My lovely friend Becca Wyatt died suddenly of a cerebral hemorrhage three days before Christmas.  She was my age exactly, 54, tall and straight-backed, with thick dark hair, a long stride, a fierce intelligence and a big smile. Our first meeting was in my kitchen. She was meant to be interviewing me for PR about the Carnegie Medal, but I ended up asking her as many questions as she asked me. I suppose if I'd been English I might have learned everything I needed to know from her accent and wonderful posture, but I didn't, and she told me about her childhood -- the sort I'd only read about in books -- full of tragedy and secrets and things that went wrong because nobody ever spoke of them. Becca answered all my impertinent questions gravely, or with a small smile.  If anyone on earth was less capable of self-pity I have yet to meet them.

She was about to marry George and she was nervous, not sure she believed in happy marriages.  Is he kind? I asked. Does he love you? Does he make you laugh?  Yes, she nodded. OK, I said, you'll be happy. And they were.

Every few weeks Becca e-mailed me pictures of George riding Harry -- his pride and joy -- a big gleaming ex-racehorse that they had rescued by driving through the night with a horsebox to Ireland.  The three of them radiated happiness -- George on his beautiful horse, staring into the lens held by his beautiful wife.

I went to stay with Becca and George in Sussex the night before my first (and only) hunt -- she had sorted me out a horse with the world's loveliest canter, but I was still terrified -- of the pace (fast) the conditions (deep mud and rain) and the fences (too big).When we all met on the top of the Downs for the blessing of the hounds, Becca grinned at me.  Here, she said, and handed me not a small glass of Port, but the entire bottle.  This will help, she said, and it did.

Becca loved the Carnegie Medal.  She loved books, was a writer herself. I pestered her more or less constantly each year -- What do you like? Who's going to win?  She was never indiscreet enough to answer the latter question, but she always answered the former and we always agreed.

We had plans to meet in January, after the holidays.

This morning, I'm sitting staring out at a glittering lake in Maine from my sister's beautiful house.  It's Christmas morning and we've opened our presents and the boys are playing hockey on the ice below.

The sun is shining and I can't stop thinking about my friend.