Guest blog: Stephen Palmer on the writing of Hallucinating

Hallucinating by Stephen PalmerI had enormous fun writing Hallucinating.

The novel began as a free festival inspired short story that I wrote in the mid 1990s, taking all my musical loves—Shpongle, Ozric Tentacles, Tangerine Dream, Hawkwind and so many more—and weaving them into an idiosyncratic tale… a very idiosyncratic tale of musical invasion and psychedelic mystery. Although I loved, and still love, the festival/alternative/underground scene, there was an element of the scene that I felt an irresistible urge to satirise, notably the occasionally obsessive belief in UFOs et al that so many alternative folk succumb to. And so a tale of real/unreal alien invasion was born, with real/unreal situations and characters who inhabited this underground world…

The story was “published” only on my website. After a while I began to wonder what happened next, following the alien invasion and the remixing of the western world’s economy. I was living in the Westcountry at the time, and, inspired by the beautiful local scenery and by artists such as Nigel Shaw and Carolyn Hillyer who lived on Dartmoor, I wrote the next part of the tale, that in the novel became Part 2, Return Of A Tune. By this time, the turn of the millennium, Sean Wallace of Cosmos Books and Prime Books had asked me when I was going to complete the tale, which he loved and was interested in publishing. My initial response was that I wouldn’t complete it—I felt the tale was too idiosyncratic. It was not aimed at my SF readers, rather at all my underground and free festival friends. But eventually the lure of the story got to me, I planned and prepared the rest of the tale and soon began writing it.

Hallucinating plays with ideas of reality and illusion. One of the ways I wanted to do this was to include cameo appearances by real underground musicians, and so I contacted as many as I could, asking them if they would allow me to use them in the novel. All but one answered: all positive replies. I was delighted. And so Ed Wynne, Simon Posford, Steven Wilson and all the rest appeared in the book. Some of these musicians took it really seriously! Phil Thornton for instance told me what synths he’d be using for his imaginary gig, while Simon Posford insisted on having purple hair. And there were many in-jokes about Tangerine Dream, Hawkwind, Ozric Tentacles and all my other favourites. Yes, I had enormous fun writing the novel.

The ultimate game was to have myself appear, and so I did, though that decision was condemned by one reviewer, who thought it too self-indulgent: “The narrative voice is quite obviously pitched at festival folk, and the cameos from (now octogenerian) members of bands like Ozric Tentacles and Shpongle are intended to please quite a specific crowd. This I don’t have a problem with, but I did feel that the cameos were a bit indulgent — too much so when one electronic artiste by the name of Steve Palmer puts in an appearance … Shame, sir, shame.” But for a novel that was written about the musical world that I love and am part of, and which deliberately mixed fantasy and reality, I felt my appearance was appropriate.

I was particularly pleased that so many of the in-jokes were appreciated by my readers. As one reviewer pointed out, Hallucinating is the novel in which my rather silly, surreal sense of humour is most obvious. Other reviewers found the tale baffling: “Nulight is the colorful character. But the idealism vs. pragmatism makes Kappa a more complex and in some ways more interesting character” (Aural Innovations). Others liked it: “It is important to remember the title of this book. As none of the characters spend much time actually hallucinating (apart from a few mushrooms), it calls into question the reality of what is being told. What, if anything, is real, and if it isn’t real, then who’s hallucination is it?” (Vector).

I did have plans to write a sequel, bringing in the American hippy scene, but never found the motivation to begin it. Hallucinating stands on its own I think, with its suitably ambiguous ending…

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About Keith Brooke and infinity plus

Keith Brooke is a writer of science fiction, fantasy and other strange stuff, and editor and reviewer of same. He is also the publisher at infinity plus, an independent imprint publishing books by leading genre fiction authors. View all posts by Keith Brooke and infinity plus

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