Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us. This month Helen Victoria steps out with author Sophie Kirtley, whose debut middle grade book The Wild Way Home came out with Bloomsbury in July 2020.

Let’s begin our journey...

There’s nothing like a good walk to fuel creative ideas and give us inspiration in our writing. Where are you taking us on our walk today? 

It’s so lovely to be strolling with you today, but make sure you’re well weatherproofed because we’re going for a windswept wander along the wild Causeway Coast in Northern Ireland. This is my favourite place in the world, partly because it’s where I grew up, but also because it’s so awe-inspiringly raw and beautiful. Prepare to blow away the cobwebs! 

What about the landscape you have created in your novel? How important is the setting to your plot and themes? 

The setting for The Wild Way Home is actually based on a place not far from the Causeway Coast – Mountsandel Forest. This is a wood where I played when I was a wee girl and I remember it so vividly; I didn’t realise at the time, but Mountsandel has great archaeological importance as it was the site of the oldest Mesolithic settlement in Ireland. This link between past and present, then and now, was a huge inspiration for The Wild Way Home, which is set partly in the Stone Age. 

As the saying goes, a journey of a thousand steps starts with one. Tell us about your inspiration for your novel. 

So The Wild Way Home is deeply linked to the place I’m from, but it’s also inspired by the people who are important to me. It’s a story about family and about caring for siblings; I’m the eldest of four children and my own brilliant sisters and brother were a big influence in my life growing up. In the novel, my main character, Charlie, has a brand new baby brother who is very poorly when he is born; luckily this didn’t happen to me but I do remember those feelings of care, concern and responsibility towards younger siblings that Charlie also experiences. 

Now we have got into our stride, can you tell us what you loved most about writing this book? 

I wrote The Wild Way Home on the MA in Writing for Young People at Bath Spa University in 2017. Even though the story has changed so much from those early drafts it was in this supportive, creative, immersive environment that it really grew and became something I was proud of. So what I loved most was the shared experience of writing. Workshopping extracts with course-mates, discussing longer pieces with tutors and eventually building the confidence to send it out into the world. After the MA, I joined SCBWI. It was so lovely after the closeness of the MA to find a writing community just as welcoming and inclusive. I even took part in The Hook at my first ever SCBWI-BI Conference, which was hair-raising but also really helped me to clarify my ideas in order to pitch my book. 

We seem to be lost in the woods now. Can you describe your most difficult moments when you were writing …, and how you got back onto the right path? 

I edited my manuscript to within an inch of its life and sent it out to agents. To my delight, my absolute top-choice agent took me on – Nancy Miles at Miles Stott Children’s Literary Agency. Now that’s when the really hard work started! My lovely agent loved the manuscript but we both knew that, in order to make it commercially viable, a lot needed to change. Originally, The Wild Way Home was a dual narrative, told part in verse, part in prose with sections of the text as graphic novel – Nancy advised me to pare it right back, to get to the heart of the story. At first, it was hard to strip back the layers, there came a point where I just thought ‘Oh no! What have I done? I’ve totally destroyed it!’ But I knew I had to have faith in Nancy and her experience. And she was right! (She always is!!) We edited the manuscript scrupulously together for over nine months until we were both sure it was ready. We finally sent it out to publishers in December 2018 and by February 2019 I had signed a deal with Bloomsbury. 

As we reach the summit, can you tell us how it feels to be a first-time author?

I am just so astoundingly pleased and proud. Being an author really has always been my dream. When I was a wee girl I read The Garden Gang series by Jayne Fisher; she was nine years old when she wrote those books, so by the time I was ten I thought I was seriously past it! Even though 2020 was such an awful year, each and every ‘lockdown debut’ has been a burst of brightness and a ray of hope in the gloom. To my utter delight The Wild Way Home was Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month for July, just as the shops were opening again. I didn’t dare go around the country far and wide at that point in time, but kind friends sent me pictures of my book doing all that travelling for me and that’s perhaps the most extraordinary thing – now The Wild Way Home is just ‘out there’ all by itself – Weird! Wonderful! 

We’ve finished our walk now, so I think we deserve to celebrate with tea in a cosy inn. As we warm our feet by the blazing fire, tell me where you think your writing will take you in the future?

Ooooh lovely! I’ve just finished writing my second book for Bloomsbury; it’s called The Way to Impossible Island and it’ll be out in July 2021. It’s a wild seaswept adventure about having the courage to overcome obstacles that may seem impossible. Like The Wild Way Home, it’s set partly in the Stone Age and it features some characters that readers may find… familiar… 

Finally, I have really enjoyed walking and talking with you today. Can you give us one take away tip for yet-to-be-published writers? 

It’s been such a joy to walk and talk with you – thank you. My tip is to write a story that feels true to you – trust your instincts. And keep going, please keep going – the road is long and wild; there are dragons and ravines and ogres… but you and your story can defeat them all!


Sophie Kirtley grew up in Northern Ireland, where she spent her childhood climbing on hay bales, rolling down sand dunes and leaping the raw Atlantic waves. Nowadays she lives in Wiltshire with her husband, three children and their mini-menagerie of pets and wild things. Sophie has always loved poems and stories: she taught English in secondary schools for many years and has worked in a theatre, a bookshop and a tiny pub where folk tell fairytales by candlelight. Sophie is a prize-winning poet and children’s author; her debut novel, The Wild Way Home, was Waterstones Children’s Book of the Month, Toppsa Book of the Month and was shortlisted for the Joan Aiken Future Classics Prize.

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Helen Victoria is a writer of YA fiction, a full-time drama teacher and a reader of anything and everything.

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Imogen Foxell is an illustrator with a particular interest in creating intricate imaginary worlds. She illustrates English literature revision cards for, and interesting words for Her website is Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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