Me And My Home: Shusha Guppy

Having shed many of her valuables over the 40 years she has lived in her Chelsea home, the Iranian-born writer prefers to lead the simple life. Now her luxuries are her books, music and friends. By Joey Canessa
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The Independent Online

Shusha Guppy, the singer, songwriter and author, lives on the top floor of a Victorian house in south-west London

Shusha Guppy, the singer, songwriter and author, lives on the top floor of a Victorian house in south-west London

I've lived here since 1964. In the old days, when my husband and the boys were here, we had the whole house, but when we parted, the bottom two floors were sold. When I was a student in Paris, my mentors, such as Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and others, lived in tiny apartments. I now live in an eyrie at the top of the house, rather as they did. When you leave the country of your birth, you never really have a "home" again. I don't live a life of luxury; my luxuries are books, music and friends.

I love living in England and have spent most of my life here. I married in 1961 and settled in London. We moved into a little flat on the sixth floor of a block, overlooking Albert Bridge. My first son was born in 1964 and spent his earliest days in a baby chair on the tiny balcony, surrounded by plants. In 1965, my second son arrived, and a year later we moved into this house.

In those days, Chelsea was more like a village, full of impecunious writers and artists. Now, of course, it's very different. If I could choose again now, I would live somewhere further out, like Bayswater, or possibly Shepherd's Bush. Those areas are more neighbourly, and I prefer that to the modern monstrosity that inner London has become.

My home consists of two floors; with a bedroom, a study, a bathroom, and a lovely bright room above. The bedroom is very simple. There is a television, but I only watch the news and good documentaries. I have a study next door, but I prefer to work sitting on my bed, with cushions, and with my computer on my lap.

This is where I spend most of my day. There is a shelf for poetry books, and I keep my guitar close by. I know several languages - English, French and Persian are my "mother tongues", and Spanish and Italian I have picked up in later years - I have a whole shelf of dictionaries that I use all the time. I do a lot of reviewing and so I accumulate vast numbers of books, most of which I give to charity, but some I keep.

Music has always been an essential part of my life - not only when I worked as a singer/songwriter - and I listen to classical music while I write. I have a piano in the sitting room, but it is rarely used. I play the guitar though, and sometimes I sing at benefit concerts.

The sitting room is rather colourful, with two walls painted in deep red, which is a good background colour for pictures and ornaments.

Above the sofa is a portrait of my father, painted by my brother, Nasser Assar. Although he has spent his adult life in Paris, Nasser is regarded as Persia's greatest living painter, and he painted this portrait when he was only 19.

Another treasured possession is my mother's wedding samovar, which was part of her dowry when she married in the 1920's. It comes from Tula in Russia, where they are said to make the finest samovars. I also have a lamp of hers that was made in Bohemia and is decorated with a portrait of a 19th-century shah.

I like this room, especially for the balcony which overlooks the street, and the little terrace on the other side of the building. Although they are quite small, I have created my own Persian gardens, with camellias, roses, honeysuckle, clematis, scented geraniums and jasmine. The balcony is fairly enclosed, and I love sitting there, especially on moonlit summer nights.

For writers and artists, it is the life within that counts. One doesn't need very much. However, I do care about cleanliness and order - I'm awfully tidy. Over the years, I have got rid of most of my "valuables" and live an austere and simple life, rather like a monk.

The things that matter to me now are those of sentimental value, which hold memories. They are my treasures.

Shusha Guppy's book 'The Secret of Laughter: Magical Tales from Classical Persia', is published by IB Tauris (£19.95)