Two nights ago, while walking my dog, Scout, late at night, I heard a tawny owl. You might not think that's very noteworthy – but I live in Streatham, only five miles south of the financial district, in a built-up (and pretty run-down) area of London.
What makes it all the more extraordinary is that nearly three years ago, when I started writing Clay, I imagined what it would be like if there were tawnies living nearby – somewhere tangled and abandoned, somewhere like Palace Road Nature Garden. What if there were owls in the city, in grimy old Lambeth, and nobody knew? The possibility went on to become a central tenet of the novel.
When I heard the distinctive 'kyyick... kyyick' call I stopped dead in the darkened street. So did Scout, her body tensed, her ears forward. It came again, and I could pinpoint their direction. On the other side of the houses I was walking past, I realised, was the Nature Garden. They were right where I'd pictured them all along.