'I just couldn't handle it if someone said something nasty on social media ... the world is bad enough'
Actress Ruth Jones has chosen love, sex and very complicated relationships as the focus of her debut novel, Never Greener. But, as she tells Hannah Stephenson, the story isn't really based on her
Despite her success as both an actress and scriptwriter, Ruth Jones is decidedly unstarry, softly spoken and looks much younger than her 51 years. Best known as Stella in the eponymous comedy series and as Nessa Jenkins in sitcom Gavin & Stacey, which she wrote with co-star James Corden, Jones is warm and funny, chatting happily about her life in Cardiff with her producer husband David Peet.
Her debut novel, Never Greener, features a young woman who has an intense affair with a married man, which ends in heartbreak.
Fast-forward 17 years and their lives have moved on. She is a successful actress, married with one child; he is a teacher still married to the same woman, with three children.
Chaos ensues when they bump into each other and the spark re-ignites.
Jones sets the scenes in different timelines, rather like David Nicholls did in his hit novel, One Day, building up the sexual tension between the lovers.
A fair amount of the book centres on lust and whether its power is greater than true love.
"Is it beautiful sex? No, it's not. It's very hedonistic and ego-driven. What's interesting is that it means something different to both of them," Jones reflects.
The book first emerged from a screenplay she wrote in 2002 - which never made it to the screen - when people were getting in touch with acquaintances from the past through the Friends Reunited website.
"You heard all sorts of stories about people leaving their long-term marriages to set up with people that they were going out with when they were 17, and a lot of those second attempts went wrong," Jones says.
But it wasn't based on her own life, she insists, laughing: "Of course, I've been in love, and I married the man that I love. It was love at first voice because I spoke to him on the phone before I met him.
" I did fall in love with his voice. But I have had to imagine a lot of the intensity and the destructiveness."
Growing up in Porthcawl, Jones kept a diary as a 13-year-old and another in her 20s. Looking over both, she saw how her personality had changed as she had aged. "When I re-read my diaries, it's the self-doubt that seems to be prevalent," she says. "Since I turned 40, I've become less self-doubting, but it still happens."
Because of this, Jones isn't on social media - either Twitter or Facebook.
"I couldn't handle it if somebody said something nasty," she admits. "But I have read comments that people have received.
"James Corden, for instance, gets horrible comments from people. I've seen the stuff that's been said and I just couldn't handle it if people were being abusive. The world is bad enough without adding to that vitriol.
"People say it's just like the modern-day graffiti on toilet walls in the pub, or when you're in a car and have road rage," she adds.
Her novel attracted a bidding war handled by Jonny Geller, a leading literary agent and an old Warwick University pal.
"I am nervous about how my debut novel will be received because there's always that feeling that somebody might say something negative," Jones says.
"I say I won't read the reviews, but I probably will. Just because somebody says something negative, I don't have to believe it."
Apart from a book tour, life will go on as usual in Cardiff with Peet, who she met while working on a comedy pilot in the early 1990s.
Jones has three grown-up step-children from his first marriage. While she's never had children of her own, being a step-mum came naturally to her.
"You take things as they come," she says. "There wasn't a moment when I thought, 'I've become a step-mum now'.
"We were really lucky. Our three were just gorgeous human beings.
"We never had any difficulty with teenage angst and now I'm looking forward to becoming a step-grandmother at some point."
The couple set up a production company and co-created Stella - doing 58 episodes together - but she maintains there won't be anymore.
"It took over our lives," Jones says. "We'd storyline the next series in August when we were still filming the previous series, so there was never a break.
"We loved it and created fantastic characters that we still laugh about, but we knew we'd move on.
"I always say, 'Never say never', but it's very unlikely."
While she has extremely fond memories of it and remains friends with Corden, there are also no plans to bring back Gavin & Stacey.
"We used to talk about maybe doing a special, but if you look at the logistics of it, James lives in America and I don't know how long he'll be out there for," Jones explains. "He's so busy. Even if we did write something, when would we film it?
"James and I still have little conversations about what Nessa's doing, or what's happened to Neil the baby, who is now about 10. We come up with little things that the characters are doing.
"I saw him (Corden) last Christmas and we were crying with laughter just remembering the process of writing.
"We started writing it 13 years ago. Would we still have the same innocence to put into the characters? I don't know."
Jones is under contract to write a second book and has several other projects on the go, but these days she shies away from red-carpet bashes and other celebrity events.
"Well, I live in Cardiff and we haven't got many 'paps' there, I've got to say," she jokes.
She's also keen to keep a balance between her professional and private lives.
"If I'm doing a charity event and I'm there because that will give the event interest, then fair enough," Jones says. "People should be able to have their selfies and autographs.
"But the other day I was in the car and my husband was just getting in when this guy came out, looked at me and literally pushed my husband out of the way.
"He said, 'Excuse me, are you that woman from Gavin & Stacey?' and my husband was left standing there. I just went, 'No, not me'. Sometimes people don't realise they're being rude."
She wonders how Corden deals with the extreme fame he has attracted.
"I just don't know how the real celebrities deal with it," Jones admits. For James and Julia (Carey, Corden's wife), if you've got three small children and you're out and about, it must be tricky."
Never Greener by Ruth Jones is published by Bantam, priced £12.99