Posts Tagged ‘debut fiction’

Puzzles, Cats, and Intergenerational Friendships: A Q&A with Samuel Burr

April 9th, 2024

The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers is the feel-good debut that your reading group needs! We managed to snag some of Samuel Burr’s time for a Q&A to talk all things puzzles, found family, and coming-of-age.


Reading Group Center: Was there a particular idea, person, or story that inspired you to write The Fellowship of Puzzlemakers?

Samuel Burr: Like most novels, it’s hard to pinpoint a single idea, person or story that inspired the book. But there is a moment that stands out as being particularly significant.

It was 2020 and I was on a creative writing course and we’d been asked to step outside to observe ordinary people on the street for a character-building exercise. I ended up sitting in a cafe, and no sooner had I taken out my notebook and pen, had four men in anoraks walked in and sat down opposite me. They were a crossword club. They proceeded to read out the clues of The Times crossword together and ting a little brass bell whenever someone found a solution, munching on cake and sipping tea as they did so. It was charming and funny and more than a little eccentric, plus it was quite an uncanny coincidence. I’d started the course wondering about writing a mystery that combined puzzles and prose having watched a BBC Four documentary about crossword compilers that had captured my imagination. It was as if the universe was trying to tell me something. I had this feeling in my tummy – a sort of bubbly excitement – that stayed with me throughout the writing process, right up until I wrote ‘The End’.


RGC: Found family and coming-of-age are such big themes of Puzzlemakers. What drew you to these themes, and what do you hope readers take away from Clayton and Pippa’s stories?

SB: I think it’s partly influenced by the sort of stories I like to read, and what themes I find particularly emotive, but I’ve always been interested in the idea of found families, and also the importance of communities. I was inspired to write this book because I wanted to create a story that captured and celebrated the wisdom of age, to show what an incredible resource our elder community is, and how we often take that for granted.

Like the very best puzzles, I hope it’s a novel you can truly get lost in. It’s no coincidence that, having written so much of this book during the Covid pandemic, it is a story that celebrates the power of community and the importance of combatting social isolation. As the puzzlemakers like to say: ‘To go far go together’ and I hope readers will come away feeling a similar notion. No matter who your friends or your family are, we are always stronger when we’re not alone.


RGC: The book jumps back and forth between two different timelines. Why did you choose to structure it this way?

SB: I love playing with timelines in my writing! I’ve always been interested in the idea that the journeys we take in life can sometimes be mirrored by our ancestors, so I liked the idea of writing a story where we see Pippa making mistakes and then Clayton learning her lessons!

There’s something great fun about jumping back and forth and telling a story from multiple points of view. Because it’s a mystery, it felt like the most organic way to unfold elements of the story, to reveal clues to Clay’s future by delving deeper into the Fellowship’s past.


RGC: Puzzlemakers features actual puzzle clues for readers to solve as they progress through the story. What’s your favorite type of puzzle? Why?

SB: I would say my favorite puzzle has got to be a jigsaw. There is nothing quite like drawing the curtains, pouring a glass of wine and sorting through a thousand pieces! The thing I love about puzzles is that they’re something we all have a connection to. Whether it’s memories of playing with a shape sorter as a child, doing a jigsaw with your grandparents, or Wordle on the subway. Puzzles are part of all of our lives. And they are pure escapism. When we’re solving puzzles we’re not thinking about anything else at all. I think we could all do with a bit of that right now.


RGC: Which books or authors have most influenced you as a writer?

SB: I love books that make you feel better about the world, are cleverly structured and have characters that stay with me well after I’ve turned the final page. I’ve been so lucky to secure so many quotes from authors I admire. If I had to name some of my favorite novelists I would say: Joanna Cannon, AJ Pearce, Rachel Joyce, and Jessie Burton. They all create such evocative and immersive worlds.


RGC: If you could pose one discussion question to book clubs reading Puzzlemakers, what would it be?

SB: If Pippa and Clay’s journey can teach us anything, it’s that we’re all capable of doing something extraordinary. We just need the belief and the right people behind us to get to where we want to be, to find. If my own past has taught me anything, it’s that life itself is just one big puzzle….and we’re all just searching for our missing pieces, whatever makes us feel complete in the great crossword of life. For me, writing this book has been a huge part of that. It’s been incredible seeing the reaction to the book and I hope it gets readers thinking what they might be missing in their lives, and how they might go about getting it.