David Astle is an author, freelance writer and cruciverbalist.
That last word might be unfamiliar to you, so allow me to explain: a cruciverbalist is a person skilled in the art of creating and solving crossword puzzles, which is something that David has been doing for most of his life. Since the mid-1980s, he has been crafting cryptic crosswords for readers of Fairfax newspapers The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, but for most of that time, he was known only by his initials. It wasn't until 2010 that 'DA' exposed himself as David Astle, with a book named Puzzled: Secrets And Clues From A Life Lost In Words.
All of my guests on Penmanship share a love of words and language, but David Astle might take the cake in this regard – if only because when we met at a hotel room in late November, he was wearing a shirt which read, "Triple Nerd Score". David is unique among my guests thus far to have co-created a new word: in 2012, he was part of a team which met at Sydney University to come up with a definition for the act of snubbing someone in a social setting by looking at your phone instead of paying attention. Their creation? 'Phub': a phone snub.
For years, I have enjoyed David's column 'Wordplay', which appears in The Sydney Morning Herald's arts section, Spectrum, each Saturday. It was through this narrow window into his long and prosperous freelance career that we met while he was visiting Brisbane to promote his first book for kids, Wordburger: How To Be A Champion Word Puzzler In 20 Quick Bites. As I soon learned, however, David is a man who carries many arrows in his writerly quiver, and it was a delight to discuss how he has built a life around a love for language.
Our conversation touches on the challenge of writing for children instead of adults; how he chooses timely topics for his weekly column; how he became obsessed with puzzles as a teenager and began stalking a prominent Fairfax puzzle editor; the interview that led to him quitting his one-time dream job as a feature writer for Inside Sport, and how he became the host of a television game show on SBS named Letters and Numbers.
David Astle is the author of ten books, most of them digging a wordy vein. His latest is Wordburger – his first for kids – that sneakily unlocks the mystery of cryptic crosswords. Other verbal odysseys include Riddledom, Cluetopia and Puzzled. Smitten with language, David writes his weekly Wordplay column for Spectrum in the Sydney Morning Herald, exploring anything from emojis to Dothraki. He’s also responsible for the weekly DA cryptic on Friday in that paper, and The Age, while his news anagram can be heard on Radio National’s Sunday Extra program. From 2010 until 2012, David fulfilled the role of dictionary umpire on SBS’s Letters and Numbers. He’s also been a feature writer for Sunday Life and Inside Sport, plus a tutor in both journalism and creative writing at RMIT.
Show notes and links to what was discussed in this episode: http://penmanshippodcast.com/episode-16-david-astle/
David Astle on Twitter: @DontAttempt
Penmanship on Twitter: @PenmanshipAU