How We Met: Sara Wheeler & Jeremy Lewis

'Could he travel with me? He'd be too frightened about there being no lock on the lavatory'

Sara Wheeler, 50

A polar explorer, Wheeler's writing includes the acclaimed 'Terra Incognita: Travels in Antarctica' and 'The Magnetic North: Travels in the Arctic'. She lives in north London with her two children

The first thing I noticed about Jeremy was that he has hands like root vegetables; big and angular. We met at a publisher's party about 20 years ago, though I'd already read the first volume of his autobiography, Playing for Time, and had found it very funny and descriptive. It showed that we had a shared view of the world, with the same conviction of the sad absurdities of life. I liked him as a stylist, too, and had stolen some of his best descriptive phrases for my books.

At the party we discovered we had the same publisher and the same agent and it turned out he'd read my books, too. A few weeks later he reviewed one of them, saying I had "a fine descriptive eye", and proceeded to pick out all the descriptive phrases I'd nicked off him; it became a joke between us.

Having never been south of Seaford, Jeremy always seemed baffled when I disappeared for months on end to some inhospitable area of the Arctic or Antartic. But he loved sitting in his slippers in an armchair, reading my letters and emails. Most of all he seemed very anxious about the lavatorial arrangements and would quiz me in detail about them. Could I ever imagine bringing him with me? No absolutely not, he'd be too frightened about whether there was a lock on a lavatory.

I only really understand writers, so it's books that make our friendship tick. When I was writing my first book on the Antarctic the first draft was terrible and I had to completely rewrite it. Jeremy was the only one who really believed in that project, so I appointed him patron of the book – like the Duke of Edinburgh. He taught me the importance of selecting facts, not just whacking everything in. When it appeared on the bestseller list I think he was more pleased than I was.

In the old days we behaved very badly when we were together, gate-crashing literary parties and getting thrown out. We're too decrepit for it now – though the other day Jeremy did inadvertently fall into a bath at somebody's house after a good lunch. I don't drink at all now, so we hang out with a Horlicks instead.

Jeremy Lewis, 69

A book editor and biographer, Lewis's works have included a portrait of Graham Greene's family, 'Shades of Greene', as well as a three-volume autobiography, including 'Grub Street Irregular'. He lives in south London with his wife.

There was a drunken literary party in Bloomsbury in 1993, and there was this striking-looking, tanned (just back from Peru) woman with very dark eyes, short hair and a butter-coloured dress in a room full of grey suits; she was like an Amazonian parquet in a nest full of crows, and we gravitated towards one another. At the end of the party we staggered off to a pub to keep on drinking and the next day we met up again for coffee and swapped books we'd written.

She was one of those hard-working people who'd always wanted to be a writer and lead an interesting life. She had a drive to sample life and test herself. It's a quality I admire immensely.

When she went to the South Pole in 1995, she asked me to be the patron of it, even though I had no expertise or money. I felt heartbroken that she was away for so long – I shouldn't have, as I was a respectable married man – but I'd become so fond of her; I remember thinking that there'd be no one to crash parties with now.

During her seven months away she'd send me long dispatches about what she was doing. I come from quite a squeamish generation and she knew I was particularly interested in the lavatorial side of things, and she kept going on about sharing one with a seal.

She calls me a magnificent embellisher – but Sarah herself is a tremendous practitioner of that, too. In Terra Incognita, I appear in the story as an affable buffoon sitting at home in the suburbs who doesn't know anything about Antarctica. It's not quite true, as I have travelled, but I was quite happy to indulge in the joke.

I think both she and her writing style have changed a lot over the years. She's learnt to look more into herself and write about that – before, she was too self-effacing. And her book about the Arctic, The Magnetic North, fascinated me as it sums up how becoming older has altered her outlook. When she was younger and more idealistic she was more interested in the Antarctic as it was a virginal, more romantic place, while the Arctic was a sullied, polluted territory with more people. But now her interest lies with the Arctic as it is more compromised and complex and she talks about that being a manifestation of middle age.

'Access All Areas: Selected Writings 1990-2010', by Sara Wheeler, is published by Jonathan Cape, priced £18.99

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Recruitment Genius: Human Resources Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company provides global satellite communi...

Austen Lloyd: Practice / HR Manager - Somerset

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: A rare and exciting opportunity for a Practice...

Ashdown Group: HR Executive

£20000 - £23000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: An exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen