Listen With Others

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Listener No 4583, Potatoes: A Setter’s Blog by JFD

Posted by Listen With Others on 22 December 2019

I was asked to provide this blog as a debutant setter. I have been a Listener solver intermittently for many years, and fairly regularly for the last five. Imagine my surprise when, in a casual conversation about crosswords at my local bridge club one evening a year or two ago, I discovered that my interlocutor was the incomparable Shackleton.

He should not be insulted if I say that he’s a better setter than he is a bridge player, as that evaluation still leaves plenty of room for a high quality bridge game! We had a pint together a few weeks later, during which I picked his brains about the setting process and he encouraged me to give it a try.

I’ve always been good with words but chronically lacking in imagination (as a writer, I would have been a biographer rather than a novelist) so I started by searching for a suitable quotation around which to construct a puzzle. I had read Fruits of the Earth, in translation, at university almost 50 years ago and the advice to Nathanael particularly appealed to me at the time. I even used it as the basis of a very ham-fisted teenage poem.

So the quotation was filed away in the back of my brain waiting for its day in the sun, and this was provided when the reference to emotions being an intoxication suggested a grid fill. Repeated letters (S in SADNESS and DISGUST) required some care to ensure that there was no ambiguity.

My original submission contained two basic errors. First, I failed to spot that the device I was using to spell out the quotation was inconsistent with several of my suggested clues, as they implied that the wordplay with the extra letter, and the definition without it, were equivalent. Secondly, in my enthusiasm to cram in as much thematic material as possible, some of my clues were ridiculously contrived.

The editors ruthlessly (but entirely justifiably!) purged all my clued references to Gide’s dodgy weekend with Oscar Wilde in Algeria, his connection with the French existentialists, his introduction to Hogg’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner and the titles of several of his own works. They very generously described this major surgery as ‘tweaking’. The rigour of their tweaking, and their inventiveness in proposing far more elegant (if less thematic) alternatives, were an eye-opener and will be very useful if I decide to put my head above the parapet again.
 

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