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Ruth Jones on writing in her pyjamas, waiting for inspiration and the joy of having a varied career

As her latest novel is published, the Welsh author, screenwriter and comedy star talks to Lisa Salmon.

As feisty Nessa in the popular BBC comedy Gavin & Stacey, Ruth Jones was larger-than-life and positively scary.

But in real life, as we talk over the phone following the launch of her latest book, it seems the only thing Jones has in common with Nessa is that they’re both Welsh.

Unlike the much-loved sitcom character, there’s no hard edge to the real Ruth Jones, who co-created and wrote the series with co-star James Corden. And while she may be best known for acting (her other TV credits include Stella, Little Britain and Little Dorrit), she’s now focusing on a very different kind of writing.

The 56-year-old has just had her third novel published – and says she feels privileged to be able to work as a novelist, screenwriter and actor. “I think I enjoy them all the same,” Jones reflects. “I’m very fortunate to do all of them, and I get a variety of work, which is a great privilege.

“Writing is more solitary, for the most part, but you also don’t have to worry about getting up and going to sit in the make-up chair at six in the morning. You can write in your pyjamas and you can be quite anti-social,” she adds, chuckling.

“Obviously, you get to work with your editor and your agent, and they give you feedback and help and support, but essentially it’s just down to you, whereas when you’re writing a script for TV, you might be co-writing it, or you might be working with a producer or director, so it’s a different process. I enjoy both of them equally, really.”

She describes acting as “a whole different skill set” though. “Because you’re performing, you’re much more out there, under the spotlight, and you might be saying other people’s words, not your own. It’s a different feeling,” she explains.

“I think you have to be more energetic when you’re acting – when you’re on set, you have these long days and you have to be perky. When you’re writing, you can have a little quick snooze in between chapters.”

Jones says she hasn’t done any serious acting for a long time – Stella finished about six years ago, and there are no plans to write more Gavin & Staceys. Instead, she’s concentrating on being a novelist. Her first two books were Never Greener and Us Three, and now that her third novel, Love Untold – which tells how a 30-year-old family rift affects four generations of women – has been published, she’s got to think of a plot for her next book, as she’s signed a two-book deal.

“I’ve no idea what that’s going to be – I need to get on with it and come up with something,” Jones admits. “It’s very scary, but the only thing I take solace in is that I’ve been in this position before, with Us Three and with Love Untold.”

She says Never Greener was different because it was based on a screenplay she wrote 20 years previously, so she knew what the story was going to be. “But with Us Three, it was completely from scratch, and I didn’t think I’d be able to come up with something, but I did. And then the same thing happened with Love Untold. So I’m just hoping that it’ll happen for book four.”

At least putting pen to paper – or fingers to keyboard – isn’t too much of a chore for Jones, who is married to TV and radio producer David Peet and is stepmother to his three grown-up children from a previous marriage.

“I do enjoy writing,” she says. “You get good days and bad days like you get with any job, but when I’m in the flow, it’s fantastic. What I find frustrating is when I’m having ideas, and I can’t get them down quick enough and I can’t keep up with my typing.

“I wish I was more disciplined with my writing, I might be a bit more productive, but it’s a bit odd – I sort of have to wait for the inspiration,” she adds. “But on the other hand, you’ve also got to push yourself a bit, even if you don’t feel like writing. I don’t have set hours or anything, but then I can just write into the night – if I feel like it, I’ll write for hours on end. It’s really as and when the inspiration strikes. But I do enjoy it, very much.”

She got into running in the mid-2010s, eventually taking part in the Cardiff Half Marathon in 2014 as part of a relay team with the Stella cast and crew. Jones says her exercise these days is walking, and as for healthy eating: “It depends on what you define as healthy. I don’t have rigid rules about what I eat – I try to eat grass-fed organic meat when I can, rather than meat that’s from a chicken factory or something. It’s a varied diet,” she says.

She’s happy to reveal that she doesn’t smoke though – unlike her Gavin & Stacey alter-ego Nessa, who was rarely seen without a cigarette. And although she stopped drinking when she was 40 and stuck to it for many years, she does drink again now, but only occasionally. “I didn’t drink for a while, and I go through phases – sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t,” she says. “Very boringly middle-of-the-road.”

Love Untold by Ruth Jones is published by Transworld, priced £20 (hardback). Available now.


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