Q&A With Author Samuel Burr

Q&A With Author Samuel Burr


1. What inspired you to become an author?

 An obsession with stories in all forms – books, documentaries, TV dramas, films – and a frustration at having too many TV proposals turned down. I worked as a development producer in unscripted TV before becoming a writer, so I’ve grown quite a thick skin when it comes to having ideas rejected (that is, after all, the name of the game in TV land), but even still, after 10+ years in the industry, I started to resent having to secure so many people’s permission to bring a story to life.  To get one of my ideas on screen, I had to receive ‘green lights’ from producers, commissioners, channel controllers, schedulers, and the list goes on and on. What appealed to me about novel writing – when I first started out, anyway – was that it didn’t require me to seek anyone’s permission to make it happen.  I didn’t need a million-pound budget. I didn’t even need anyone to approve the idea. I just had to pick up a pen and paper and write it.

I’m making it sound straightforward which, of course, it wasn’t. It was incredibly hard work but, the important thing was that I was in control and I was the only person who was going to decide it wasn’t going to happen. That was hugely appealing. Of course, further down the line, I would need to seek other’s permission. I’d need the buy-in of a literary agent and a publisher if I wanted to see my book in shops, but that wasn’t really the point. The goal was to bring a story to life, to get it down on the page, so that it existed in the world. If I hadn’t secured a book deal I would have printed my manuscript on lovely paper and had it turned into a beautiful book for myself. That was the ultimate goal. The rest has been an incredible bonus.


2. Was there a specific book, genre of music, or even a puzzle that helped or inspired you while writing The Fellowship of the Puzzlemakers?

I have a playlist I listen to when working on Puzzlemakers which will become the playlist for the launch party. If Spotify were to label it, they’d probably call it ‘Nostalgic Joy’. Martha Reeves and The Vandellas, Jackie Wilson, Earth, Wind & Fire. These are the songs I imagine the Fellowship dancing to at their countless cocktail parties!

In terms of books, I’ve been hugely inspired by writers like Joanna Cannon, Rachel Joyce, Beth Morrey and AJ Pearce. They create characters that are complex and flawed and burrow into your heart. While I’ve never been one for fantasy fiction, I want a novel to take me somewhere new and immerse me in a world I don’t want to leave behind.


3. How would you describe your writing process? Do you have a plan/outline or go with the flow as the story comes to you?

Painful, chaotic and painstaking. That’s how I’d describe it. I like to plan but I’m also willing to abandon the plan should the writing lead me somewhere else. A very clever author once said that writing a novel is a bit like setting off on a long car journey. You’d be mad to get into a car and not know where you’re going. So I try to have the main beats of the narrative nailed down and a definite sense of the ending, but often it’s the unplanned diversions that create the most memorable scenes.


4. What is the most surprising thing you've learnt while writing your book?

One of the surprising things about writing a book is that it forces you to confront yourself in quite a profound way. I feel like I understand myself more fully having written my debut. Puzzlemakers is of course fiction, but you can’t help but draw from your own experiences, memories, fears and dreams. I always say to aspiring writers that they should write about the thing that keeps them up at night. For me that’s social isolation and the fact we so often overlook the elderly in society.

Of course, you don’t want your book to become a soapbox for social issues (or maybe you do) but to give your story some weight and purpose, you should think about the theme quite early on. You might be surprised by what issues you connect with.


5. How did you find the process of getting your book published? And have you found there to be many differences between the TV industry and publishing?

One of the benefits of having a TV background is that I understand the importance of nailing a pitch. When I started working in television, I was so cripplingly shy that I became quite good at pitching. The reason was, I wanted the pitch to be over with as soon as possible so became well-versed in creating snappy, hooky ideas that wouldn’t take me too long to explain! I found the pressure of everyone looking at me unbearable!


6. Was there much research involved in writing The Fellowship of the Puzzlemakers? And does the Fellowship of Puzzlemakers really exist?

I’ve had many early readers getting in touch to say they wished the Fellowship existed in real life as they’d put their name down!

Sadly, it doesn’t, though lots of thriving puzzle clubs exist across the country with an emphasis on social inclusion. Of course, I’ve done a ton of research into the long tradition of puzzling in the UK,  and spent many many hours concocting the puzzles that appear in the book. It’s been one of the biggest challenges, but also the most rewarding!


7. I think we can safely say we all love Clay, but do you have any other favourite characters from your book?

I’m so glad you love Clay as much as I do! Of course, I adore the older characters in the book, especially the women. I am lucky enough to have quite a few older females in my life who I could draw inspiration from. This helped to create characters like Pippa and Nancy, who are complex women, flawed in different ways, but sharing a deep and life-altering friendship throughout the book. I particularly enjoyed writing from Pippa’s point of view. I think we could all learn to be a bit more Pippa – completely unwavering in who she is. I adore her flamboyance, her resolve, her ability to get things done. She doesn’t always act perfectly, but I love her for that. I like to think I channelled some of her grit and determination to get the book finished!


8. Do you have another book in the pipeline? What can we expect from you next?
 
I do indeed, and I’m very excited about it! 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!


Quick fire fun question to end;
Which fictional characters from Tv/Film/Book would you like to go to dinner with?


TV: Mrs Merton. Film: ET.  Book: Willy Wonka. And I’d order tapas.

 

In honour of the book being centred around puzzles, Samuel has made an exclusive puzzle just for PREM1ER members!

 

Using just the lettered tiles below, can you spell out the solutions to the following clues..

1.     Principal part of the brain (8) 
--------
2.     Nation without a monarch (8) 
--------
3.     Auguste and Louis _________, motion picture pioneers (7)
-------
4.     Mario Bros occupation (7) 
-------
 
Stay tuned as the answers will be in next month's content mailer!
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