One Minute With: Sara Wheeler, travel writer

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The Independent Culture

Where are you now and what can you see?

I can see little people beetling around 14 floors below me, umbrellas aloft. I'm on a book tour in the US, currently in San Francisco, sitting in my hotel room waiting for my next event, peering down at the intersection of Mason Street and Ellis.

What are you currently reading?

The letters of Jane Austen's niece, Catherine Hubback - written from right here in the San Francisco Bay area between 1870 and 1876. When my tour ends, I am going to follow in Catherine's footsteps. She had plenty of adventures on those perilous stagecoach routes up the Pacific coast and into the Sierra Nevada. I'll be in a Toyota.

Choose a favourite author and say why you like him/her

I get asked this question a lot and I often choose Norman Lewis. In my own field of... travel-ish literary non-fiction he remains the master: clear narrative voice, a core of human sympathy and the ability to give a snapshot impression of a whole life from a fleeting but revealing angle. Oh yes, and the novelist's willingness to let the obscure remain obscure.

Describe the room where you usually write

I live in a Victorian former butcher's shop and I write in the small room at the back in which the butcher used to make sausages.

What distracts you from writing?

The Toast catalogue. Frocks and boots! I throw away the copy when it comes through the letterbox as I know it will distract me. But then I find myself clicking on Toast in my bookmarks bar.

Which fictional character most resembles you?

Mistress Quickly. But it was worth it. And I'm not dead yet.

What are your readers like when you meet them?

Intelligent and of sound judgement.

Who is your hero/ heroine from outside literature?

I have several. I would probably choose my brother. Severely brain damaged at birth 48 years ago, he still gets up every morning to face the day.

Sara Wheeler's 'Access All Areas: selected writings 1990-2010' is published by Cape