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'It's my own work, I'm not piggy-backing on my famous other half'

She's been courted by Hollywood and graced the red carpet with partner Ricky Gervais, but novelist Jane Fallon doesn't favour the spotlight. She talks shyness and writing in her PJs with Hannah Stephenson

Bestselling novelist Jane Fallon may be less known than her partner, the comedian and actor Ricky Gervais, but that's just the way she likes it.

The 55-year-old writer and former TV producer admits to being terribly shy, and doubts if Gervais can do anything to help her overcome it. "I'm stupidly shy," she laments. "It's the thing I dislike most about myself."

If they attend red carpet events on Gervais' behalf, she says it's only right that she remains in the background.

"I'm not a pushy, forward person, because if anyone wants to talk to me at those things, I'll just go red."

She's keen, though, that her own achievements aren't overshadowed by Gervais' fame, on both sides of the Atlantic.

"It's always been really important to me, even before he was famous, that I had a career. Having grown up quite shy and quiet, it's important that I mark out who I am in the world through my work. So I want people to know I've done this on my own terms, it's not me trying to piggy-back off the back of my famous other half."

Indeed, she was an award-winning TV producer, working on shows like This Life and Teachers, before turning her hand to full-time writing, and her previous five novels, including Getting Rid Of Matthew and The Ugly Sister, have all been bestsellers.

Her latest, Strictly Between Us, centres on a TV producer who hears a rumour that her best friend's husband is playing away. She then devises a honey-trap to test his resolve, using her assistant Bea as bait.

This is edgy female fiction, a bitter-sweet tale peppered with sharp humour, which was spawned as Fallon considered this dilemma: should you get involved if you think your friend's partner is cheating on them?

It's not a situation Fallon has ever been a part of, nor has she ever worried that any of her friends' partners are cheating on them.

"I'm not a gossip. The worst thing anyone can say to me is, 'Ooh, I've got some gossip'. I'm like, 'Oh, shut up'. I think it's better not to know these things. I'd have to be presented with absolute proof before I said anything to a friend."

While she spends a lot of time in the US because of Gervais' work, Fallon has also been courted by Hollywood on occasions. The last time we spoke, Jennifer Aniston's production company had bought the rights to her first novel, Getting Rid of Matthew.

"That eventually all came to nothing, after a very long time of nearly coming to something. But now Warner Bros have just bought the rights to it, so we are waiting to hear if things will start moving," she explains.

"Originally, they flew me over to meet Jennifer Aniston and pitch it to her, which was slightly terrifying, but she was lovely. The word 'pitching' just makes me want to jump out of a window.

"This time, I haven't been over for the big 'pitching' meetings, thank goodness."

The thought of trying to sell her ideas in front of executives fills her with dread, she admits.

"Any situation where I feel like people are looking at me and I've got to speak is the kind of thing I have nightmares about. I go red, I stutter and my brain goes absolutely blank. Not only can I not remember what the book's about, I can barely remember what it's called.

"It's just a confidence thing. I've always been really self-conscious and shy."

It's clear that fame and fortune hasn't affected her and she and Gervais try to lead as normal a life as they can away from the spotlight, mixing with friends they had long before they became successful.

She writes her novels at their home in north London, and wouldn't want it any other way.

"I wouldn't want to go to work, because if I wrote in an office, I'd have to put clothes on," she says, laughing.

"A lot of my writing is done in my pyjamas, but I tend to get up really early to write, and when I do get dressed, it's usually sweatpants and sports gear if I'm not going out."

Yet she looks amazingly glamorous when pictured at red carpet events; most recently sporting a stunning red Antonio Berardi dress at the Golden Globes.

"The only reason I can ever look glamorous is because someone has spent several hours poking at my face and hair, making them look the best they possibly can. And because I don't have to dress up every day and go to work, it's actually really good fun," she says. "I love those occasions, where I have to glam myself up. As you get older, it gets harder to look good, so having someone do my make-up is really good fun."

Fallon and Gervais have a base in New York - a city she loves - but she wouldn't want to spend long in Hollywood.

"I couldn't do LA for longer than about a week. It's very much a one-industry town. If you are in a restaurant or having your hair done, everyone is a would-be actor," she reveals. "You feel like you're living in a place where everybody cares about just one thing."

Her strong work ethic and level-headedness stem from her upbringing. Born in north London, the youngest of five children, her parents ran a newsagents and the family lived in the flat above. On days when it snowed and all the paper boys skived off, she would be sent out to do the paper rounds.

She met Gervais when they were both students at University College London, and her career was on the rise long before his, but they were never competitive with each other.

"When I was moving up, it was good that one of us was earning. I never felt I had to put pressure on him to have a big career and he never felt overshadowed by the fact that I was doing well," she has previously said.

While they have some showbiz friends, including Jonathan Ross, they have kept the friends they made before they were famous.

"You make a choice about staying with the people you've always been connected with or not. I was 46 when my first book came out. Having those changes in your life when you're older is probably a good thing, because you know who you are and you're more settled in your life," says Fallon.

"If that had happened to me at 25, I'd probably have become an unbearable show-off."

Strictly Between Us by Jane Fallon is published by Penguin/Michael Joseph, £7.99

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