Writing a book and other unique challenges: Samuel Burr’s bestselling The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers – Jericho Writers
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Writing a book and other unique challenges: Samuel Burr’s bestselling The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers

Writing a book and other unique challenges: Samuel Burr’s bestselling The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers

We were thrilled to hear that Samuel Burr’s debut had found a home with Orion books. We caught up with Premium Member and now Sunday Times bestselling author, to hear all about his writing journey so far.

Hi Samuel, congratulations on the publication of The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers! You’ve had a whirlwind writing journey that includes being a part of our community but also writing for TV, and now having your debut novel come out. Can you tell us a little bit about how you got here?

Thank you! It’s been a mad few years, but I’m thrilled to finally be sharing my Puzzlemakers with the world! Ever since I started dipping my toes into the world of novel writing, I’ve tried to embed myself into as many writing communities as I can – not least for the brilliant resources that are so widely available, but also to build my network and make friends with fellow writers. Writing a novel is no mean feat and it’s also a very solitary pastime, so having people to lean on for help and support is totally invaluable. Jericho Writers has been a brilliant for that.

I started writing my debut at the Faber Academy, having previously completed an online course with Curtis Brown Creative, but I realised quite quickly after graduating from Faber (and securing an agent) that I wasn’t done learning! In fact, I was hungry to continue developing my craft, and to meet more writers! So that’s when I joined Jericho Writers as a Premium Member, whilst editing Puzzlemakers, which ended up selling in an auction in Feb 2022. It’s being translated in 14 languages around the world, which is something I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to get my head around!

My role in television involved devising, developing and selling new unscripted TV formats, so I’ve always been someone full of ideas. During my career I’ve also learnt to develop my pitching skills. I understand that the most sellable ideas can be pitched in just a few lines, and so I’ve honed the Fellowship of Puzzlemakers elevator pitch over and over!

We’re thrilled to have been part of your journey, and, we’re always keen to talk elevator pitches. They are so tricky, but once you’ve nailed your book’s concept, they can be a secret weapon. If you’re up for it, could you share your pitch with us? (And anyone who isn’t familiar with The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers).

Of course! It’s the story of Clayton Stumper – a young man who is a bit of a young fogey. Clay dresses like your grandad and drinks sherry like your aunt. At 25 years of age, he finds himself as one of the surviving members of a very British institution. The Fellowship is a retirement community made up of some of the smartest minds in the country and it’s where he was abandoned at birth. Among the residents are a mazemaker, a quiz setter, and a jigsaw artist to name just a few.

But there’s a mystery at the heart of the Fellowship…. a puzzle that’s yet to be solved…. and that’s how Clayton came to be there, and where he came from. 

When the founder of the Fellowship – an esteemed cruciverbalist (or a crossword compiler) called Pippa Allsbrook passes away, she bequeaths her final puzzle to the young man she’s raised as her own. And so, we follow Clayton on a quest, as he pieces together the clues of his past, and finds himself at the same time.

At its heart, it’s a story about young man finding his place in the world. But it is also a celebration of the wisdom of age and the friendships that can exist between the old and young.

We know how much a manuscript can transform during the process of writing the first draft through to publication, what was that process like for The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers?

As one of my characters points out in the book, ‘…nothing worth solving is ever easy…’ and it was no exception with this book. I think editing any novel is a bit of a puzzle in itself – trying to work out where all the parts belong, searching for missing holes to fill in. I suppose what made my novel particularly challenging to write (and specifically to edit) were the interactive elements embedded into the story.  I knew I wanted to feature actual puzzles within the text for readers to solve – to make it a book you can read and play. After countless revisions and tweaks we finally got there! But it was anything but easy!

Were there any surprises along the way? Or perhaps anything you wished you had known earlier, or been prepared for?

Adapting the text for the audiobook was another very unique challenge as you obviously can’t see the puzzles while listening, but I’m thrilled with how it’s turned out. I think that’s something that doesn’t really cross your mind when you’re writing, at least it didn’t for me. It was only after signing the deal that I realised we’d be making an audio version of the book and that’s when I had to put my thinking cap on! I must say, our readers Dame Penelope Keith and Russell Tovey are just perfect and it’s a fantastic listen!

You were developing your craft for several years before you were published, is there anything you found particularly useful on your journey?

I’m always impressed by how many brilliant resources there are out there for aspiring writers. I benefitted hugely from plugging into the community as quickly as I could. Coming from television, I didn’t really know anyone in books, so I knew I needed to build my network of contacts in the same way I had done in TV. I attended countless events – in real life and virtually – signed up for courses, followed my favourite writers on socials, as well as the big influencers, publishing houses etc, just so I could understand how the industry worked, learn from other people’s experiences, and build my own writing tribe. It’s been completely invaluable, particularly in the run-up to publication. I’m so lucky to have people cheering me on, helping to spread the word. Of course, I’m now keen to pay it forward and do the same for other debut writers.

After spending so long writing and re-writing the same story, spending infinite amounts of time with your characters – how did you know it was time to submit?

It’s so difficult to know! Someone once told me a book is never finished, but it is ready, and I found that immensely helpful. I think by the time my agent and I were going out on submission I had reached a point where I knew I couldn’t continue without the input of someone else. I needed fresh eyes on it. I had done as much as I physically could with the story, honed every sentence countless times, and I felt proud of the story I’d created. I think that’s quite key. Are you comfortable sharing this with others? Do you feel good inside about it?

Do you have any advice for writers hoping to get published?  

Nail your comp titles! I really think this is key. There is so much competition and agents are so overworked that you need to be able to say where your book might sit figuratively on a shelf. I always encourage people not to go too literally when coming up with comps. Think about the core elements of your book – its identifying features – and find other books that have similar touchstones. If you can’t think of any, you might have a problem. Selling a book that is entirely ‘unique’ (i.e. It can’t be compared to anything else in the market) makes it almost impossible to sell. Publishers can be risk averse so make it easier for them to say yes. Nail your comps! 

Before we go, can you let us know what are you working on now?

I’m delighted to have the opportunity to write a second book with Orion Fiction, which is another standalone novel. While I can’t say too much at this point, I hope that anyone who has read and enjoyed The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers will also enjoy my second book. Nostalgic joy. That’s all I’m saying for now!