Author’s Roundtable: Cheryl Headford

How long have you been writing? Has writing always been something you wanted to do?

I’ve always written stories, always. When I was in primary school my teacher joked all the time that my stories were long enough to be made into books. I think that’s where my terrible writing came from. I couldn’t write fast enough to get what I was thinking down on the paper. Thank goodness for laptops.

Writing is everything to me. A therapy, an occupation, a fascination, a passion. I can’t imagine not being able to write. I carry notebooks wherever I go, and I write everywhere… on the train, waiting for the train, lunchtime at work, waiting for the taxi, in a bar, waiting for friends. Whenever I have downtime I write. It’s unthinkable to me not to. 

So, I suppose the answer to your question is that no, writing is not something I have wanted to do, it’s something I’ve had to do.

What books or stories have you written?

I have written literally dozens of books, which are posted all over the Internet. As far as published work is concerned, I have five published books of which two are anthologies, one a collaboration.

I have another three in production, due out in the next few months.

My favourite books are the Enigma books. The main character, Silver, is my heartthrob. He’s the sweetest thing, and he has such a simple, childlike view of the world. It’s been a real tonic to write him. He starts off as a resident in a care home where he’s been sent from the hospital where he spent three months in a coma and six months in rehab, after having been found barely alive on the side of the road. He had completely withdrawn from the world and was little more than an empty, if very beautiful, shell. River, one of the care assistants manages to bring him back to the world and fall in love with him in the process. I can’t blame him one bit. When he discovers that Silver had been a sex slave, beaten almost to death for daring to fall in love with another slave, River finds himself in a whole load of hot water.

In book two, all the hard work River put into building Silver up in book one is destroyed by River’s own jealousy and his frustration at having to look after Silver who still has so many problems. When River’s parents are killed in a car accident and his young brother comes to live with them, Social Services take an interest because of Silver’s past, and it all goes to hell. Silver runs away and tries to get back to his roots. Instead he finds new friends. Ariel is one of them. Tiny in stature but huge in personality, he’s my favorite character next to Silver.

In book three, which is not yet released, Ariel takes center stage and has all sorts of problems with his own love life, and in book four, which I am working on now, we catch up with them 10 years later.

Other than those, I have a YA psychological drama, “The Unfairness of Life,” which is dark and angsty following Gabriel, who’s running from the voices in his head and Laurie, who’s chasing after him, not believing they’re real right up to the point they turn up and hold a metaphorical gun to his head. Brain implants, govenment run illegal ESP experimentation and a reluctant love affair. Packed full of action and no sex… well almost none.

On the other hand, “Hump in the Night” is chock full of sex. So much sex I got bored writing it, and it got weird. Who knew angels and demons get high on each other? Five stories of different paranormal beings, all by me and all as strange and unexpected as I am. I had fun writing this one.

“Bigger Briefs, Looking at the Lads” is a collaboration among my Wednesday flash group to write longer stories. A second anthology is due out in the next couple of months.

“The Runaway,” second only to “Enigma” in my list of favorites will also be out, hopefully in the next few months. With cover art by my favorite artist, it follows one of the most fun characters I have ever had the pleasure to write. Ciarrai is a character. A cross-dressing, fast-talking superstar who can walk great in six-inch heels but can’t skim stones for coffee.

And my final book in production is “Fallen Angel,” which is about “real” vampires, weres and otherkin. When Isobel meets Arran they know straight away they’re not your average boy and girl next door. Turns out Arran is a vampire and Isobel a were panther. When Isobel follows him to Scotland, after sharing visions of a previous life together, she finds herself in the middle of a hunt for the true origins of vampires and a desperate race to get to the answer and find the fabled artifact before the demon shade catches them, with fatal consequences for one of the groups.

And that’s my writing history. Passion in every word. I LOVE my characters. They’re completely real to me and during the time I’m writing their story I AM them. I walk in their shoes, speak through their mouths, see through their eyes, which is why I love Silver so much. He has a wonderful mind and such pretty eyes.

I usually describe my characters through the eyes of those who love them so they’re always beautiful. For example one of my characters (as yet unpublished) has a badly scarred face. But he also has beautiful tattoos, and I describe the way he feels about the scars but how the tattoos look because that’s what makes him beautiful.  Physical appearance tends not to factor huge in my stories. I pick on something beautiful, like hair or eyes, or way of moving or voice and focus on them. Except for Silver who is perfect in every way, and I have to keep saying so 🙂

Someone once asked why are all my characters beautiful. The fact is they’re not, objectively speaking but I almost always describe my characters through how other people see them so they are, of course, beautiful to them.

One of my characters is blind, and his brothers are cruel to him in that they choose outgrageoous clothes for him to wear. Now him I did describe in detail 🙂

A lot of the time I don’t describe the outside of the person at all.

Have you ever used personal experiences in your stories?

Yes. It’s easier though because you’ve got a head start on what and how your character thinks and feels. That’s why I try to “be” my characters. The more you get inside their heads, the easier it is to write them because the dialogue just comes smoothly as does the way they think and react to things.

What are some of the hardest things you’ve had to overcome as a writer, in order to be published?

Editing. I hate editing. I hate everything about it. Once the story is written it’s out of me and, as far as I’m concerned, over and done with. To then have to go back through it and read every word from an analytical point of view is akin to having teeth pulled without anaesthetic. Okay, maybe a tiny exaggeration.

And then there are the editors who pull apart my babies…mean, mean creatures that they are.

And once the manuscript is accepted and edited and goes live the HARD stuff starts… publicity. Oh God I hate publicity. I’m so bad at it. I’ve never been good at selling myself, and this is a total bloody nightmare. I’ve even had to master technology, and you’ve no idea how difficult that was for a dye-in-the-wool technophobe, and do crazy things like make a blog and tweet. The whole thing’s scary, nuts and time absorbing… but a LOT of fun.

Is there any advice you have been given that you could give to a young up-and-coming writer?

Listen to people. For me bad dialogue is a deal breaker. If the dialogue is bad, I can’t read the book. The way I try to make my dialogue better is to listen to people everywhere I can, see the kind of things they say, how they say them, what they’re doing while they’re saying them. Also get under the skin of your characters, work with them. When you’re washing dishes, do it as your character and have conversations with other characters. When you’re walking down the street, think about what your character would be doing… how would they walk, talk, what music would they be listening to on their Ipod, who they are looking at and why.

Don’t give up. Don’t care who tells you your writing is not good enough, don’t lose faith. Take all feedback, good and bad, and work with it. Criticism hurts but is much more helpful than sycophancy.

Do it yourself. Unless you’re very lucky, you won’t get a break with the big boys but the future is in indie so look around. Twitter is a good place to start. Find an indie publisher who publishes works like the ones you write, check out their submission requirements and submit. The better ones can be difficult to crack and won’t accept submissions from new writers, so look out for open calls.

Take responsibility for publicizing yourself and your work. Set up a blog. Make it as good as you possibly can and fill it with interesting things. Not just your work but things that will interest lots of people. Make sure you update it often. People won’t come back more than once if the content is the same.

Do you think writing has any benefits, and if so what would they be?

All kinds of benefits. It stretches the mind, makes you think creatively. You have to think in all kinds of directions at once… story, character development, spelling, grammar. You have to write things that interest you, otherwise why bother so you have to find something interesting about yourself to write.

I find it to be a real therapy. If I’ve had a bad day I either write a funny/sexy scene to relax or I torture my characters. It completely takes away stress for me. 

Writing fiction enriches the world for the writers who write and the readers who read. 

Has writing made you a better person? Was there a point in your life where writing helped you deal with something, a death or a problem relationship perhaps?

No, writing hasn’t made me a better person, at least I don’t think so. It’s given me more opportunity to be nice. Writing has gotten me over a lot of things. The breakup of my relationship with my ex-husband, the death of my mother, redundancy. When I write I am completely absorbed, and there’s no room for anything else. I have mobility issues, and I’m in constant pain. Writing even takes that away from me for a time. When I am my characters I feel no pain emotional or physical, well relatively. Writing is my joy, my therapy, my pain medication, my life.

I have degenerative disc disease and arthritis in my hips knees and feet. I pretty much have pain from my waist down the whole time. I control it with morphine-based medication so I guess that might be an inspiration for some of the more… hallucinogenic ideas. I suppose the way it takes away the pain is entirely psychological in that I lose myself in my writing so although it doesn’t make the pain better it distracts me from it so it doesn’t seem so bad.

In a way I suppose it has influenced my writing in that most of my characters suffer pain in one way or another and all of them are flawed with either a physical or mental disability. Go figure. Never really thought about it. I suppose you write what you know.

About Cheryl Headford, a.k.a. Nephylim

Nephylim was born into a poor mining family in the South Wales valleys. Until she was 16, the toilet was at the bottom of the garden, and the bath hung on the wall. Her refrigerator was a stone slab in the pantry, and there was a black lead fireplace in the kitchen. They look lovely in a museum but aren’t so much fun to clean. 

Nephylim has always been a storyteller. As a child, she’d make up stories for her nieces, nephews and cousin, and they’d explore the imaginary worlds she created, in play. 

Later in life, Nephylim became the storyteller for a re-enactment group who travelled widely, giving a taste of life in the Iron Age. As well as having an opportunity to run around hitting people with a sword, she had an opportunity to tell stories of all kinds, sometimes of her own making, to all kinds of people. The criticism was sometimes harsh, especially from the children, but the reward enormous.

It was here she began to appreciate the power of stories and the primal need to hear them. In ancient times, the wandering bard was the only source of news, and the storyteller the heart of the village, keeping the lore and the magic alive. Although much of the magic has been lost, the stories still provide a link to the part of us that still wants to believe that it’s still there, somewhere.

In present times, Nephylim lives in a terraced house in the valleys with her son and her two cats. Her daughter has deserted her for the big city, but they’re still close. The part of her that needs to earn money is a lawyer, but the deepest, and most important part of her is a storyteller and artist, and always will be.

Visit her blog, and check out her books “Enigma I,” “Enigma II,” “The Unfairness of Life,” “Hump In the Night: Five Stories of the Paranormal” and “Wicked Watchers: Looking at the Lads.”


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