I have worked in this room since 1992, and wrote Mao: The Unknown Story here. My co-author and husband Jon Halliday has a study on the floor below. We’d meet up at lunchtime and exchange our discoveries.
The stickers in the books are my memory, the colour and the different sizes are all meaningful to me. All the books were research for Mao. I ought to start clearing them away, but since the book has been translated into Chinese, people keep asking me questions and I found myself having to go back to my sources.
The ornamental table was an old Chinese altar for family festivities. On the altar there is a porcelain dish, one of the very few surviving objects from my family home in Chengbu. It was my grandmother’s and somehow miraculously survived the cultural revolution. My grandmother did not, and died in the revolution in 1969. As my computer desk is full of books, I sit on a little stool to write things by hand on the altar. The bookshelves are full of copies of Wild Swans and Mao translated into many different languages. It makes me very happy to look at them: Wild Swans is about my life, and I spent what seems like a lifetime – 12 years – working on Mao with my husband.
I look at the standing stone buddha on the desk every time I take my eyes off the computer screen. It is so beautiful and serene. It calms me down, clears my head, helps me focus my thoughts. It is a very important part of a cluttered desk.
The Chinese chair is extremely good for your back. I was told that there are far fewer people with back trouble in China than here. A sofa or soft armchair is a foreign thing to the Chinese. I sit on it to stretch my back when I’m tired working on the computer.
Out of the window is a huge plane tree with cascading branches. Underneath there is an old-fashioned London street lamp like the ones in black-and-white films and I can see red double-deckers sailing by. I feel lucky sitting here writing, looking onto this very London scene.