A Life Of fiction LXXI

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.


Word Games: I am a big fan of number and word games. I hope that they keep my mind active, and slow the progress of all of the bad things which time may inflict on our brains with the passage of the years. I do Sudokus, and Kakuros, and similar puzzles.

Number puzzles don’t have the elegance of a good cryptic crossword. However, it is odd to think that the first ever crossword was only a hundred years ago. I could easily summon up a mental image of Sherlock Holmes poised over a crossword in the Strand magazine, Holmes solving it before dear old Watson has finished reading Page Two.

I have been doing crossword puzzles for years. My favourite setter was Araucaria, who used to do crosswords in the Guardian. He died of cancer some months ago, and his death was a loss of any lover’s of crosswords.

Crossword puzzles don’t appear that much in novels which I have read, or which I have written. But they are used in the American television series Rubicon, which I enjoyed, but which, unfortunately, only lasted for one series. There is no reason why a plot could not be built up around the clues in a crossword, though.

Of course there are protagonists in novels who have been into their crosswords. Morse, in the books by Colin Dexter, is an example which comes to mind. Morse was a massive fan of crosswords: a cruciverbalist.

I have tried designing a crossword, but I think that a lot of setters, at least for the grid, use software these days, to lay out the answers. The art in the crossword setter is in coming up with the cryptic clues, to be picked apart by the readers.

A decent clue is something to be enjoyed – at least if you manage to solve it. It’s not so much fun if the crossword defeats you. Although I like crosswords brain damage, stress-related problems, and so on, have left me being not quite as perspicacious as I used to be, once upon a time. But I still occasionally manage to defeat the prize crossword in the Guardian. I enjoy those rare victories.

Crosswords tend to have their own language and rules, in relation to what means what, and so on. In Private Eye magazine, for example, they use ‘ER’ or ‘Brenda’ to mean the Queen. In the Guardian it’s usually just ER. Learn the language of cruciverbalism and crosswords do get a lot easier to solve.

I think that one of the things which I like about cryptic crosswords, as opposed to general knowledge crosswords, is that in a cryptic crossword you usually know whether you have come up with the correct answer or not. The answer has to fit all parts of the clue: the cryptic bits and the non-cryptic bit. The non-cryptic bit nearly always comes either at the beginning or the end of the clue.

You can also keep worrying away at a cryptic crossword all day, like a dog with a bone. With a general knowledge crossword you either know the answer, or you do not, so you either complete them, or are stumped, in a matter of minutes.

Crossword puzzles are not the only word games, of course. There are such things as acrostics and anagrams. An acrostic was used in an episode of Morse (I haven’t read the books, but I presume that it was in the book, as well). I haven’t used acrostics or anagrams in my work, as yet.


I am not the only author to be attracted to playing around with words. J K Rowling is a fan: Tom Marvolo Riddle can be rearranged to read as I am Lord Voldemort. I am given to understand that Dan Brown likes the odd puzzle in his work, whether it is just something as simple as backwards writing or not. The J K Rowling puzzle is an anagram, of course.

I have used backwards writing once, I think. But it is so simplistic, and easily spotted, that it is a trick which is usually more trouble than it is worth. Of course, if you are writing a novel involving some mystical Mirrorland, then maybe you might want to use mirror writing a lot, as a type of special effect.


A word game can be the author playing around with the names of his characters. Perhaps you will name your protagonist after the author of a book on birds. In comics the real name of the Riddler is Edward Nigma: E Nigma.

There is a very good novel by Scarlett Thomas called The End of Mr. Y. I read the title as also being possibly The End of Mystery. Was it intentional by the author that we should make that leap? I don’t know. But I think so.


It’s not really a word game, but I named one of my protagonists Prenderghast, with an aitch, rather than Prenderghast, so that it was like the word ghastly. The character came from a world with Magick, and a lot of characters in that world were to have slightly odd names: Prenderghast, Korred, Kobold, and so on.

In the novel The Black Museum I call my fictional town in Maine Kingstown, as a tribute to you-know-who. Well, it is supposed to be a horror pastiche, after all.

I do have a fair few more plays on words. But I am not going to list them all here. Please discover them for yourselves in my work, or in other works of fiction.

So why have word games in your novels and stories in the first place? Well, as an author, as I have said above, I like playing around with words. But, as a reader, I like noticing the word games of other authors, and if a reader solves a word puzzle he feels clever, especially if he has worked out the puzzle before the protagonist in the novel.

Use word games if you want. But just be careful not to overuse them.


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