Q & A with David Astle

Q & A with David Astle
Mucking around with words at the Library
22 September 2015

Many of you love David Astle from his cohosting Letters and Numbers on SBS One from 2010–2012, and his regular cryptic crossword column appearing under the name "DA" in The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age. David will be visiting the Library on Sunday 11 and Monday 12 October to share his new adventures in the world of words, Riddledom, and take part in the Library's Imaginarium Family Day. We caught up with him before his visit to find out more about what inspires his love of word games.

Photograph of David Astle

David Astle

Why do you write?

A double addiction I’m afraid: my love of language, and the buzz of telling a good story.

What are you reading right now?

A medieval flashback called The Year 1000 by Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger. The book is broken into months, and tells you all about marriage, Vikings, toilet paper and sign language—back in the day. A millennium ago, ale was safer than water. Good times.

How would you describe your latest book?

Riddledom is serendipitous and bite-size, like eating Quality Street chocolates in the dark. The whole thing is divided into 101 chapters, with each chapter a riddle plucked from history, or folklore, or a Popsicle stick.

Cover of Riddledom book

David Astle, Riddledom, Sydney : Allen & Unwin, 2015

What was the hardest part of writing your book?

First, convincing myself there were 101 remarkable riddles to find and explore—and then convincing my publisher. In the end, the really tough part was deciding which treasures to omit. I’m still grieving the elephants I had to cull.

What was the best part of writing your latest book?

Unlocking strange gates and finding exotic territory to wander. Places like the Anadyr River of Siberia, the Peruvian altiplano or Beatrix Potter’s private journal. Did you know she actually wrote her diary in code to stop people like me snooping?

Who is your favourite literary hero or heroine?

Standing proud at my elbow is a wooden figurine of Don Quixote, purchased in Madrid. Cervantes’ knight embodies all my desired qualities: brave, romantic, itchy-footed and delusional. As for heroine, Pippi Longstocking was my first literary crush.

What’s the strangest piece of advice you’ve ever been given as a writer?

More a quote than a tip, via the Irish-American JP Donleavy: “The purpose of writing is to make your mother and father drop dead with shame.”

What’s the strangest question you’ve been asked about your writing?

The oddest question came from a newspaper journalist in Newcastle: What does DA stand for? Though to be fair, maybe she was asking me about my principles.

Where is your favourite place to write?

My word cave, alias the home office. A few years back I customised a back bedroom into a language lair with wall-to-wall dictionaries and puzzle books. The giant L-shaped desk looks out upon a grevillea where honeyeaters come nuzzling.

What are you working on now?

A new book called Wordburger, written for wordy kids in late primary. The pages are full of language tricks—pangrams and anagrams—which sneakily enable the kids to crack the cryptic crosswords down the back. Be on Burger Alert in December.

Image of the cover of Wordburger the book

David Astle, Wordburger, Allen & Unwin, 2015

What do you love about libraries?

A library is my asylum to escape the madness of the real world.


David Astle will be at the Library, in his own words presenting "a kinetic and frenetic mucking around with words" for all ages, as part of the Imaginarium Family Day, 1—4pm on Sunday 11 October. Kids young and old can come along to hear riddles, rhymes and create your own stories and meanings with new words, with the entertaining wordsmith. Find out more

If you thought riddles only came in Christmas crackers, you can also hear David in conversation with George Dunford, Manager of Digital and Content Services, National Museum of Australia, at 6pm, Monday 12 October in the Library's theatre, uncovering curious questions from all around the world. Bring your own riddles! Book here