There’s a loucheness to this chair that really appeals to me. It’s very much in the traditional style, but I can imagine it in a kind of shabby, lady- of-the-night’s boudoir somewhere. It must be because its pink, velvet and rather camp.
I bought it on the way to a lunch in 1999. I had published two novels and my first, Tipping the Velvet, was about to be made into a television series. I was meeting the screenwriter and had to go through Richmond station. At the time there was an antiques shop there, and I just popped in. I couldn’t resist the faded pink velvet of the armchair and it always reminds of what turned out to be a rather thrilling moment in my career.
It has been through the wars but I love it. I have a nice big basement kitchen and the chair sits in the corner. I often read there in the early evening while my partner is cooking. It’s getting a bit kitchen-stained and my cat often sleeps on it. It’s also completely saggy and when you sit down the springs poke into your bum, but it’s still one of the few bits of furniture that I would save if my house was on fire.
There’s nothing nicer than coming across an antiques shop I’ve never visited before. I do buy things on eBay, which has its own charm in that you never know quite what you’re going to get until it turns up, but I do like to see an object in the flesh before I buy it. There’s something about having a poke around. Who knows what you will find under a pile of stuff?
I’d say I’m an acquirer. Collector sounds a bit grand; acquirer seems a bit more random. I’m often looking for old books – not rare or first editions, just nice old paperbacks with interesting covers. I also have to admit a weakness for mirrors and pictures. I have a lot of wall space to fill.
At one time three separate families lived in our house. It’s a Georgian terrace dating from the 1790s with 39 steps from top to bottom. What must it have been like to live with all those people going up and down the stairs all the time?
The more I learn about the past, the more special it becomes. I’m fascinated by how people lived. Our bannisters are worn in the same place that my hand is wearing them, and there’s a spot on a floorboard that must be a burn from where someone put down a hot bucket of coals. It’s these continuities that I find incredibly moving.
London is endlessly inspiring. I do a lot of wandering around an area once I’ve begun to write about it. I try to think what it might have been like in the 1920s, say. An Edwardian building would have been a brash new-build then.
You can do lots of peering through windows. If I find a house that is exactly like the kind of house I’m trying to write about, I spend hours dreaming up ways of getting in. I’m always hoping someone will bump into me, and I’ll casually mention that I am setting a novel in their house and they’ll invite me in. It’s never happened – yet!
Interview: Alice Hancock
Portrait: Grant Scott