HOW WE MET

Nicholas Evans, 45, was a writer and producer of films before his first novel, The Horse Whisperer, became an international best-seller last year. Walt Disney paid an unprecedented $3 million for the book's film rights. Married with three children, Evans lives in south London. Born in Wales and educated at Oxford, Rosie Thomas, 48, is the author of 11 successful books, including Other People's Marriages, A Woman of Our Times and Bad Girls, Good Women. Her latest novel is Every Woman Knows a Secret. Ma...
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NICHOLAS EVANS AND ROSIE THOMAS

Nicholas Evans: We met at a dinner party at a mutual friend's house - Jancis Robinson, the wine writer, and her husband Nick Lander who used to own the restaurant L'Escargot. This was in the mid-Eighties. I sat next to Rosie.

The first thing you notice about Rosie is her eyes. She has these wide, huge, pale blue eyes which throw everything else into the shade. Jenny, my wife, and I were immediately struck by how engaging Rosie and Caradoc were. They seemed to enjoy talking about the same things and in the same kind of way that we talk. We just clicked.

They invited us for dinner a few weeks later, and very soon after that dinner party, they came round for lunch at our place on a Sunday and our kids got to know each other. Everybody got on well, particularly our daughters, who hit it off wonderfully. We also found out early on that Rosie and I share this great love of skiing. My wife hates skiing, but Rosie and I both enjoy off-piste skiing a great deal. We've been skiing together as families, three or four times.

Rosie's quite formidable and some might say moody. She can get into this kind of isolated mode. You can sometimes see the cloud hanging over her. She can be sitting reading a book on the beach and you know you shouldn't talk to her. That makes me laugh. I like it. If I'm in a really bad mood and there are a lot of people around whom I feel I should be sociable with, I'll do it and internalise. Whereas she just lets it go and people steer clear.

We went on holiday together last summer to Cape Cod and it wasn't a great success. Jenny and I had rented this place which we thought was OK. Then we went to see the place that Rosie and Caradoc had checked into. It was like a palace, with Jacuzzis and priceless porcelain everywhere. It was a source of some mirth to begin with, but we were so glad after a while, because their place became such a worry - dirtying carpets, breaking ornaments - whereas we could just slosh in. It got Rosie down a bit.

Also, it might have been something to do with the imminent publication of The Horse Whisperer. There was a lot going on for me at the time. I think she did find it a bit difficult, actually.

Before I met Rosie I'd heard of her, but never read her books. I always read them now. I love them. She understands people in a very unusual way. One of the things we found we had in common right at the start was that we were both constantly seeing stories in things. We'd throw ideas around. I was working in television, so any story that occurred to me I'd think of as a screenplay. There was no competitive thing there at all.

When I finished The Horse Whisperer I sent Rosie the manuscript and of the few people I showed it to, she was the one whose reaction I was most nervous about. I was aware that it was potentially a difficult situation in that Rosie had written all these books and had had tremendous success as a writer and I had breezed into this new career and got so incredibly lucky straight away. Anyway, she read it and wrote me a beautiful letter - very measured and gracious.

Rosie has never been anything but supportive. She would certainly be one of the first people I would turn to if something really bad happened in my life. When she and Caradoc were going through this difficult period and split up for about a year, it meant an awful lot to me to be able to share that with her. It was like a kind of bereavement. We'd sit for ages and talk about the way things had been between them.

At the time, we went skiing with Rosie and the kids. She was doing this thing that she loves to do, but without Caradoc. And we were there as a family. So although it was comforting, it was hard, as well, to see another couple together. There was one day when Rosie really went into a deep chasm. We'd just finished skiing and I found her crying and just hugged her and held her and we both sobbed. It was a very intense and bonding moment.

There was a lot of crying on that holiday and she was always on the edge. But even in the midst of this trauma of separation, Rosie would tell stories about herself which would make me fall about laughing. She's just extraordinary.

I find myself very moved by Rosie, I suppose because she wears the vulnerable part of herself close to the surface. I probably would have been very daunted by her when I was younger. If I'd met her when we were both at Oxford, she would have seemed much more mature and I'd have seemed like a schoolboy. Rosie's a very attractive person. She's passionate, intense, slightly fragile and yet extraordinarily resilient. I can't think of another woman friend that I'm as close to as her.

ROSIE THOMAS: It must have been 12 years ago in 1984. We met at a dinner party. I remember being struck by how interesting Nick and Jenny were. They had just come back from some disastrous skiing holiday and were being very funny and joshing each other about the awfulness of it. I identified with that immediately because Caradoc and I ski, and there's always that thing of: who skied better? Who enjoyed the holiday less?

I sat at one end of the table and they were somewhere down at the other end. I remember seeing their two little faces spotlit and thinking, "They are nice people, I'd like to see them again."

We invited them to dinner in a matter of weeks. It was the time of the Brighton bombing and we talked about Norman Tebbit and his wife who had been buried under the wreckage of that hotel. And Nick said to me that it would make a fantastic story for a novel and why didn't I write it? I did. It was called Strangers and the dedication is to Nick for his generosity in giving me that idea.

The friendship soon crossed from being the sort where you have dinner once every six months to being a much closer kind. Our daughters became very firm friends indeed and our boys are at the same school. About a year or 18 months after we met we went skiing all together in Wengen.

Nick's always very generous about reading my novels. He'll say supportive things and also useful, critical things. He's one of the handful of people whose approbation is important to me. As soon as I have a new novel out, I always send him one and wait to hear what he thinks.

When The Horse Whisperer was published there was this great brouhaha about a first-time writer pulling off this fantastic coup. But it wasn't the first time for Nick at all. He was a story-teller in the medium of film, with a very developed eye for the way a story works. It wasn't at all surprising to me that he was so successful. I liked The Horse Whisperer enormously. I vicariously and completely unjustifiably felt part of what was going on and so when the final hardback arrived I felt enormous excitement.

I don't think my first impressions of Nick have ever radically altered. He is as he looks. He's very attractive, sensitive and easy-going. There's an interesting counterpoint to that, which I relate to strongly as another writer: he's quite edgy and driven. There's a nervous tension in him which I relate to because I feel it too. And that's a bond between us.

When my marriage broke down temporarily three years ago, Nick and Jenny were amongst a real hard core of friends who really, really did all the right things. They were very supportive. They still invited me to their Grade A dinner parties. They used to ask me and the kids around for Sunday lunch and we'd go to Chessington - all the things that children really miss when their family breaks up.

Then we went skiing in Val D'Isere. My husband had been supposed to come. There was a time on that holiday when Nick and I were talking about the arrangements for getting home and he asked, "Is Caradoc coming to meet you at the airport?" And I just collapsed into floods of tears, thinking that nobody would ever come to meet me at an airport again - a massive wave of self-pity.

I remember lying on the bed in this apartment and Nick holding my shoulder and saying, "Of course people will meet you at airports. People will clamour to meet you at airports." I really valued that. He was lovely. That period was when I came to think of him as a very true, dear and important friend.

Had we met earlier I'm sure we would have been friends. The friendship we have now is probably aided by the fact that it doesn't have a sexual element. When we were younger it might have done. It's very comfortable to realise now that Nick's not my type and I'm sure I'm not his and that that box is closed. You can concentrate on the realities of the friendship. Quite often, sexual attraction gets in the way.

Nick's very charming and always so nice to everybody. He spreads himself very wide. Those of us who love him sometimes feel jealous. In Cape Cod it was very sociable. There were lots of people around and for a couple of days I thought, I really can't handle this, I wish I could sit on the beach on my own. You wouldn't get Nick doing that. He's so good at looking after people.

Some time ago I was at a booksellers' lunch in Canada with four high- powered women wholesalers. They were talking about The Horse Whisperer and about Nick. One of the women said, "Oh, but he's cute. He sure is cute." And I said, "Actually, he's my friend." !

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