Me And My Home: 'I'm addicted to twee'

Cheryl Markosky talks to Paul Bryers about his house in Balham
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The Independent Online

Paul Bryers, novelist and TV and film director, lives in a Victorian terrace in Balham, south-west London with his wife Sharon and son Dermot

Ten years ago, my wife Sharon was giving me one of those little speeches about needing more space in the house - one of those tense moments in a relationship - and she said she'd found something bigger. We were broke at the time and it was the last thing I wanted to do, but we moved from Trinity Road in Wandsworth to a larger house in Balham.

"It is not only a good place to live, but it has turned out to be a shrewd investment. Our three-storey house cost £160,000 back then and the place next door just sold for £460,000. There are only three double-fronted houses in the street. Usually these houses are deep, but this one is wide, too.

"It was a bit of a joke saying I live in Balham round my TV friends, most of whom live in north London. Everyone remembers Peter Sellers making fun of it, but it has changed beyond belief. In a survey carried out in The Independent for the last election, a model family in Balham had a house here and one in the country, liked being near the M20 to get out of the capital and spent a fortune on their small London garden, as they did not feel in control of the garden in the country. This is typical of the people who have moved in around me.

"When we bought the house, it was completely decorated in Laura Ashley wallpaper. It felt like if you wore a Laura Ashley Seventies frock, you would disappear. One room had tiny little red flowers everywhere and it took a long time to sort it out. If you painted over it, the flowers would come through.

"Sharon makes most of the decisions about decorating, but I do get involved with colour and design. I have a fatal attraction for the twee. Sometimes I go out and buy furniture and Sharon can be pretty damning about my petty bourgeois choices. I love tapping shops locally and brought back two chairs I picked up for £80. The joy of Balham is you can still leave things outside your gate with a sign saying Help Yourself and that is what happened to the chairs. Then we went and paid £2,500 for something from John Lewis instead.

"I like painting the walls and other things in the house. At the moment I am painting the chairs as angels, because of the angels I noticed in last year's calendar. It is just something to do between writing rather than eat, and Sharon hasn't objected to what I've done.

"It can be unusual to come home and find that someone has painted a huge tarot card on the kitchen units. Once I painted the hall a cheap and cheerful candy pink, but it had to go. We couldn't live with it. I want to be entertained in a house. The perfect thing would be to pull down blinds with scenes. As I work in TV, I think sets could be perfect way to live.

"I work from home and like prowling round in a circle like a caged beast when I can't think of what to write. I go from my study on the first floor, downstairs through the conservatory and back round again. My favourite room is the spare bedroom on the first floor. It's just along the landing and if I'm stuck on something, I wander in - that is, if no one is staying - and mooch around for a while. It's partly escape, but often when I'm in there away from the computer, the writing starts to sort itself out in my head.

"The reason this room is better than any other is partly because it's neutral space and partly, I like to think, because I painted it to look like the room where the English patient lies dying. 'She turns into the room which is another garden - this one made up of trees and bowers painted over its walls and ceiling.' Unfortunately, I failed in the execution and instead of looking the way I imagined the room in The English Patient to look, it is more like Max's room in Where the Wild Things Are.

"It would be perfect to go into the attic to work, but my son is there. It is the whole length of the house and has interesting angles. Writers need something to look at when things aren't working out and you could look at the angles. When we bought the house, the girl in the previous family wanted the attic, but it was given to her stepsister. When she found we were giving it to Dermot, she burst into tears. It is the place where Dermot has grown up and although he is now at Oxford, he would have to be consulted if we wanted to use it for anything else.

"I do my real writing on pads in restaurants or in wine bars during the day and then put it onto the computer back home. If I compose on the computer, I get too tense. Balham is good for this. You hear lots of conversations and pick up on dialogue, like remarks I have overheard in Double Expresso: 'You know, I'm banned from Balmoral.' 'Oh God, oh God... decapitated', which turned out to be about someone's cat.

"I like going to the Polish Eagle Club for lunch, where often it is just me and two little old ladies in a place the size of a ballroom. I picked up on one of them mentioning Lady Thatcher the other day.

"I feel fidgety at the idea of staying in the same place, but it is hard to fault living here, unfortunately. I am prejudiced by my last book, where Spitalfields and Whitechapel and other places on the Thames feature. I like the idea of living on the river - somewhere like Bermondsey, which would be interesting. I couldn't afford Wapping Pier, but I love the sense of old London. I often cycle along the river and go through industrial estates like the Wandle Delta, which sounds like the Nile Delta, but isn't quite as romantic."

Paul Bryers' new novel is 'The Used Women's Book Club' (Bloomsbury, paperback £9.99)

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