Welcome to this virtual landscape where SCBWI-BI members share their debut journeys with us.
This month Helen Victoria steps out with author Julia Tuffs, whose debut Hexed is out now. 

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? 

 I’m going to take you along the coastal path on the south of Isle of Wight where Hexed is set. We’ll start in Ventnor and walk along the seafront first, people-watching as we go, maybe a quick stop for a paddle and a hunt for seaglass as we sit on the beach with our ice creams. My husband is from the island and we lived there for a few years a while ago – I’ve spent many hours on the beach at Ventnor – thinking and plotting and writing and daydreaming about one day writing acknowledgments! After the seafront we’ll make our way up past the Spyglass, past the big Ventnor sign written into the grassy hill which we’ll go and lie on, making our bodies fit the letters, and further up still, pausing every now and again to take a deep gulp of the fresh air and stare at the twinkly sea (it’s a beautiful sunny day, of course). Eventually, we’ll round the corner and get our first glimpse of Steephill Cove – a tiny, dreamy picture-postcard cove that is one of my absolute favourite places on the island. We’ll climb over the rocks to hunt for shells, then treat ourselves to crab pasties and forget about the fact we have to schlep up many many steps to get back up to the road! 

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

I grew up all over the place (Lincolnshire, Midlands, America, Hong Kong, Surrey, Manchester) and never really had any roots, but since meeting my husband twenty-odd years ago I have totally adopted the Isle of Wight. I loved how he had this one place he’d grown up where all his family were (and had been for generations), that he knew so well and that had a special kind of pull. I fell in love with the island (and my husband!) pretty instantly and I always knew I wanted to set a book there. I wanted Jessie to have a similar journey in terms of not having any roots and feeling like she doesn't belong anywhere and then finally landing on the island and falling in love (eventually) with it and all its idiosyncrasies. It’s such a unique place – small, surrounded by the sea, distanced from the ‘mainland’ – and as such, it has a unique sensibility. 

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

A large part of my inspiration came from a certain very orange, bad-haired former US president! I was completely gobsmacked when those tapes of him boasting about grabbing women’s genitals came out and he was STILL elected president. It was the perfect example of how little regard is paid to women and women’s experiences and it filled me with rage. I wanted to write something that looked at that culture and how it’s allowed and even fostered from such a young age – how society, and people in positions of power, will dismiss unacceptable behaviour as ‘boys being boys’ and girls are left feeling powerless. The hard part was trying to deal with such a serious issue in a relatively light-hearted way! 

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

Ooh that’s so hard! I’m going to choose two. I’ve really loved connecting with other writers, especially other debuts and sharing the highs and lows of the process with them – it’s been an absolute life-saver having those connections. And also, now that the book is out, the thing I’m absolutely loving is hearing people’s reactions to it. It is THE best thing in the world to have someone I don’t know (and haven’t bribed) message me to say how they connected with the book – with MY words that lil’ ol’ me sat tapping out at my laptop for all those months. It’s WILD and amazing and so worth all the pain! 

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

Hexed actually came about as the outcome of a difficult moment which was my first book not selling – after getting tantaslisingly close! It was exhausting and heart-wrenching and took me a while (and a first draft of a very off-piste book) to find the energy to get back to it. I decided to not even think about if it would sell or how it would be marketed or who it would appeal to and just concentrated on getting back to writing a story I loved and was excited about. It’s so easy to get side-tracked and stressed about the other stuff so it was a great reminder of why I write in the first place. 

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

Ironically, I’m not sure I can find the words! It’s definitely a ride – and to be totally honest, it comes with its own highs and lows – but overall, it really is incredible. Every time I see my book with my name on it I have a little moment. 

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? 

If I let myself think about the future too much I always end up spinning out and I’m trying to much more zen about things and enjoy whatever does or doesn’t come my way. Hexed 2 is on its way next year and other than that, all I know is that I’d love to keep on writing and having people connect with my work - and obviously it would be amazing if I could keep being paid for the privilege! 

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 a bit of a cliché, but I would say write what you love. If you’re bored of it, readers will be too. If you love it and enjoy going back to it every day, readers will too.

After a brief (but fun) stint working in television and as a primary school teacher, Julia Tuffs decided to take her writing dreams more seriously. She lives in south-west London with her family and ragdoll cats (Billy and Nora) and spends her time writing, reading, dreaming of holidays and watching too much reality TV. She aims to write the kinds of books that shaped and inspired her as a teenager. Hexed is her debut novel.

Follow Julia:

On Twitter @JuliaTuffs

On Instagram @juliatuffs


Helen Victoria compiles Debut Journeys.

Follow Helen:

The header image is by
Imogen Foxell. Her website is

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