My Home: Carmen Callil

Carmen Callil has lived in a lot of London houses over the years - but her books always follow her wherever she goes


Writer and publisher Carmen Callil lives in Notting Hill, with her two border terriers, Deborah and Louis.

London feels like my best pair of slippers, it's so comfortable, all my friends are here and I have lived here for more than 46 years. Paris is more like a slightly uncomfortable but elegant high heel, but London is where I feel most at home.

I was very well read as a child, both my parents were omnivorous readers, but I had a picture of England that was quite erroneous. Charles Dickens and Jane Austen had portrayed a completely different place to what I arrived to in 1960: it seemed very small, cold and dark.

When I first moved here I lived in various flat shares with lots of other Australians. It was like something out of a Muriel Spark novel, The Girls of Slender Means, or something like that. We lived in a house on Edith Grove, five girls all together, in a tiny flat up about 1,000 flights of stairs, and we were always falling in and out of love and weeping in the bathroom.

I have lived in this house for four years. I have lived in seven different places in London, and each time I have moved on I have made a profit on the house.

The very first place I bought was a little bedsit, above a salt beef shop in St John's Wood high street. From there I moved to a one bedroom in Chelsea, and then to a cottage in Hammersmith, each time I moved to a slightly larger house. The last place I lived in before here was a huge house on Lancaster Road.

It had about 10 rooms, which I then converted to two flats before I sold it. I managed to get it for a great price as at the time of the sale, the AIDS centre, the Lighthouse, was being built opposite. These crazy lawyers that lived there somehow thought that they would catch AIDS just from living near it, so they were desperate to sell to me.

I have made a lot of changes to this house. One of the first things I did was put in a whole new floor on the upstairs, that was once the attic, so I could have a spare bedroom. Since I adore being able to have my friends to stay, it was essential for me to have another bedroom installed.

Upstairs has its own bathroom, TV and everything that a guest could need. All I do is give people a key, and then they can come and go as they please, as I like people to feel free.

My friend Jenny Ledger, who is a retired interior designer, has helped me with all my houses, and especially with this one. She advises me on colour, and helps me bring my ideas to fruition.

The other area that I completely altered was the kitchen. I knocked through from the sitting room to make it one large open area, and then put in french windows that open right on to the garden. I have an Everhot cooker, which is the English equivalent of an Aga - it is great for the dogs.

The other thing that I have for them is a little dog-flap at the bottom of the door leading to the garden, so that they are able to come in and out with out bothering me. The kitchen is decorated in a Scandinavian style; I love the way the Swedish use yellow, blue and grey together. I bought the kitchen chairs from a junk shop and then I painted them light grey.

One thing that has followed me from house to house is my books. They are my one main luxury, at one point I had over 10,000. I still have loads, but I have managed to edit them slightly.

Books take up a lot of space, but I just couldn't imagine life without them. I get very attached to books. I don't mind giving books away, but I don't like it when people take them without asking.

It took about 18 months for this house to be totally renovated, and during this time I stayed at my house in France. Sadly I had to sell it in the end as I needed the money to pay for this house to be finished off, but while I owned it, for over 15 years, it was a fabulous luxury.

It was near to Beziers and Narbonne in South-west France. Many of the furniture and fabrics have come from that house, and from shops and markets in that region. I first came across the area with my friend, the publisher Liz Calder. We had gone in search of a place in the sun. We took the train down one Boxing Day, she bought a place opposite the station and I found somewhere in a village nearby.

I have many artworks that have been given to me by friends and writers, and that are special to me. I have a picture of Virginia Woolf in her bath, which is an etching by Trekkie Parsons. Also, Rosamon Lehmann gave me two paintings by Simon Bussy, and I have some lovely hand-drawn postcards by Quentin Bell. I have a Picasso tile on my mantelpiece that I bought when I first went to France in 1960, it is part of an edition of 200 from Vallauris, where he had a pottery. I also have a Jean Cocteau painting that I bought from the same period.

My favourite room is my study. I spend most of my time there working. It looks out on to the garden. Sometimes I think I should change the rooms around, and have my bedroom there, as it would be a lot quieter, and my study facing the front. Perhaps when I have a lot more money and time I will change it.

I love living in London, but I do miss my house in the South of France. But who knows? Life isn't over yet; I may go back there again.

Bad Faith by Carmen Callil is published by JonathanCape, priced £20.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Sport
football
Life and Style
Agretti is often compared to its relative, samphire, though is closer in taste to spinach
food + drink
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?