When I was thirteen years old, I used to get tonsillitis on a regular basis – really badly sometimes. I remember one occasion in particular. I was off school, in bed with a raging sore throat and a high temperature, alternating between fits of shivering and feeling as though I were burning up. I fell asleep in the middle of the morning and woke several hours later to find the room filled with unearthly music that seemed to be coming from somewhere outside the house.
Struggling out of bed, I staggered weakly over to the window and drew back the curtain. I will never forget what I saw. The sky was full of golden clouds and, as I watched, they slowly parted while the music swelled climactically, as though some enormous celestial organ were being played. A great gap was revealed in the sky and in that gap I could see cogs turning, wheels revolving and pistons moving back and forth. I realised that I was being granted a vision of the machinery of the universe.
Okay, so I was hallucinating. But that hallucination was one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring sights I have ever witnessed and it has remained with me for the rest of my life. It’s the reason I have chosen to write fantasy. Of course, I know the universe doesn’t really have the inner workings of a giant alarm clock. But imaginary representations of the forces that determine our world can be tremendously profound. They can hint at truths we cannot easily explain, except through symbols, imagery, allegory and myth.
I think I’ve always, instinctively known this. That’s why, when I recovered from tonsillitis, I didn’t dismiss that vision as the product of a fevered brain. I tucked it away in my memory and returned to it frequently, to remind myself of what I'd seen. And I made a promise that one day I would find a way of generating such visions that did not require a raging temperature.
Of course, this is why people take mind-altering drugs. They want to be able to inhabit the state in which such visions are available on a regular basis. However, I’m pleased to say I’ve found a way that is more reliable than tonsillitis and much less damaging than psychedelic drugs. It’s called fiction.