Ode To a Brick Wall.

Every writer needs inspiration. Every writer a Muse. I have a brick wall at
which I gaze from my London flat.

I am often asked where my ideas spring from.

Some call on chicks
And flowing water.
For me, it’s bricks.
And mortar.

Whilst you may be out in the sticks
For thought – a
Brick for me…
And mortar.

London offers so much for inspiration, putting the city in diver-city (sic).
On the tube, on the streets, the shows, the dirt, the parks, the buzz, the
fuzz – like ringworm, it gets under your skin. You cannot help but be

Today I invite you to be inspired by anything you see. Water. Verdant


3 responses to “Ode To a Brick Wall.

  1. Hi, Paul

    It heartens me to know that in addition to being one of the premier setters of cryptics, you are also a poet and an optimist.

    I do so wish sometimes that I lived in Britain, where a love for cryptics is not only tolerated, but almost expected.

    Instead, I live in Arizona, and have NOT ONE PERSON who even knows, or cares, what I am talking about when I speak of my love for cryptic crosswords – much less my desire to get better at them.

    Please leave off here if you have no time for my piteous rant. I won’t blame you at all.

    You have no idea how diffiicult things are for me here in the US. My only choice is to buy books online, get them from England, and, well…most of those books are written for people who already pretty much know what they are doing, having been raised on cryptics.

    I have a simple, silly dream. I want to make cryptics popular in the US. I think that if I can set cryptics that are SIMPLE enough, and EXPLANATORY enough, that I may have a chance. Of course, there are many books of this type – but they are based on some prior knowledge, which Americans do not have. Stephen Sondheim wrote some wonderful plays. He was also consumed by his love of cryptics, and by his desire to make them POPULAR in the US. I have heard that when he wasn’t writing, he was creating cryptics, and making his friends solve them. Oh, I would love to get a look at any one of those puzzles, because he was nothing if not clever.

    But here I sit, in America, with no access to puzzles except online, or through amazon. It isn’t as if I can go ’round to the local news agent for a quick cryptic book! Although, to be fair, I have heard that puzzlers in Britain can’t do that as easily as they used to do either, because of Sudoku (and really, some crazes should just DIE already!)

    My problem is that I have no teacher, no friend – in fact NOBODY who even understands what I am talking about when I speak of cryptic crosswords. Those who take the time to listen to me grab onto the “crossword” part, and suggest that if I am “really smart”, I should try the NEW YORK TIMES SUNDAY PUZZLE! Yeah. As lame as I am at cryptics – and I am so lame that I still thrill when I can fill out one from The Sun or Toronto’s Globe and Mail – yes, I’m that new at it – I have completely lost interest in “American” crosswords. I now class them with “Sudoku” and what is I believe a truly American invention known as “Hidden Word Searches”, which are, if you can believe it, even more inane than the other two. It seems to me that when it comes to entertainments such as these, the American maxim is “no imagination required”.

    When I ran across you blog, I had no idea how “huge” you were. I didn’t know about the hierarchy in Britain when it comes to the various broadsheets – in fact, I’m still confused. However, I researched you, and found out. Kudos! What fun you must have. I can’t even imagine it. Although I do fall asleep and wake up setting clues, so maybe we have something in common.

    But, having run across your blog, I went to your book list, and you suggested some interesting ones. I thank you for Sandy Balfour’s – he talks a bit about you, and mentions a man, your mentor, who sounds so wonderful that I almost cry when he quotes him directly. What a joy to have had someone like that in your life, not only to direct and to help you, but also to be your friend.

    I also want to thank you for suggesting the Colin Dexter book. I think he might be my “transition” book – the one that allows me to step up from the Globe and Mail and The Sun. Please don’t laugh – I had to start somewhere, and I was not lucky enough to grow up with cryptics in my blood. I am merely a Yank. And yes, that does sound defensive. But, I have reason. Besides, at least those two papers allow me to go there every day and print out their puzzles, something that cannot be said of many others.

    My dream is to make a little eBook – for Americans – trying to explain cryptics. I know these books have been done – heck they have “How to solve the Times”, “How to solve the Guardian”…it goes on and on – but all of those are pretty much based on the assumption that one understands what cryptics ARE in the first place – which is pretty much not the case here in the US.

    So, I dream of creating my little book with about 25 puzzles. For some reason, as much fun as I have trying to solve cryptics, I love creating them even more. Does that make me egocentric? It probably does.

    I have had a few of my cryptics published, but that’s no big deal – apparently bestcrosswords.com will pretty much publish anything that calls itself a “cryptic”. Still, I love the fact that anyone can pull up one of my puzzles online. HOWEVER, I set out to make SIMPLE puzzles – I thought the ones I set were so simple a child could solve them, and therefore expected ONE star (for “easy”). Instead, the best I have managed is 2 1/2 to 3 stars (i.e “moderate”.) I don’t know how much more I can dumb them down! On the plus side, I have actually gotten a few fan letters, and have had thousands of people solve my few puzzles in the past year. That makes it truly worthwhile.

    My best wishes to you, and for your upcoming wedding. Thank you for reading, and thank you for this blog of yours. I love it.

    Maggie-beth Rees

  2. Oh, gosh – forgot to tell you that I got the hiccups from laughing about your crossword about Peru that contained “INCA’, and the clue that said “laughs”…because I actually GOT that one with no help! Of course, Mr. Balfour had talked just before about a clue where the “j” had to be separated from the rest of the word to make sense of it, and for some reason I got that right off (it was “Jain”), so of course “Inca” just sprang out at me. In Cahoots! I’m laughing as I type. Such a hoot! I mean that. “Hoot” works in America just as well as it does in England…so, you are apparently wonderful, although I may never be able to truly appreciate you because your puzzles are DARNED hard for an American! Well, at least for THIS American.
    Which doesn’t mean that I’m giving up.
    So – I want to do a puzzle called “Slanglish”, with at least 6 “slang” words. My first one would be “Enjoy a cold chop?” (7)
    I’m wondering if this slang term has made it across the pond..and if so, if it is a legit clue…

  3. Thank you Maggie-beth, so sorry for the late reply. I need to update my system to alert me of such great feedback – well, we are working on popularising the puzzle, and anything you can do in the US would be fabulous. I like to think the Brits have a slight edge in the cryptic world – many many thanks for the plaudits, and loads of luck with your cryptic adventures! Sounds like you’re really going for it! Great!

    Best wishes,


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