Hostage Blog Tour—An Interview With Cheryl Headford & Giveaway
When I heard that Cheryl had rewritten Hostage and it was being published by Harmony Ink, I was doing a great big happy dance. If you’ve never read any of her books, you really should. I’ve been a fan since I read the original Hostage on the Gay Author’s website. (That version is long gone.) But I was thrilled to be able to host Cheryl for the start of her blog tour.
An Interview with Cheryl Headford
Welcome back Cheryl! Since it’s has been a while since you’ve been here, remind people about who you are and what your write.
I’m a seriously crazy vampire goddess, doing her best to bring up her disabled son on her own while subjected to the pitiless rule of three cats and a dopey dog.
I’m also a writer of gay books. My alter ego Nephy Hart writes books for grown ups while I write for not quite grown ups.
We first met on the Gay Authors website. How has GA affected your writing career?
GA is directly responsible for my writing career. Without GA and the wonderful people I met there, including you, I would never have had the confidence to submit a work for publication. Therefore everything that’s happened since GA was your fault.
I’ve read most of your books, before we talk Hostage, tell us about some of your other works.
Where do I start? Everyone knows my favourite is Enigma, because I’m so totally in love with the MC Silver. Unfortunately that one’s down at the moment for polishing although it will be back on sale with a brand new cover very soon.
After Enigma, though, I think my favourites are The Runaway, which is a Nephylim adult book, The Face in the Window, which is my Young Adult, and Ari which is my most recent release, which is NA.
The three books couldn’t be more different.
The Runaway is about a young man called Jack, who is living with his aunt in a cabin by the wood recovering from a car accident in which he lost his memory and his parents. He meets the enigmatic Cierrai on the banks of the lake. Cierrai confuses Jack. He’s so androgynous that Jack has trouble remembering he’s a man sometimes. That’s why he’s so attracted to him, especially when he’s wearing those suspenders and that little leather skirt.
As they grow closer Jack’s memories return and he realized it’s not Ciarrai’s feminine side that attracts him and they embark on a passionate affair. But Ciarria’s hiding a secret and when his past catches up with him Jack has to fight through an overwhelming sense of betrayal to find Ciarrai and hold on to him.
The Face in the Window is a YA about a young man called Haze who is struggling with a terrible thing that happened in his past. He thinks he’s put it all behind him, but then he meets Ace, a stunning blind, albino boy whose family vary from over protective to downright abusive.
As they grow closer and Haze comes to realize what a truly remarkable boy Ace really is, the abuse he suffers at the hands of his brother enrages Haze and brings the irrational, uncontrollable rage he experienced after the trauma of his past to the surface and when he accidentally hurts Ace he runs away from everything.
Fortunately, he can’t run away from Ace, who might be blind but is certainly not stupid or un–resourceful. With Ace at his side, Haze faces up to what happening in the past and is able to move on with a better insight and a beautiful new boyfriend to remind him every day of how precious life is and how much someone can achieve be with the right person at his side
As for Ari, I’ll speak more about him later.
Some of your work is YA/NA, other stories are very much adult. How do you keep the voices of the characters age appropriate?
That’s why I have two personas. Nephy Hart lets it all out and her characters do whatever the hell they want.
Cheryl has to rein hers in a lot more. As any parent will know, teenagers are horny little bastards. All they think about is sex and I have to keep diverting them. Having a fourteen year old son doesn’t really help because he wants sex as much as the characters do. He tells everyone I write gay porn and wants all the gory details. Even when my characters stop he fills in the details to the point I have to hit him with a cushion to shut him up.
He is useful with ‘voice’ though. He corrects dialogue with, ‘no way would a kid say that’, or ‘Mam, that’s really lame’, and gives me his unique perspective – when he can be arsed.
One of your most recent releases – Ari – has a transgendered main character. Talk about that character and the book itself.
Ari is NA. It begins at a writers meet where two young men, Ari and Benji meet and experience an immediate attraction. All is not quite as it seems though. Although Benji makes no secret of the fact he’s transgender, Ari is not quite as forthcoming about the fact he’s intersex.
Right from the start, they experience bumps in the road, and they only get worse when they go home.
Benji meets Ari’s family, two strong and determined pagan women and is introduced to Ari’s wonderfully supportive home environment, being included in their celebration at the tiny stone circle and experiencing the beginnings of the healing that repairs his own family relationships.
When Ari is seriously injured in an accident that might not have been an accident, Benji rushes to his side and both families struggle with the possibility of a future without Ari, or with an Ari so changed he might as well be a different person.
The story is about labels, about two young men fighting to be recognized as who and what they are, and about a love that can transcend everything and keep you going even when the odds seem hopeless
Let’s talk Hostage. What is this about?
Hostage is about two princes who go on a grand adventure. At the beginning Astrin Raphael is the hostage of House Gabriel, at a time when the two Houses of Raphael and Gabriel have been at war for almost 20 years. His freedom is the price of peace.
Rowan Gabriel hates him for the death of his parents in a Raphael raid fifteen years ago. The hatred makes him treat Astrin very badly to begin with.
When Astrin’s father and Rowan’s uncle are kidnapped they work together on a reckless, insane adventure into the heart of enemy territory to rescue them. Along the way Rowan’s hatred gives way to an altogether different feeling that it takes him some time to recognize. It takes Astrin a lot longer and by the time he realizes how he feels for Rowan it’s almost too late.
I love that the “Great Houses” are all named after archangels even though this is not set on Earth. Where did you get the inspiration for this story?
I have absolutely no idea! I set out wanting to write something a bit different. It was to be an adventure for teenagers, and that’s all I knew. The spark of inspiration came from a dream, pretty much the same one Rowan was plagued with, although it was nothing like as traumatic for me. It was vivid though. The editor commented that the description was a little too clear; too graphic, but I wrote what I saw, and fortunately she kept it in as it was.
Is the setting somewhere other than Earth? Maybe. It could also be Earth sometime in the future. It was definitely grounded very much in Earthlike landscapes and peoples. In some ways the things the boys get up to are very ordinary; camping out in the back of a car, riding a crowded, dirty train, getting drunk in a dive and staggering back to the pub where they’re staying and waking the landlady.
The descriptions of scenery and settings are all based on photographs or personal knowledge of real places, so I don’t know. Maybe it was Earth, maybe just somewhere which evolved a little different. Angels get everywhere, you know.
Introduce us to your main characters, Rowan and Astrin.
Rowan and Astrin are crown princes of Houses Gabriel and Raphael, two of the four ruling Houses of the world in which the story is set. House Gabriel is in the north and House Raphael in the West. The other two Houses are House Michael in the South and House Uriel in the East.
Rowan is nineteen years old. He’s tall, dark and brooding with an impulsive streak and a fiery temper and an inability to let go of anger. He hates Astrin for the death of his parents in a House Raphael raid gone wrong, even though Astrin was a baby at the time.
Astrin is seventeen and couldn’t be more different. He’s slender and fair with pale blonde hair and green eyes. He seems fragile but most certainly isn’t and proves to be by far the most resourceful of the two on their journey. He’s stable, level headed and worldly wise, and he gets them out of trouble over and over again.
I read the original version (and this one too now). What’s different about this version?
It’s much better edited and has been made safer for younger audiences (ie I’ve nixed the sex) It was probably more interesting before, but it’s much smoother and cleaner (in many senses of the word) now.
Will there be more adventures in this world and/or with these characters?
Nope. I very rarely write sequels and this story is complete. I have too many other things going on to come back to this one. Although, I have learned never to say never.
Tell us something interesting that is not in the blurb?
Astrin and Rowan can communicate telepathically. Rowan’s mind looks like a blazing sun while Astrin’s is a spun silver web dusted with diamond–like stars.
Also, a journey across the desert on a camel does not end well for Astrin.
Since there is always another story to tell, what are you working on now?
As usual, I’m working on a few at the same time. I’ve just finished the first of a two–parter about a boy who starts off with no memories of his life before age ten, when he ran away and ended up on the streets. Now aged seventeen and finally in a settled foster home he is struggling to come to terms with horrendous panic attacks which stem from what happened to him during the period of time he doesn’t remember.
He meets another young man with a dark past and become more and more drawn to each other. When his memories finally return the true horror of what he witnessed so many years ago hits him like a sledgehammer and has rebounding effects on everyone around him
I’ve started on the second book where the two boys fight social services and the law to go back to the place where the events took place and confront a murderer who sees them as loose ends.
At the same time I’m working on a story about a man who has a severe speech impediment and a father who considers him to be essentially worthless. Unable to speak, the only way he can manage his frustration and desperation is by visiting a BDSM club where he actively craves pain and humiliation.
Enter the new bouncer, who also happens to be a new employee at Daddy’s firm and we get an interesting pairing indeed. I’ve only just started and already sparks are flying all over the place.
I’m also well into a story about shifters that is taking some strange twists and turns. A rat who turns out to be an angel, a snake who’s actually a flying serpent and a dragon who may have been responsible for the extinction of the dinosaurs and knows a dark secret about Saint George and a whole family of vampires including Dracula and Elizabeth Bathory.
I have a new YA book out with Wayward Ink soon which has one of the most adorable characters I’ve ever written. Watch out for Dory!!
If you could meet any writer, alive or dead, who would it be and why?
Terry Pratchett. He had the most amazing mind. The Discworld books are absolute treasures, with so many layers you could read the same book ten times and find new things. The breadth of his knowledge and wisdom is truly astonishing, from quantum physics, to herbalism and witchcraft, to literature and the true nature of stories.
I would love to sit down with him over a pint and talk about Granny Weatherwax, wizards, elves and orangutans.
Besides reading and writing, what else do you enjoy?
Is there anything besides reading and writing? I like playing computer games and watching films. I don’t paint as often as I used to and probably should. At the moment. I’m obsessed with hidden object and puzzle games.
Over the summer I was reminded how much I enjoy visiting museums and taking boat trips on rivers. I think we might be doing a lot more of that.
The last question is all yours. Tell the readers anything you like about you, your works, things you like. Anything at all.
This is the most difficult question of all. How do I write anything at all? I’m a total procrastinator and can’t make a decision to save my life. What to say? What to say?
Okay, maybe I’ll talk about something that’s important to me. I write quite a bit about disabilities that aren’t immediately obvious, and in many ways these are the most difficult disabilities to have.
My son is autistic. He’s high functioning and very intelligent but his autism and its accompanying depression and anxiety are disabilities nevertheless.
My son is ‘strange’. He’s ‘different’. Many people might see him as rude, or cold, or antagonistic, but it’s just his way. He’ll always tell the literal truth, and has difficulties in distinguishing when this is appropriate and when it isn’t. He can’t bear it when people are wrong and is compelled to point out their errors no matter what, even when they’re strangers. He’ll get up and walk away from a conversation, or take out his tablet in the middle of dinner, but it’s not because he’s being rude, it’s because he can’t handle the stimuli and needs to shut it out for a while.
My sweet, gentle son can’t handle aggression or violence of any kind. Arguments confuse and upset him, and raised voices send him into almost a fugue state of panic. He finds it very difficult to cope with the world, although he’s getting better as he gets older.
People like my son are invisible. They’re the people who take forever getting things absolutely right. They’re the ones who hold up the queue because they’re challenging the cashier with something that is objectively totally unimportant. They’re the ones who mumble to themselves in the street and count the paving stones, because that helps them focus on something to stop the overwhelming rush of stimli from the number of people and level of noise.
The moral of this tale is that we all make assumptions, and sometimes we don’t have all the information to make correct ones. The next time you see a child acting out, they might not be naughty, they might be autistic. The next time you see a teenager at the dinner table ignoring everyone to play a video game, they might not be rude, they might just need to shut it all out for a while. The next time you’re talking to someone and they laugh at inappropriate moments, or just walk away in the middle of an argument, they might not be rude or stupid or any of the other negative stereotyping we apply, they might just need space.
Treat everyone with respect even if you don’t understand why they do the things they do. It might be because they’re struggling just to live in the world we take for granted. Also be aware that many people, especially autistic people don’t like to be touched or directly challenged, and they can’t make decisions easily.
Okay I’ll shut up now, before you really regret you asked that question.
Thank you for having me on your blog. All the best with your new release, which is out soon right?
Thanks so much, Cheryl for being my guest today!
Author: Cheryl Headford
Publisher: Harmony Ink Press
Cover Artist: Garrett Leigh
Length: 328 Pages
Release Date: September 17, 2015
Blurb: Astrin Raphael wakes up in a strange place, frightened and confused. He is told to trust someone who seems to hate him, and he tries—he really tries. However, things change rapidly when he discovers his friend is actually his archenemy, Rowan Gabriel, whose abusive behavior stems from a deeply ingrained, if unwarranted, hatred over something that happened many years before, and simply wasn’t Astrin’s fault.
When Rowan’s uncle and Astrin’s father are kidnapped by Strebo Michael, the two crown princes are catapulted into an adventure that forces them to work together, and along the way their feelings for each other grow. Rowan is quick to let his hate go, but Astrin can’t release his inhibitions. It takes Astrin almost dying from a poisoned dagger before he finally accepts Rowan’s love.
When they return home, their problems continue as their Houses try to negotiate a way for the young men to be together. It soon becomes clear at least one of them will need to relinquish his throne.
ROWAN WASN’T smiling. He was simmering gently and muttering to himself under his breath. He’d understood and fully appreciated everything his uncle said to him, but it changed nothing. He hated Astrin Raphael, hated him with a vengeance—vengeance for his parents, to be exact. When Astrin’s father had given the order to attack the armored convoy carrying Rowan’s parents back to the capital, he had shattered Rowan’s world. At four years old, the young prince had hardly known his parents, but he could remember the soft touch of his mother’s lips on his hair, the strong arms of his father cradling him and making him feel safer than he ever had since.
That was all gone now, wiped out in one round of intensive fire and a couple of old-fashioned rocket grenades. Gritting his teeth, Rowan pressed his thumb against a panel that checked his DNA. As Crown Prince, there was no security level for which he was not cleared, and almost instantly the panel changed from red to green, letting out a soft hiss as the seal around the door released.
Quite apart from his feelings for Astrin, Rowan hated coming to the infirmary wing. It was thankfully small, as it catered only for those who lived and worked in the Palace Complex. The door opened into a central lobby from which other doors led in three different directions. One led to the administrative center, another to the main body of the hospital, which was more often accessed through the main entrance at the other side of the building, and the third to the private royal apartment. This was used and accessed only by members of the royal family, their personal physicians, and retainers.
As usual a senior administrator sat behind the desk, working before a bank of computers. Because of the unusual circumstances, soldiers stood on either side of the door into the royal suite. They were elite bodyguards, eternally alert and ready to act in a heartbeat should the need arise.
Nodding to the soldiers but ignoring the administrator, Rowan again pressed his thumb against a panel and was admitted to a dimly lit corridor.
At the end of the corridor was an administration chamber similar to the one he’d just left. This was manned predominantly by nurses, as it dealt with only a fraction of the information handled by the mainframe.
Today there were three nurses at the station. One was working hard on a keyboard in front of the monitor screens, apparently updating paperwork.
The other two nurses were lounging. They snapped to attention as Rowan entered. He ignored them.
Crossing the floor, he activated another thumb pad and pushed the door open when it hissed.
His first thoughts when he passed through the door were of utter contempt and disgust. If he hadn’t retained some sense of honor and decency, he would have spat on the sleeping prince. Fortunately, despite his complaints to his uncle, he realized it was necessary to treat the other prince with a degree of respect. It was vital the negotiations with his father were a success. Rowan therefore swallowed his feelings and went to work.
The boy was unconscious and completely helpless. As a Class One Prisoner, it was too dangerous to allow him any kind of freedom, even the freedom of consciousness.
For normal Class One Prisoners the overcrowded prisons had, over the years, developed containment chambers. Here, many men and women could be economically housed in pods, kept in a comatose state for however long their sentence might be, constantly played audio messages designed to precipitate rehabilitation. They were roused from their coma only during the last months of their sentence, when they had regular consultations with clinical therapists who assessed whether their minds had developed sufficient conscience to allow them to be released back into society.
Some prisoners had committed crimes so severe it was unlikely they would ever be roused. Their pods occupied a room all of their own, which was entered only to install a new pod or to remove that of a prisoner who had died.
However, no one was going to put Astrin, Crown Prince of House Raphael and The Western Kingdoms, in a stasis pod. Although he was a prisoner, he was still a member of the royal family of a major ruling House, and therefore deserving of special treatment.
Instead of a pod, he was reclining on a state-of-the-art bed, his head and shoulders propped up on white pillows. Although it was not possible to see from casual examination, his body was suspended from the shoulders down within an electrically generated field. No part of it was touching either the bed or the covering sheets, thereby preventing bed sores. In addition the field provided constant deep stimulation to his muscles, preventing atrophy and circulation issues.
Tubes inserted into the veins in his arms fed him a regular mixture of drugs, which maintained his perpetual coma, and another tube inserted into his stomach through his abdomen was used to feed him daily with a concentrated, thick liquid that contained all the nutrients needed to keep him alive.
It was Rowan’s duty to feed the sleeping prince, then disengage the force field and wash his body, making sure he stayed clean and there was no infection or irritation of the skin. Rowan hated it. He hated Astrin, and touching him repulsed him. Also the mixture of sedative drugs and the soupy liquid diet produced an absolutely foul waste that made him ponder at times whether it was deliberately engineered by his uncle as a rather basic lesson in humility.
It never occurred to Rowan that, if he found the whole thing demeaning and sickening, had Astrin been conscious enough to be aware of what was happening to his body, he would, no doubt, have found it even more so.
Cheryl Headford was born into a poor mining family in the South Wales Valleys. Until she was sixteen, 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.
Cheryl 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, Cheryl became the storyteller for a reenactment group who traveled 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 there 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 wants to believe that it’s still there, somewhere.
In present times, Cheryl lives in a terraced house in the Valleys with her son, dog, hamster, and two cats. Her daughter has deserted her for the big city, but they’re still close. She’s never been happier since she was made redundant and is able to devote herself entirely to her twin loves of writing and art.
Winner’s Prize: Signed Paperback of Hostage.
Runners Up Prize: 2 E-copies of Hostage.