In Mind’s Eye, I had the name of the main character from the first. (Names have a talismanic importance - they must strike the right chord in the memory.) Alfie Flowers: a sturdy London name. I knew that Alfie lived in London, and I knew a good deal of his family’s history, and knew that he suffered from an atypical form of epilepsy - it’s a necessary part of the story - and that this made him cautious, made him look at the world at a slant in case it surprised him in the wrong way. After a false start involving trading old Airfix kits on eBay, I knew what he did for a living too: he was a street photographer, following in the footsteps of his missing father, a 1960s hip fashion photographer turned war documentarist.
It took a little while longer to find out where he lived. I find that walking helps to loosen knotted thoughts and joggle ideas together; I walk a lot, when I’m writing the first draft of a novel. On my way back from a long ramble one day, about a hundred yards from my home, I realized that I standing across the street from where Alfie Flowers lived: a narrow plot of land beside the North London railway, with a small, old bus garage and a couple of caravans. He lived in one of those caravans, and had his darkroom in the other. In summer, he ate his meals outside, at a picnic table. And so on.
But I didn’t see him clearly until he was returning home on a crowded train:
Alfie slumped in his corner, a large, somewhat shapeless man, like a bear that hadn’t been properly licked into shape by its mother, his blond hair a disarrayed halo, wearing a red check shirt and baggy black elephant cords, his bag clutched to his belly, his big feet in strap sandals. He had prehensile toes, long and double-jointed, thatched at their second joints with pads of dark hair.
At last, I was on the inside.