I'm learning to do cryptic crosswords and have had a real boost to my abilities from reading Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) by Sandy Balfour.
The book is a memoir (written when he was the same age as I am now- how can I be old enough to warrant a memoir!?) of a life as a South African immigrant to England, his relationship with his girlfriend and growing passion for crosswords. It weaves together themes of world politics and national identity with personal memories and a lot of interesting and useful information about cryptic crosswords.
My dismal personal best of completing two clues in a cryptic grid (maintained for many years of desultry bafflement) doubled to four clues by the time I was half way through the book. I have dreamed about or in crosswords for the last few nights (weird dream objects/scenes in grids of black or white boxes). My absorbtion of the cryptic approach was sufficient that before I finished the book late last night (reading out loud the final few chapters to laughter and tears) I had completed half, that's right HALF, of the Listener crossword.
The light has dawned, at least partially. The other half remains in bafflingly obscure shadow, but my approach is now systematic rather than desultry. I am comforted by Sandy Balfour's confession that it took him seven years of keen solving before he completed a whole grid on his own. Mind you, he refers to British 'broadsheet' puzzles such as the Guardian and Times (and discusses at length the cultural meaning of their different settting styles), which I suspect are much harder to solve than the Listener. But I am a complete novice so I'm not sure about that. Those stubborn second half of David Tossman's clues may be of British broadsheet standard.
I'm very pleased with my progress but am painfully aware of how far I have to go. Even when I successfully solve the word game part of the clue (anangram or other manipulations) often I'm at a loss to understand the cryptic reference. Pretty Girl in Crimson Rose (8) has raised my expectations regarding clue's multiple layers of meaning and the significance of every word or letter but I just don't get it most of the time. Ah well, I look forward to a lifetime of pleasurably plugging away.