How We Met: Julia Gregson & Sadie Jones

'We could exult together without being smug. Sadie calls it our Spice Girl moment'
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The Independent Online

Julia Gregson, 61, is a former journalist for Rolling Stone and short-story writer. Her book East of the Sun was winner of Romantic Novel of the Year 2009. She lives in Monmouth, south-east Wales, with her husband and daughter

Sadie was this staggeringly beautiful teenager who used to wander rather dreamily in and out of the living-room whenever I came to visit her parents, who I've been friends with for years.

She came into sharp focus when she was 18 and the two of us went out riding one day. I had been a journalist for years and was nervously trying to write my first short story; she spoke fervently about wanting to be a writer, and we connected on those twin passions of horses and literature.

We kept in touch over the years, and I'd hear how she was doing through her mother. Then last year it all changed. Last May my book East of the Sun was chosen for the Richard & Judy Summer Read. They told me not to tell anyone it was on there until it was officially announced. So we had this extraordinary moment when the list was released in June, and we realised we were both on it [Sadie for her debut, The Outcast]. We both went from being unknown writers to number one and two on the bestseller list. It felt like we'd both caught lightning in a bottle at the same time. It was fantastic. We could exult together without being smug. Sadie calls it our Spice Girl moment.

This year has been such an incredible jump for her. She's gone from writing in her cupboard under the stairs to doing awards ceremonies and talking on panels with Germaine Greer at Oxford. She's handled it all with such poise as well. With someone as beautiful as she is and very clever, she'd be entitled to be quite insufferable, but she absolutely isn't.

We don't see each other a lot because of the distance between us, but we're in touch constantly. Last July Sadie came down with her children to visit. We went riding for hours and hours and talked about everything. For both of us, there's something about riding horses that really sets the mind free and we become child-like again. It thrills her and releases her from her everyday life, and I'm the same.

She's years younger then me, but there's a wonderful thing that happens when you're a writer; it's an ageless occupation. We talk about all the kind of things you wouldn't share with non-writing friends, as it would seem self-obsessed. We recently shared a mutual panic about writing our second books – whether they were going to be cringeworthy failures, or whether we were on to great things. We go through many insecurities together.

The past year has made us very close. Seeing The Outcast go from strength to strength has been as pleasing to me as my own success; it's more fun to have someone with whom to share those successes.

Sadie Jones, 41, is a screenwriter turned author whose first book, The Outcast was shortlisted for last year's Orange Prize for Fiction and won the Costa First Novel award. She lives in west London with her husband and two children

There is something a bit Woody Allen about Julia: she's witty, utterly ageless, wears these really good men's straw hats, and she's had this cool and glamorous life. At first she was a friend of my mothers: I saw a fair bit of her and her husband, Richard, when I was just a chain-smoking 18-year-old who dressed in black all the time. They were great to be around as they were the type of grown-ups you wanted to be; they had energy, they looked good and they were interested in what you had to say.

Then, last year, we were thrown together in a bizarre set of circumstances: both of our books came out at similar times and suddenly, in June, I found out we were on the same Richard & Judy Summer Read list. I rang Julia and said, "My God, this has happened to you as well!" She's lovely and approachable but we'd never had any reason to have an intimacy until that point.

Now we share jokes about how much we are having our hair done for all these public appearances, and talk about how nerve-racking interviews can be. Having someone to giggle about it with has made the whole experience far easier to deal with.

Our conversations are always in the moment, mostly about writing and of course our other love: horses. She's one of those people who makes you talk too much, as she has a wonderful curiosity.

For years I've had an open invitation to visit her in Wales, and last summer, after that list was released, I went down there with the children. I'm not an outdoorsy posh girl, and she isn't either, but we both have this horse thing; it's to do with having space to think. She borrowed ponies for the children to ride, cooked lovely things for us and put herself out enormously. It felt so validating being with her without my parents. She was very sweet with the kids; and they have keyed into exactly what I've always seen in her: a combination of really high energy without being frenetic.

I'm hoping we'll be able to come down to Wales again to go riding this summer. I feel it's the beginning of a beautiful friendship rather than the middle of one; it's a really exciting prospect.

'The Water Horse' (£7.99, Orion) by Julia Gregson and 'The Outcast' (£7.99, Vintage) by Sadie Jones are out now

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