I was walking my yellow Labrador, Alfie, one afternoon not long ago, near where I lived in Barnes, South West London. Alfie loves water, and we still go along the towpath that runs along the River Thames from Barnes to Putney so that he can swim after sticks. That particular day I took a new route to the towpath, through a recent residential development that borders the river. It was deserted, and I kept thinking I could hear footsteps behind me, following me. When I turned round, there was no one there.
I imagined a boy, Daniel, living somewhere like that, troubled, solitary, with no one to turn to when his normal, everyday life becomes threatened by creepy, supernatural happenings. The Night Walker begins with Daniel hearing footsteps, as I did, but unlike my own experience, there is someone there, and his identity turns out to be strange and unexpected.
The Night Walker is inspired by the Greek myth of Persephone, who was stolen away by Hades and taken to his kingdom, the Underworld – the terrible kingdom of the dead. (Persephone, the young girl or maiden – the ‘Kore’ – is ‘Cora’ in my story.) There are also some elements of Celtic myth – in particular, the Mabinogion. Robert Graves’s extraordinary thesis on poetic myth, The White Goddess, was another influence, as was J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan.
The story is set in Barnes, and you can find the local landmarks mentioned – Hammersmith Bridge – a wonderful old suspension bridge over the Thames – the Broadway and the Mall, even the black poplar on the Barnes side of the towpath. The ancient Thames runs like a border between Barnes and Hammersmith, and borders are magical places where anything can happen, as Daniel discovers when he becomes lost in the fog on the towpath between Barnes and Putney and almost loses his life.