Helen Palmer

A four-part serialisation of an unbridged reading
of the Prototype publication of Palmer’s debut novel,
Pleasure Beach, as read by the author ... 

A book as mind-bending as the town itself.

Jeremy Deller


Palmer’s Pleasure Beach is a queer love story from the North West’s saucy seaside paradise, Blackpool, on one day: 16 June 1999. Written in multiple voices and styles, Pleasure Beach follows the interconnecting journeys and thoughts of three young women over the course of 24 hours and over 18 chapters which are structured and themed in the same way as James Joyce’s Ulysses.

Martin Parr,
Blackpool Pleasure Beach, 2020

Hedonist and wannabe playwright Olga Adessi, 19, is struggling along the prom to get to her morning shift at the chippy with a monstrous hangover, trying to remember exactly what happened with Rachel Watkins, 19, a strange and fragile girl she had an encounter with the night before. Former gymnast and teenage mum Treesa Reynolds, 19, is off to the Sandcastle Waterpark with her mum Lou and daughter Lulu, looking forward to a sausage and egg McMuffin on the way. Pleasure Beach breathes and exhales the unique sea air, fish and chips, donuts and candyfloss scents of Blackpool, bringing to life everything the town is famous for, portraying the gritty magic and sheer unadulterated fun of the city and its people across a spectrum of sensory experiences and emotions.  

Pleasure Beach is the alcopop-soaked, stylistically promiscuous Y2K queer seaside teenage experimental novel you never knew you needed—with its chorus of voices ranging from Jacques Lacan to the Vengaboys and an impossibly sweet central romance, it is funny, sexy, class-conscious and, as they used to say, intensely intense.

Owen Hatherley

Pleasure Beach does for neon lycra cycling shorts, Nik Naks, and acid trips what Ulysses did for lemon soap: it kaleidoscopes the everyday in a way that remakes the world by recording the bits of it that all too often slip out of view of the literary. 1999 is right before your eyes reading this novel, and Helen Palmer is Blackpool’s incomparable archivist. A social history of fun’s commodification and excess, an intellectual ride, a real queer pleasure.

H. Gareth Gavin 


 21:00 (BST)        13/06/23       (I/IV)

 Chapters I through III ...  

 21:00 (BST)        14/06/23      (III/IV)

Chapters IV through VIII ...

 22:30 (BST)        15/06/23      (III/IV)

Chapters IX through XI ...

 21:00 (BST)        16/06/23      (IV/IV)

Chapters XII through XVIII


In Pleasure Beach twenty-four hours becomes a feminist epic, a compulsive and convulsive kind of ecstasy that makes myth of Blackpool and young women. The “we” of the novel feels like a chorus—an “us”—hurtling through the same day and night as Olga, Rachel and Treesa, where time warps and extends around the momentum of falling in love. Walking a tightrope between the metaphor and the real, Palmer writes against humans as symbolic figures, collapsing together the internal and the external so that there is a kind of unreal-real rawness throughout. The intimacy of Pleasure Beach raves through the text, critiquing patriarchy and capitalism with a structure and style that upends and overturns, a tumult of fixation and energy. The novel is electrifying while redefining what the electric could be.

Prudence Bussey-Chamberlain

Strap in for a heady rollercoaster ride where stream of consciousness, littered with song lyrics, fuses and fractures into a play script and concrete poetry to create a new language. Immediate. Visceral. Anarchic. Enticing. The magical mundane spirals into sensory overload until you feel you’ve actually spent a weekend at Blackpool sea front. With echoes of Kathy Acker and Ann Quinn, Helen Palmer has the voice of a free spirited writer unafraid to speak their truth. 

Patrick Jones

There are some familiarities to be found between the structure of Pleasure Beach and two rather daunting canonical works of literature: Homer’s Odyssey (set in mythological ancient Greece) and James Joyce’s Ulysses (set in Dublin, 1904)—especially in the order and theme of the chapters. It is important to assert, however, that Pleasure Beach can be enjoyed without any knowledge of (nor reference to) these older texts at all. Nevertheless, the following explanations could be useful and/or enjoyable for readers, to give a sense of continuity within the worlds of the other two texts.

What follows below are some brief notes explaining a few of the connections and inspirations within these chapters, particularly where the content or style overlaps with something from Ulysses or the Odyssey. Pleasure Beach is its own story first and foremost, but in terms of structure, theme and myth, these figures and forms are there be found. In addition to this, I provide a brief explanation of the formulae that are listed in the schematic introduction for each chapter, and their relation to the story.

H. Palmer, MMXXIII

Chapter One

Sea is to sky as sigh is to sea.
See is to sigh as sky is to sea.

Telemachus is the son of Odysseus, the great adventurer from Homer’s Odyssey. Telemachus waits at home for his absent father to return. This is depicted in Joyce’s Ulysses as the young man Stephen Dedalus, who has left his father’s house after the death of his mother. In Chapter 1 of Pleasure Beach we meet all three main characters, beginning with Olga, who is the one who resonates the most with Telemachus. Olga’s father has also abandoned her, although we do not learn this until later in the novel, when she daydreams about her Italian papa living a stereotypical Italian life, even though she has no knowledge of Italy or Italian people to base this on apart from what she has seen on the TV: in total, the Dolmio advert and Season One of The Sopranos.

The mathematical formula for this chapter is ...
1/2 * √3s/ 2 * s = √3s2/4

        ... which calculates the perimeter of an equilateral triangle. This represents the journey of the chapter, with the three points of the triangle as the three characters Olga, Rachel and Treesa.

Chapter Two

We are all allowed to drink Vimto
on shift but nothing else.

Calypso is the witch who keeps Odysseus imprisoned on her island for seven years. In Joyce’s Ulysses, this is the episode (Episode Four) where we are introduced to the other main character, Leopold Bloom, who is making breakfast in bed and running errands for his wife, Molly, who is having an affair, which Bloom also secretly knows about. Calypso is, perhaps, reincarnated in Pleasure Beach as the customer Carlotta, who comes into the chippy at 10:36 and is served a Cinzano and lemonade by Olga. Carlotta is a benign figure with a mysterious past. The spirit of Calypso also manifests within Olga, who demonstrates within this chapter that she has the power of stopping time, psychonautical journeying and creating filmscapes and soundtracks in her head.

The chemical formula is ethanol ... 


        ... to represent the alcohol in Olga’s bloodstream.

Chapter Three

Ineluctible modality of cerebral fuckallery.
Fizzpop. In the brain.
The many in the one.
Variegated into unilinear.

Proteus is the god of the sea in Homer’s Odyssey. Like the water that he embodies, Proteus is a shapeshifter. In Ulysses the reader witnesses the troubled young intellectual Stephen striding along the beach whilst considering a huge range of questions to do with sensory perception, the nature of vision, of knowing, of experience, of life and death. This action of internal journeying through thought is precisely what we see the equally troubled young intellectual Rachel doing in Chapter Three of Pleasure Beach. Whilst Stephen is walking along the beach, Rachel is stationary, hiding out in her bedroom and trying to piece together her brain after the events of the night before. The shapeshifting is no less present, though, as she considers some of the concepts that she learned at university before she ran away. It is the concepts themselves that are shifting, and through her confused and altered mindset Rachel also considers the nature of knowing, of thinking, and of philosophical and theoretical concepts, all of which lead her straight back to her new obsession with Olga.

The chemical formulae are ...

vWF / GP1b alpha

        ... the Von Willebrand factor and the composition of platelets in the blood, denoting the process of coagulation or blood clotting.

Chapter Four

Terry / Tiresia can be seen through
the window of Cash Converters.

Hades is land of the dead in Greek mythology. Odysseus travels to Hades in order to speak to Tiresias, the blind prophet, to learn about his fate. In Ulysses the theme of death is also explicit in this episode as we observe Leopold Bloom attending the funeral of his friend Paddy Dignam. In Chapter Four of Pleasure Beach, Olga visits her friend Terry Tiresia (Cash Converters employee by day, drag queen by night) to ask her advice about what happened with Rachel. Terry shares several similar qualities with Tiresias in addition to a name. Tiresias is also a gendershifter, having been turned into a woman as a punishment and then turned back into a man again. The blindness of Tiresias manifests in Terry only as a specific kind of blue–yellow colour blindness called “tritanopia.” According to some disputed sources, in the Odyssey the colour blue is never mentioned throughout the entire text, leading to my own playful speculation that Homer also suffered from this blue-blindness.

The chemical formula here is also related to the colour blue ...


        ... or brilliant blue FCF, a synthetic blue colour.

Chapter Five

The empty top deck of the 14
with all the windows open
is not a bad place to be ...

Aeolus is the ‘keeper of the winds’ in Homer’s Odyssey, and he gives Odysseus a bag containing strong winds to help him on his way home. The “winds” are interpreted in Joyce’s Ulysses as the hot breath of journalistic communication, and Joyce’s Aeolus episode is full of newspaper headlines and the language of advertisements (Leopold Bloom’s profession). Chapter Five of Pleasure Beach mimics the format of newspaper headlines, and the subtitles are imagined headlines as Olga daydreams of stardom throughout her journey on the number 14 bus to Blackpool Sixth Form College, where she has an appointment at 2 p.m. The development of telecommunications at the end of the twentieth century, just as mobile phones and texting were being introduced to some but before the era of smartphones, is in the air here. Olga walks along the Mowbray Drive industrial estate, home to local station Radio Wave, the local paper the Evening Gazette and the digital signage manufacturer Scanlite. Olga uses her phone to text Rachel, and the pixelated winged envelope of the text message is the symbol for this chapter.

The chemical formula is 4-Cyano--pen-tylbiphenyl ... 


        ... a liquid crystal used for digital displays.

Chapter Six

All pale lilacs and greens.  

Scylla and Charybdis are two sea monsters who guard a passage of water that Odysseus must get past in the Odyssey. In the corresponding episode of Joyce’s Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus is giving a lecture at Dublin’s National Library in which he sets out his theories about Shakespeare and his play Hamlet in particular. The “monsters” he navigates are more conceptual ones, and have been interpreted by some as various oppositional forces within philosophy. In Pleasure Beach the ‘monsters’ are less scary and dangerous; they are two of Olga’s former teachers, whom she meets when she goes back to Blackpool Sixth Form College to get advice about putting her play on the stage. Stephen and Olga both desire literary recognition for their talent but do not receive it, perhaps for reasons more linked to their social background.

The ratio 3:2 sums up this chapter because it is related to Mr Thornton’s discussion of the music of the spheres, which comes from the ancient musical-mathematical theory of Pythagoras. The ratio 3:2 is the “pure” perfect fifth in Pythagorean musical theory.

Chapter Seven

Stepping through the pretend mini-waves
lapping at the shore of the pretend desert island. 

Nestor in Homer’s Odyssey is a wise old man whom Telemachus visits on the search for his father. In Joyce’s Ulysses the Nestor section is Episode Two, whereas in Pleasure Beach it comes at Chapter Seven. Stephen Dedalus is teaching during this episode and encounters the unsavoury Mr Deasy, who gives him his meagre salary. In Pleasure Beach this chapter takes place at the Sandcastle Waterpark and is the first one to take place from the perspective of Treesa. Treesa, her daughter Lulu and her mum Lou are at the Sandcastle with its assorted pools and slides. They encounter a different figure associated with Treesa’s schooldays, the secretary Mrs Wilson. Mrs Wilson is a much more kindly and sympathetic figure than Stephen’s Mr Deasy, and we learn how Mrs Wilson had supported Treesa when she discovered she was pregnant while still at school.

The chapter is entirely set within and amongst the pools and slides of Sandcastle Waterpark and is flavoured by the chemicals HOCI, HCIO, which form hypochlorous acid, the acid that forms chlorine when added to water.

Chapter Eight 

I have studied the continualism of alcohonuum.
I know the which in ways we bend and fall,
the lyrico-anarco-cynico swoonstakes.
Know that I understand, stand under,
I who knows, who knows.

Lestrygonians are the cannibalistic giants who appear in Book Ten of Homer’s Odyssey. The theme of eating and consumption is at the centre of the Lestrygonians episode in Joyce’s Ulysses, where it is lunchtime and Leopold Bloom goes to Davy Byrne’s pub for a cheese sandwich and a glass of red wine. Consumption in various forms also frames this chapter in Pleasure Beach—not just of food but also alcohol, drugs and music. Rachel discusses her bulimic episodes, Olga gets doughnuts from the pier, and later Rachel recalls her experience in the two different rooms of the Heaven & Hell nightclub, fuelled by two different substances that she consumes and the associated music: alcohol in Heaven, where they play pop and R&B, and ecstasy in Hell, where they play hard trance and techno.

The chemical substance in this chapter is ...
12α-trihydroxycholan24oic acid

        ... which is cholic acid, a primary bile acid found in the stomach.

Chapter Nine

To enter Alice’s Wonderland you have to be eaten.
You and your entire world have to disappear
through the Cheshire Cat’s mouth.

Lotus-Eaters in Homer’s Odyssey are a race of people found on an island by Odysseus and his crew. The crew spend their days eating lotus flowers, which clearly produce a kind of soporific or psychoactive effect because Odysseus’ men lose the desire to go home or even to move at all. Conversely, this episode in Joyce’s Ulysses charts Leopold Bloom as he is constantly on the move: running errands, visiting a church, putting money on a horse. Conversely again, Pleasure Beach returns to experiences of intoxication and psychedelia as we go on a journey through the Alice’s Wonderland fairground ride and witness fragments of Rachel and Olga’s conversations from the early hours of the morning.

The chemical compound flavouring this chapter is ...


        ... lysergic acid diethylamide, or LSD.

Chapter Ten

Sea. Ice. Limestone. Shale. Triassic rocks. Desert. Islands of sand. Mosses and meres. Mudstones. Siltstones. Sandstones. Till. Peat. Forest. Bog and swamp, oak and yew. Fylde is to field as to level green plain. Tween Ribble and Wyre. Estuary. Dunes. The Poulton Elk. Spearheads of flint. Forests now submerged. Charcoal. Salt lines. Metals and pottery. Sheep, chickens, cattle. The Thornton Wolf. Bronze axes. Druids’ eggs. Blue woad-painted bodies. Houses of reed and log. Grain crops.

Wandering Rocks are a group of rocks in the sea featured in Homer’s Odyssey, through which it was notoriously difficult to cross safely, just as with the monsters Scylla and Charybdis. In this chapter in Ulysses there are eighteen complex and interweaving subsections matching the eighteen chapters of the novel overall, introducing multiple micronarratives and fragmentary characters. To a certain degree this also takes place in Pleasure Beach, although there are not exactly eighteen sections. The sections dated 16 June 1999 are interspersed with paragraphs of notes depicting the history of the North West of England, from prehistoric times up to the end of the twentieth century. The chapter becomes more fragmented towards the end, with miscellaneous sections giving a variety of perspectives and voices to the town.

The formula is ...

C3S (Ca3SiO5)

        ... which is the formula for cement, from which concrete forms the town as it is perceived in modern times.

Chapter Eleven 


Sirens in Greek mythology are bird-women whose hypnotic voices could lure sailors off their course and to their death. In Homer’s Odyssey, Odysseus manages to escape the Sirens by tying himself to the mast of his ship so he cannot react to their song, and by plugging all the ears of his crew with wax. In Joyce’s Ulysses the entire Sirens episode performs and enacts not just music but sound in general, stretching and bending the language so that the sound leads the movement of the narrative, rather than plot, character or action. In the Sirens chapter of Pleasure Beach we also see Rachel considering both music and sound, es- pecially the sound of words, but she also considers timbre and her own continually frustrated attempts to perceive synaesthetically (a phenomenon whereby stimulation of one sense causes a certain perception in another, for example sound and colour). Rachel does not have synaesthesia, but Olga, it appears from some clues in Chapter Seven when she is listening to John Coltrane, may well do. The equation for this chapter is vw =which expresses the relationship between the speed of sound, its frequency and its wavelength.

Chapter Twelve

Whythefuck have we ended up here.

Cyclops or Polyphemos is a giant who eats some of Odysseus’ men and who is then blinded as punishment. In Joyce’s Ulysses the Cyclops is reincarnated as the Citizen, a bigoted man whom Bloom encounters in the pub who insults him with antisemitic slurs. In Pleasure Beach, Olga also faces an adversary, in the figure of her arch enemy Nikki Rawlings, who has had it in for her since schooldays. It is not clear why Nikki hates Olga so much, but it is suggested that it is something to do with the fact that Olga is a bit different, with her multi-national parentage (her mum is Polish and her absent dad is Italian) and her obsession with reading Shakespeare on the school bus. Olga might also have mocked Nikki’s eyes at some point during school (the blindness of the Cyclops is translated into nystagmus, the condition that Nikki suffers from, which manifests in involuntary shaking of the eyes). Olga could very possibly also have had sex with one of Nikki’s many boyfriends when they were both still at school, although this is not directly referred to in the novel. The chapter splinters into many different fragments of text, just as the glass of Nikki’s drink shatters into shards when it hits the floor after she has thrown her vodka and Coke in Olga’s face.

The formula is ...


        ... phosphoric acid, which is the acid contained in Coca-Cola.

Chapter Thirteen

My mum would disown me for what I now desire
but my granddad would understand.

Nausicaa is a young nymph in Homer’s Odyssey who encounters a naked Odysseus and helps him to find his way home via her mother, Arete, and her father, Alcinous, to whom he recounts the story of his adventures so far. In Ulysses this episode introduces the character of young Gerty MacDowell, who sits on the beach and daydreams sentimentally about romance whilst simultaneously being aware of Bloom watching her from afar and masturbating. In this chapter in Pleasure Beach, Olga and Rachel are both recounting some fragments of their meeting earlier that day, while Treesa also recounts observing Olga and Rachel on the beach, getting closer and eventually kissing, and she notices momentarily and with surprise that this sight turns her on.

The mathematical formula for this chapter is ...

A = √3/4 (a2)

        ... which calculates the area of an equilateral triangle. Rather than the distance between the three points of the characters as in Chapter One’s perimeter formula, this chapter focuses on the area of the triangle: the space between the three characters as they are now all together.

Chapter Fourteen

The three of us are sitting round a small brown table ...

Ithaca is the homeland of Odysseus, which he finally reaches in the final books of the Odyssey. In Joyce’s Ulysses, Bloom and Dedalus are walking together towards Bloom’s home, where Bloom will offer Dedalus, who is drunk, a bed for the night. This episode is written in the style of a catechism or interrogation, entirely in the format of questions and answers, sometimes to the point of a deliberately absurd or annoying compulsiveness. The Q&A format is also present in this chapter of Pleasure Beach, the difference being that towards the end Olga begins to respond to the questions a bit, showing some reluctance and even resentment towards the questions posed by the nonspecific questioner.

The mathematical formulae for this chapter are ...

x(t) = (2+cos(3t))cos(2t);
= (2+cos(3t))sin(2t);
= −sin(3t) for t∈[−π,π]

        ... formulae used to calculate the figure of the trefoil knot depicted at the end of the chapter and expressing the interrelations between Olga, Rachel and Treesa.

Chapter Fifteen

Mother of the vibratory field,
All-nourisher, all-giver, all-destroyer
Blessings to you
So mote it be.

The Oxen of the Sun in Homer’s Odyssey are sacred animals on the island of Thrinacia, symbols of fertility that Odysseus and his crew are instructed by the gods not to harm. In Joyce’s Ulysses the episode takes place in the maternity ward of a hospital while a friend of Bloom’s gives birth, and Joyce parodies the “gestation” of the English language in thirty-two chapters in chronological order of the developing English language. In Pleasure Beach a similar journey is undertaken, with one significant difference: the voices inhabited in this chapter of Pleasure Beach are female, whereas all the voices of Joyce’s chapter are male. The “journey” taken is understood here literally as the journey taken by the tram that runs along Blackpool Promenade, from Starr Gate in Blackpool’s South Shore up the coast to Fleetwood Ferry.

The mathematical formula for this chapter is ...

Ax2 + Bxy + Cy2 + Dx + Ey + F =
Ax2 + Bxy + Cy2 + Dx + Ey + F = 0

        ... which is a formula for calculating conic sections.
        This is a reference the ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher Hypatia, who was famous for developing these geometrical theorems and discusses them in this chapter with the aid of an ice cream cone.

Chapter Sixteen

The boys are at the cash machine ...

Circe is an enchantress in Homer’s Odyssey who puts Odysseus under a spell so that he is trapped on her island, and who then turns his men into pigs. In Ulysses the episode takes place in the red-light district of Dublin, where Bloom and the drunken Stephen are wandering. The narrative in this very long section goes through many different voices, characters, fantasies and transformations, sexual and oth- erwise. In Pleasure Beach this chapter recalls several scenes from the early hours of the morning, which are some of the hours that Olga and Rachel have been trying to remember. We witness Olga and Rachel playing Torture (a card game) with two boys they have met; we see them having a kind of telepathic conversation through their eyes while tripping; we watch them entering fantasy worlds together. Reality is the thing being transformed, as we are led to the point where Olga abandons Rachel and thus the reason for her shame at the beginning of the novel. The formula for this chapter is ...

E = PF/R

        ... a simple calculation for a sorceress:

energy / effect of the spell = (power used × focus) divided by resistance.

Chapter Seventeen

Ground zero:
after the descent / before the ascent.

Eumaeus is a swineherd in Homer’s Odyssey who has re- mained faithful to Odysseus while he was away and when others were attacking his home. He is the first person whom Odysseus visits when he arrives back in Ithaca. In Ulysses we watch while the drunken Stephen is taken by Bloom to a cabman’s shelter for a coffee and a bun, where they encounter an old sailor and his stories. In Pleasure Beach, this chapter recalls more scenes from the blurry early hours of the morning and also from the night before, such as the moment when Olga sees Rachel for the first time, and later when Rachel and Olga kiss for the first time. The chemical formula is ...

H2O (s) H2O (l)

... the simplest way of showing the process of ice melting into water.

Chapter Eighteen

Stately, plump Olga Adessi came from the stairhead,
bearing a mirror on which four lines of unidentifiable
white powder and a rolled-up tenner lay carelessly crossed.

Penelope is the wife of Odysseus, who suffers and waits for him at home while he is away on his epic voyage and while many suitors are invading her home. In this final episode of Joyce’s Ulysses we hear the voice of Bloom’s wife, Molly, in the form of a long, unpunctuated stream of consciousness, flitting between memory and the present. In the final chapter of Pleasure Beach, the voices are multiple and sometimes intertwined, and we switch between the voices of Olga, Rachel, Treesa and various combinations of these, as the narrative considers the multiple, potential, unsettled futures of each character beyond the constraints of the twenty-four hours of the novel.

The formula is ...

t = to/(1v2/c2)1/2

        ... a formula for calculating time dilation.


Pleasure Beach (Cochlearical) was produced by Dominic J. Jaeckle and Milo Thesiger-Meacham for broadcast on Resonance Extra, and recorded on location in Resonance’s Bermondsey chapel studios, London, accross four days in late April, 2023. 

Palmer’s reading is accompanied
by found and borrowed sounds, 
and a musical accompaniment from
Benedict Drew (℅ Thanet Tape Centre),
pooled together by Jaeckle.

Helen Palmer is a writer from Blackpool. She is the author of Deleuze and Futurism: A Manifesto for Nonsense (London: Bloomsbury, 2014) and Queer Defamiliarisation: Writing, Mattering, Making Strange (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press). She is a 2023 Interdisciplinary Resident at the Oak Spring Garden Foundation, Virginia, USA. Palmer currently lives in Vienna. Pleasure Beach is her first novel.

Tenement Press
& Prototype Publishing 
for Resonance Extra