator, Josh Carew, is an alien in his homeland, Ireland. He is exiled by choice to various parts of the former British Empire, seeking to come to terms with the dilemmas in his life. On his return to Ireland, he describes his moral distress with a frankness that may shock his readers. He is disenchanted with politics and the ‘galloping secularisation’ which he views as the ruination of the country.
The early chapters describe Josh’s background and family history. He is the last member of an Ascendency family. On graduation from Trinity College, be embarks on a long career as a lecturer in overseas universities. He describes his many adventures or misadventures in vivid detail and after 40 years of exile, he returns to Dublin, where he is once more an alien. The problem is that during his absence, Ireland has changed radically but Josh hasn’t. Ireland has become a secular state and has lost all moral compass. It is no country for old men, and especially for an old man like Josh, whose world has vanished.
Confessions of an Alien is partly a tale of adventure and partly a series of confessions. The story and the confessions are interwoven in a seamless narrative.
The novel has been warmly received in Ireland even though the secular press feels that the ‘New Ireland’ is not as horrible as Josh would have us believe.

Two Plays for Tuppence
(2016). Xlibris, UK. Paperback ISBN 978-1-5144-9932-0
Two plays for Tuppence consists of two plays written specifically for television. Both plays have an Irish setting and an Irish ambiance.
The first play, A Most Civil Servant, deals with the manner in which its central character, Mr. Carmody, down on his luck, stumbles into a position in the Civil Service in Dublin Castle. It is 1922. The War of Independence has ended and the Irish government is taking over from the British. During this transition period there is a good deal of confusion over the allocation of offices, which Mr. Carmody exploits to his advantage.
The play was inspired by the short story ‘They Also Serve…’ by Mervyn Wall, first published in Harper’s (1940) and included by Benedict Kiely in The Penguin Book of Irish Short Stories (1981). However, the play is not an adaptation of Wall’s story. It covers a much broader canvas and deals with events which are not in Wall’s famous short story, including a visit to Paris where Mr. Carmody and his mate Frank meet James Joyce. After many strange episodes in various parts of Dublin, the play reaches a dramatic climax in the final scene.
The second play, Hobson’s Choice, tells the curious tale of Clive Alexander Goode, a Dublin academic, who has endured 25 years of living hell with his wife Beth. He plans and executes the perfect murder, believing that he is morally justified in ridding society of the ‘evil one.’ Subsequently, he is charged with the unlawful killing of his wife and is committed to the Dundrum Mental Asylum where he seeks enlightenment.

Under the Alien Sky
(2008), Xlibris, UK. Paperback ISBN 978-1-4535-0346-1
An oriental novel in which the narrator (unnamed) describes his long search for a remote island in the Sulu Sea, The island, known as Michaeli, is not shown on any map. It is a Sultanate, about the size of Brunei. Quite by chance, the narrator reaches Michaeli and over several chapters, we are given a detailed description of the history, topography, way of life and culture of the island and its mixed races. It is ruled by the genial and liberal Sultan Idris. However, a group of fundamentalists, known as the ‘Gang of Four’ are plotting to overthrow him.
Some readers see the story as a fable which may refer any one of a number of Islamic states in Southeast Asia. Perhaps it is really a ‘dunia’ novel - that is, one with a subtext which readers have to figure out for themselves. The novel bas been well received in the UK and Ireland. One reviewer has called it ‘a modern classic’. The author makes no such claim. He is confident, however, that it will have great appeal for anyone familiar with life in Southeast Asia.

Footprints in the Mind.
(2010). Xlibris, UK. Paperback ISBN 978-1-4568-2237-8
If you like the short story, this is the book for you. Footprints in the Mind is a collection of 24 short stories in two parts. The first 12 stories have an Irish setting and an Irish flavor. They deal with the ‘Irish enigma’, that is the search by Irish men and women for meaning and fulfilment in a country that offers neither. The second 12 stories deal with the writer’s travels and experiences in foreign lands - South Africa, North Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. He has lived out of suitcases for many years and he writes about the odd situations and the weird people that he encountered during his years ‘under the alien sky’. The stories differ widely in theme and location but they all depict people struggling with life’s dilemmas. Bourke’s stories have a bitter-sweet quality that readers, both young and old, find fascinating. For more on this superb collection of short stories and Bourke’s other publications, log on to
Work in progress:
Chasing a Dragon:
At present, James is working on his first crime novel. The dragon in question is not a real dragon, but a young Chinese woman with a dragon-like persona. She plays a game of 'catch-me-if-you-can' with the police and MI6 in her homeland, Sarawak. You don't want to meet this lady dragon. She might be a serial killer or a radical terrorist seeking retribution for the wrongs inflicted on her race across Southeast Asia. The expected date of publication is June 2018.

Dublin Stories:
A collection of 12 short stories about Dublin characters and the area they call home. Almost ready to go to print, but some fine-tuning required.

Oriental Tales:
A collection of short stories about life in Southeast Asia – in particular Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. A reader of an early draft in Singapore calls it “the best since Maugham.” I am seeking an interested publisher in Singapore, Malaysia, Dublin, or London.

Stories from Irish History:
A collection of stories from Irish history in which I have tried to breathe new life into the age-old stories that we all read in our history books at school. Historical fiction is now a popular genre and it is something that I wish to explore. It may be hard to find an Irish publisher since, in their minds, history is non-fiction.

My view of creative writing:
I write a variety of fiction – novels, short stories and plays. It seems readers like my stories and my style of writing, which they describe as ‘different’. I am not quite sure what they mean by that word. It may be that I am seen as a natural storyteller, unlike many modern writers who punish the reader with too much elaboration. It may be that I write plain English, in the style of the traditional school, rather than cloudy postmodern prose. Most of all, it may due to the fact that I write “real-life fiction.” Now, that’s an oxymoron. Let me explain. I try to create compelling characters – characters that are different, characters that are damaged in some sense. My character are fictional but based on real people that I have encountered not only in Dublin and London, but in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia. When you travel a lot and live out of suitcases, you bump into memorable characters in the street, in cafes, in pubs, on trains and ferry boats. Somehow, they worm their way into your subconscious mind and pop up again when you put pen to paper. The problem for the writer is how to access the unconscious mind and allow it to speak. Our conscious mind tends to control, block, impede and edit our inner voice. Clearly, we have to give our subconscious voice the freedom to express deep emotions, dreams, desires, memories, etc. However, we also need to capture those raw elements in a presentable form. For me, writing is an art form, just like painting and the challenge for the writer is how best to marry CONTROL and CREATIVITY. It’s an old dichotomy, and good writing, like the thing called ‘language,’ may be best described as rule-governed creativity.
Academic Publications:
Bourke, J.M (1989).
The Grammar Gap English Teaching Forum
Vol. 27. No.3 : 20-2

Bourke, J.M. (1992)
The case for problem-solving in second language learning. Centre for Language and Communication Studies.
Occasional Paper No. 23. Trinity College Dublin.

Bourke, J. M (1996)
In Praise of Linguistic Problem-solving.
RELC Journal Vol.27: 12-29

Bourke, J. M. & Chamberlain, A. (1997).
The role of Language Awareness in Graduate Language Education.
Studies in Education No.2.

Bourke, J. M. (1999).
Assessing the English language proficiency of Form 5 students in Brunei Darussalam and the problem of O-level English.
Journal of Applied Research in Education, Vol. 3. No. 1: 11-25

Bourke, J. M. (2000).
Teaching English the RELA way.
Journal of Applied Research in Education. Vol.4. No. 1: 64-71.

Bourke, J.M. (2001).
The role of the TP TESL supervisor.
Journal of Education for Teaching. Vol. 4. No. 1 : 63-73.

Bourke, J. M. (2001).
Classroom Interaction: Task-based lessons and transcripts.
Department of Language Education, University of Brunei Darussalam.

Bourke, J. M. (2001).
Making the transition from a structural to a task-based ESL syllabus.
Journal of Applied Research in Education. Vol. 5. No. 1. :1-11.

Bourke, J. M. (2002).
Learning grammar by means of ‘enabling tasks’.
Studies in Education, Vol. 7. 3-13.

Bourke, J. M. (2003).
Bringing language acquisition into the ESL classroom.
Journal of Applied Research in Education. Vol. 7. No. 1. : 14-21.

Bourke, J. M. (2004).
Towards the design of a problem-solving programme of instruction for teaching English grammar to Secondary-level ESL students.
Journal of Applied Research in Education, Vol. 8 : 104-135.

Bourke, J. M. (2005).
The grammar we teach.
Reflections on English Language Teaching. Vol. 4: 85-97.

Bourke, J. M. (2005).
Destructive Testing.
Journal of Applied Research in Education. Vol. 9 : 12-20

Bourke, J. M. (2006).
The role of the language teacher educator as catalyst of change. Singapore.
Journal of Applied Research in Education. Vol. 10 : 43

Bourke, J. M. (2007).
Verbal complementation: a pedagogical challenge. Singapore.
Reflections on English Language Teaching.

Bourke, J. M. (2008).
A rough guide to Language Awareness.
English Teaching Forum Vol. 46, No.1.January, 2008.

Bourke, J. M. (2008).
Implementing task-based learning (TBL) at Upper Primary level.
Studies in Education. Vol. 11. January, 2008.

Bourke, J. M. (2008).
Responding to the UNESCO position paper ‘Education in a multilingual world (2003).
’ Studies in Education, Vol. 11: 4-13.
Conference papers:
Bourke, J. M. (1998).
The English language Primary school syllabus for Brunei Darussalam then (1986) and now (1998).
Paper given at the 3rd Regional ESEA Conference, Nov. 1998.

Bourke, J. M. (2001).
Learning grammar at Upper Primary level.
Paper given at 36th RELC International Seminar, Singapore, April 2001.

Bourke, J. M. (2001).
Bringing acquisition into the ESL classroom.
International Conference on Learning and Teaching English in a multilingual society. University of Brunei Darussalam. November, 2001.

Bourke, J. M. (2002).
Attitudes to the teaching of grammar in Upper Primary classes.
Paper given at IDAC Conference – Linking Learners to the World. University of Brunei Darussalam, April 2002.

Bourke, J.M. (2005).
In search of BSM English.
Paper given at the 10th ESEA Conference, University of Brunei Darussalam. December, 2005.

Bourke, J. M & Smith, M.B. (2006).
Addressing the literacy deficit in Lower Primary English.
SANSWE Workshop, University of Brunei Darussalam, November, 2006.

Bourke, J. M. (2007).
‘Focus-on-form’ – the new way to teach grammar?
AsiaTEFL-MELTA Conference, Kuala Lumpur, June 2007.
Academic Work in progress:
Language Awareness for Language Teachers:
A textbook with Answer Key designed as a foundation course for teachers of English as a Second Language. It is about language in general, its design features, its forms and functions, etc. It is not about ESL teaching methodology. Not yet ready to publish.

Focus Grammar:
An ESL English grammar textbook for students sitting the Cambridge English First exam. Students sitting the revised Cambridge English First exam need a solid foundation in English grammar and vocabulary which are tested directly in Paper 1, Use of English (parts 1-4) and indirectly in Reading Comprehension (Paper 1, parts 5-7) and in the two Writing tasks in Paper 2. Unfortunately, in recent years, due to the Communicative approach, grammar has been de-emphasised and ESL students are left floundering in a sea of grammatical and lexical uncertainty. When it comes to formal writing, fluency will not suffice; accuracy of expression is essential. Focus Grammar is the ideal solution to the ‘grammar gap’ problem. Will be submitting to an interested ESL publisher in the near future.

De-skilling language teaching.
A journal article questioning the language-as-skill paradigm. More research needed before venturing into print.
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