THE ever worsening train service between Sussex and London is a source of heartache, frustration and despondency for many.

But for Ashley Knowles the longer he spends on trains, the longer he is able to indulge in his great passion - compiling crosswords.

The 57-year-old is known to thousands from his Guardian crossword setter name Boatman and now his fans are being given the chance to learn the secrets of the trade.

The Keymer-based setter has just had his first book, Boatman The First 50, published and will be celebrating with a special event at Waterstone's in Brighton joined on stage by John Halpern who is from the city and one of a very small number of professional crossword compilers.

Mr Knowles said he did crosswords as a child with his parents but was "never very good at them".

When he met the future "Mrs Boatman" 20 years ago the pair would complete The Guardian Saturday crossword together.

After setting her a crossword based on her dog in 2001, the habit really kicked in and in 2003 he began setting for magazine One Across and then for The Guardian five years later.

The compilation process of gathering themed ideas together is very laborious and puzzles' construction can take much longer than their completion - Mr Knowles completes 12 a year while juggling full-time role as financial analyst where his commute gives him time to work on puzzles.

He said: "Travelling on the railways is a wonderful way of picking up ideas, you have to stay in one place and just look at things.

"I pick up ideas and keep them in notebooks until I have a few ideas that relate together.

"I manage to get two hours every day on the train to come up with ideas, more delays mean more crosswords."

His own compiler name comes from the time he first began setting crosswords for his partner while living on a 30 metre Dutch barge in Brighton Marina.

He said the current generation of crossword setters were different from discipline’s founders who were all classics scholars.

Mr Knowles said: "We certainly all have a love of game and playing, trick playing.

"There’s a tendency from most people who set crosswords tend to have music or maths in their life.

"If you just come from a place where you love words you might not have the right mind to be able to set, you’ve got to love words but you’ve also got to be slightly disrespectful.

"Ideally you would be a poetry-loving computer programmer."

Boatman and Friends will be at Waterstones Brighton from 7pm on Thursday January 19.