Ruth Jones MBE is a Welsh television actress, novelist and screenwriter. She co-starred in and co-wrote the award-winning British comedy Gavin and Stacey and has appeared in many other television comedies and dramas. Ruth’s first novel, Never Greener, was a bestseller and she is currently working on her second.
Ruth is the guest speaker at the Lavenham Literary Festival dinner on Friday 15 November at the Swan Hotel, Lavenham. Tickets will be available from early September. The Festival is sponsored by Mattioli Woods Wealth Management.
1. Who were your literary influences as you were growing up?
Well early days I used to love Enid Blyton – Twins of St Clare’s, Famous Five, Secret Seven… but also the Louisa May Alcott books like Little Women, which my mum got me into.
When I did English A Level I was introduced to Emily Brontë and Thomas Hardy. I still love Thomas Hardy and often re-read his novels – recently I re-read The Mayor of Casterbridge and The Return of the Native. My friend Nicola and I went on a Hardy tour around Dorchester. It’s a fascinating thing to do, especially if you know his books.
I’ve always enjoyed the way Hardy handles Fate and circumstances colluding to affect the paths people take. And he created fabulous characters who were well rounded – fallible and loveable and misunderstood all at the same time. He’s always thought of as quite gloomy – but actually Hardy’s comedy characters are hilarious!
2. How did your creative process differ when you sat down to write Never Greener compared to your TV work? Did you find there are different rules for both, or are they character driven?
I think my TV writing tends to be character driven and I guess I’d say the same about novel writing. I’m finding this particularly with the second book I’m writing, which is about three lifelong friends.
In terms of different rules for the two different disciplines, with TV there are more restrictions with the length of the script because it has to fit into a scheduled slot. There are also budgetary restrictions which may affect locations and cast, so sometimes a TV script has to be adjusted to accommodate elements like that.
With a novel there’s far more flexibility – and I also love the fact that I can go inside the heads of my characters, which is difficult to do on TV other than through using voiceover. Novels, like radio plays, give you more freedom to go wherever you want to – and rely totally on the imagination of the reader to conjure up situations and characters. I love that there’s more room for interpretation via the minds of the reader.
3. Your two main characters in Never Greener, Kate and Callum, are not really likeable. They leave a trail of hurt behind them but the reader still has to find out what happens to them. Was it difficult to keep that balance throughout?
Well, obviously I’m going to disagree about Kate and Callum not being likeable. They don’t behave well, that’s true, and there are certainly hurtful consequences to their actions. But think they redeem themselves in the end. And do the time for the crime.
Like with Hardy, I do love fallible characters – none of us is perfect after all. Certainly with Kate, I think we discover why she’s like she is – which doesn’t excuse what she does, but it does explain it. They are also living in a world peopled by the innocent victims of their actions – e.g. Belinda (who’s my favourite!) and Matt. And I think this helps balance things.
4. Do you ever get time to read? What is on your ‘to read’ pile at the moment?
I love reading more and more as I get older. In fact I enjoy it more than watching TV.
My sister is often recommending books to me – recently I read The Ice Twins, by S. K. Tremayne which was SO tense, and hauntingly atmospheric. She also recommended Karen Campbell’s police thriller The Twilight Time – which is not a genre I would normally read, but I was gripped. It’s set in Glasgow and her writing is so detailed and her characterisation fresh and surprising.
I also loved Sweet Sorrow, by David Nicholls – he has such an incredible skill in conjuring nostalgia and has written a beautifully unpredictable and raw love story. If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman is a stunning book – she captures the nuances of family dynamics so well, and keeps you gripped by the unravelling of a secret… I love books like that. Which is why I also love Adele Parks – she keeps you on the edge of your seat and has a knack of coming up with huge moral dilemmas. Her Love Lies is superb.
I’m currently reading Graham Norton’s A Keeper, I love his writing. And before that I read a BRILLIANT debut novel, Train Man by Andrew Mulligan – oh my days, I can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s profoundly affecting – one of those ‘stays with you’ books. Deftly crafted, with a fascinating central character whose story you just HAVE to know more about. He doesn’t shy away from the darkness in humankind, but equally he celebrates our propensity to be compassionate.
And I’m a massive Jojo Moyes fan – so I can’t wait to read her new novel when it comes out. Other writers I love are Kate Atkinson and Isabelle Allende.
5. You are visiting Suffolk in November to speak at the Lavenham Literary Festival. Can you give us a taste of what to expect?
I’m really looking forward to coming to Lavenham. I first went there years ago with my husband who knows the area well. I fell in love with the town and I can’t wait to come back.
The evening will be quite laid back I think – a sort of ‘evening with’. It’s great because I get to talk with the audience and they get to ask me questions… I love talking about the book and the writing process, and especially getting feedback from people who’ve read Never Greener.
6. You have been interviewed many times. Can you tell us one thing your readers and viewers may not know?
I’ll give you three facts about myself that people probably don’t know: I was once a Girl Guide, I love Planet of the Apes movies and I’m severely allergic to cats.