Sunday, 6 September 2015


Taking my writing in a whole new direction...

It’s September and I can hardly believe I’ve been married for a whole year already. Where does the time go? I wouldn’t say there’s never been a cross word between Paul and me over the last twelve months, because having a bit of an argument from time to time (or even every day!) is a healthy part of married life… isn’t it? But ‘cross words’ of a different kind do play a big part in our daily lives – those of the black and white squared variety.

Crosswords are great for keeping the old brain cells in good working order, playing around with words and expanding vocabulary, and for developing patience and persistence – all essential requirements for any writer – and no day is truly complete for me without enjoying, and finishing, the crossword in the paper! My record for the Daily Mail cryptic is now down to around eight minutes on a good day, but I have to allow a whole lot longer if I decide to have a go at the Telegraph Toughie!         

I often browse through ebay or Amazon looking for ‘crosswordy’ items too. There are so many – pens, egg cups, mugs, cuff links, ties… My crossword-patterned furry slippers all the way from America have finally fallen apart after nearly three years of wear but unfortunately nobody seems to sell them anymore, so I can’t replace them, but I have just added two great t-shirts to my collection: a black one with the logo ‘Live Breathe Sleep Solve’, and a grey one with ‘Black Belt in Crossword Puzzles’ emblazoned right across the chest. A bold claim, maybe, but I have been solving them for fifty years so it’s one I feel justified in making.

Since writing my book ‘How to Crack Cryptic Crosswords’ (details here) I’ve had a real urge to start compiling crosswords of my own, and it’s proving to be a great success.

I started earlier this year with a crossword to celebrate the impending birth of my granddaughter Penny, packing it with references to cots, bottles, nappies, rattles and all things baby – and I loved doing it. I also ran a small competition here on the blog, offering a personalised crossword as a prize, and the winner, Wendy Clarke, asked me to compile one especially for her husband Ian’s fiftieth birthday. What fun that was! Wendy gave me all sorts of information about her man and I weaved it into the clues – everything from his favourite drinks, cars and music to the names of family members and pets, holiday destinations, hobbies… and a whole lot more!

Then a friend I hadn’t seen for ages happened to spot me talking about the blog competition on facebook and got in touch to ask if I could make up a similar puzzle as a birthday surprise for her partner’s mum. My first paying customer! Emails went backwards and forwards, with more and more obscure facts about the unsuspecting Barbara changing hands, and again a highly personalised crossword emerged, with every clue having some connection with the lady’s life, work, friends and family, even though we have never met.

I have also started writing regular cryptic crosswords with a distinctly writerly theme for inclusion in the quarterly magazine sent out to all members of the SWWJ (Society of Women Writers and Journalists), and did another, with the clues all based around writing and reading, for the competition page of a recent issue of Kishboo, the e-magazine for fiction lovers. Both are worthy causes so I didn’t charge, although I have discovered that compilers can easily command a fee of around two hundred pounds or more for writing even a fairly small themed cryptic crossword puzzle for a popular newspaper or magazine!

So, to stop me worrying over the latest plot problem in my work-in-progress or wondering what’s happening with the completed novel that’s currently with my agent, I’m going to take occasional time out from my fiction and article writing work and compile (and hopefully sell) a few more specialist crosswords. Not to try to make my fortune, but because it’s fun to do, I’m getting pretty good at it and, as hobbies go, it’s a lot quieter than knitting - my husband just can’t tolerate all that rhythmic needle clacking!

My aim is not for my puzzles to appear in national newspapers - many more experienced people than me are already doing that, so the competition (excuse the pun) is likely to be fierce - but for them to become unusual and highly personalised keepsakes to be presented as gifts for birthdays, engagements, weddings, anniversaries, or at leaving parties etc. I might tackle some specialist topics too if I can get a trade paper or club magazine interested in publishing one for their members to crack. You name it… any theme, any celebration, any life story... and I will do my best to produce just the right tailor-made and totally unique crossword for the occasion. No two will ever be the same!

Rates start from just £15 per puzzle, depending on the size and level of complexity. Does that seem a lot? I hope not, as each one can take several hours to put together. Crosswords will be delivered to you as PDF documents by email, in colour and suitably decorated, all ready to print - or even to frame! – with the solution provided separately in case you get stuck.

So, if you fancy having a special crossword written just for you, or as a gift for a friend, please get in touch and help me to get this new venture off the ground. Feel free to email me at to find out more, ask for a price list, or place an order. If it takes off, prices will go up to a more commercial level next year, and I may even get myself a proper website. Wish me luck!


And, just to show I really can do it, here’s what some of my satisfied customers have to say so far:
I was wracking my brains trying to find something unusual to give my husband for his 50th birthday and Viv came to the rescue with the idea of a personalised crossword. I would say it was his best present! (Wendy Clarke, winner of my blog competition)

A wonderfully unique, personalised gift for anyone who loves cryptic crosswords. Viv takes the time and effort to find out many details about the recipient which makes the clues and/or answers particularly meaningful. She is able to tailor the difficulty to their level. You will even have fun finding out things you didn't know about your loved one. Highly recommended. 
(Sally Alfred)

Many thanks for creating a bespoke cyrptic crossword for the summer 2015 issue of KISHBOO e-magazine. It was a fun, fresh and original addition to our pages. and an enjoyable challenge for our readers. (Editor, Kishboo)