Listen With Others

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Listener No 4468, Hide-and-Seek: A Setter’s Blog by Charybdis

Posted by Listen With Others on 8 Oct 2017

I’m no historian. But I have a few narrow windows of enlightenment set like arrow slits into the thick walls of my prevailing historical ignorance. One of these might be Rome in the time of I, Claudius; another the 1660’s as represented in Ian Pears’ extraordinary An Instance Of The Fingerpost. And so on.

So I should explain that I have had a bee in my bonnet about Richard III ever since reading The Daughter Of Time by Josephine Tey over 40 years ago. Since the British Crime Writers Association voted this the best crime novel of all time, I’m clearly not alone. Although personally, I would vote for The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers as much more well-rounded in literary terms, but that’s by the by.

It‘s not much of a spoiler to say The Daughter Of Time treats the matter of Richard III’s villainy as a kind of cold case whodunnit and gently leads the ill-informed reader (me in my 20’s) from cardboard cutout villainy to a very different understanding of the man, and how and why and by whom his reputation was systematically trashed.

His recent winning of the World Hide & Seek record (not my joke but worth nicking) really was a case of ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’. That he should have been found at all, and under a carpark of all places; that his should have been the very first body unearthed, and underneath the very first bit of tarmac to be penetrated – it was just absurd. I’m a hardened cynic about improbable news stories so was sceptical, but as all the mitochondrial DNA evidence and scoliosis and all the rest of it slowly mounted up over the following weeks and months we were finally left with no doubt.

And it’s odd to think that only such an attention-grabbing story could have led to such a public re-evaluation of his reputation, one such as Tey could only have dreamed of. He seems to have re-emerged into public consciousness, blinking in the bright light of newsworthiness like the equally wronged Edmond Dantes emerging from the Chateau d’If.

So, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction’. Readers of Tey’s RIII novel would also know Francis Bacon‘s dictum that ‘Truth is The Daughter Of Time’. I’d like to say that at the time of Richard‘s exhumation in 2012 I immediately saw the connection and relevance of both these ‘Truth is’ sayings and recognised it as the basis for a thematic crossword. In fact it wasn’t until March 2015 that I began work on the puzzle. But in my experience thematic crosswords are more often like the second cousins once removed of time.

The extra ingredient that kicked things off was the Robert Wyatt connection. I have been a fan of Robert Wyatt since I heard Soft Machine Volume 2 in roughly 1969. (Can’t stand Volume 1! But the poignant solo album Cuckooland is hugely recommended.) So anyway, I have a well-scratched copy of Ruth Is Stranger Than Richard (with its memorable album cover). Why it hit me I don’t remember now, probably just my normal daydreaming, but I know it was only when I realised the felicity of the ‘Richard’ bit of that title that this puzzle suddenly jelled.

The actual construction of the grid is not of much interest, I think, but I knew the elements should include allusion to the Hide & Seek joke, the two “Truth is…” quotes and the discovery to be made of RIII under Leicester Car Park. Noticing that FICTION and RICHARD were swappable, with new crossing words to be factored in, was also essential.

And Wyatt’s title required Truth to become Ruth, a hidden character to be sought (or seeked) out. The opportunity for her to be the daughter of Tim, a third hider to balance a team of three seekers, was just too good to pass up I’m afraid, though it did cause a bit of head-scratching for some, apparently. (Ruth Is The Daughter Of Time would have been a meaningless loose end, when you think about it.)

One comment on Answerbank, for instance, says “[I] remain puzzled by the first two hiders and wonder if they have any significance beyond assisting the final stages. Dare say all will be revealed.”

Well, many keen Listener people will be aware of Kathryn Friedlander, who has done so much excellent research on the psychological ramifications of crossword setting and solving. Continuing the Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction thread, I will end with a quote [with permission] from her feedback on this puzzle:

“Rather startling for me. My daughter Ruth is indeed the offspring of my husband Tim — and his first name, not much used, is Richard!”

[Cue twilight zone music…]


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