It’s been a few years since I wrote a song – five years, in fact, since I rustled up a bassline, drum patterns, chord sequence and lyric to a something that became ‘No Chilli’, which I went on to record with my bandmate Dave. It’s a good song, turned out really well (I’m sure I uploaded it to YouTube but I can’t find it). It turned out well because The Muse was there as I wrote it, and how pretentious that sounds.
It seems even more pretentious when you mention The Muse as something you rely on as a cryptic setter but, you know, she’s either there or not, and if she chooses to take some time off then you can come unstuck. What is she? Well, she is NOT the clue-writer.
Let’s be clear. With money in mind, we set a rough time limit for each puzzle we’re going to set for an outlet. If a puzzle pays £100 we should – ideally, anyway – try to get it completed in half the time we’d spend on a puzzle paying £200. That’s not mercenary, just common sense. But for this to happen a number of elements have to fall into place and run smoothly after the grid has been filled. It’s a marriage of spotting definitions, sticking to the rules, being original, being coherent and getting all of those things to merge at the same time. What The Muse does is facilitate the blending of those disciplines, and in the past month I’ve discovered what happens when… well, when it doesn’t happen.
As it’s been so long since I wrote a song, I recently opened up Word and began penning some lyrics. I think I got one verse and chorus before the ideas dried up. The document got scrapped.
For about two months crosswords had been equally frustrating; there were times I stared at an answer and couldn’t see a single wordplay breakdown that could be exploited. It was almost as if I’d forgotten how to write clues. Thankfully The Muse seems to have returned. A standard 28-answer grid is one I’d hope to clue in a day but, recently, 2-3 days has been typical. I’ve just finished a 46-clue effort for Eric Westbrook’s 2015 RNIB Calendar and squeezed all of it into one day – fingers crossed, the lady has decided she likes me after all (at least for now).