independent

Saturday 19 April 2014

In her own write

Tanya Sweeney meets author Jane Fallon for a frank discussion on the creative process, the ageing process and works in progress

Jane Fallon

When it comes to celebrity, novelists get the best of both worlds. Peers laud your work, readers hail your talents, critics lavish praise ... yet it's entirely possible to enjoy anonymity and the chance to shop in Tesco in peace. Not, however, if you're Jane Fallon.

As the long-time partner of funnyman Ricky Gervais, she gets to dip in and out of starry circles at will.

"It's kind of weird. If I go out on my own, no one takes [paparazzi] shots of me, which is the great thing about being a writer," she says. "But then there's the time you're both going up the high street together and you haven't put any make-up on, and it can get a bit wearing.

"You never see them [the photographers] until they've seen you. Most of them take a couple and move on, but some can be kind of persistent and follow you to the restaurant or wherever. You can't really relax and just have a nice day. And the thing is, Ricky works hard, and sometimes we just want a nice day together. Instead, it leaves me thinking, 'Oh God, I didn't brush my hair'. By now they must have so many pictures of us just walking up the road."

Although I am told expressly in advance by two publicists that the mere mention of Mr G is strictly verboten, Jane Fallon is more down to earth than anyone with an A-list partner worth $80m has a right to be. An unpretentious and candid interviewee, she's self-deprecating in a way you'd expect from someone who has lived with Ricky Gervais for more than 30 years. Writing in her affable, girls' girl voice, the 53-year-old has just written her fifth book, 'Skeletons'. It's every bit as acerbic as its predecessors – little wonder that she has been credited with creating the 'chick-noir' genre.

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Fallon and Gervais get the giggles at the Times 100 Gala

"I kind of like that, but it always sounds like it's of the 'noir' genre," she says. "I've heard the 'chick lit with an edge' label alright, but you don't have the likes of Tony Parsons or Nick Hornby being described as 'something with an edge'."

There are no two ways about it, in the ruthless and cut-throat world of book publishing, the Gervais connection has most likely helped to boost sales of Fallon's novels. Her 2007 debut, 'Getting Rid Of Matthew', sold more than half-a-million copies, while 2008's 'Got You Back', 2010's 'Foursome' and 2011's 'The Ugly Sister' held their own, too. Yet there's getting in the door and having the goods to back it up ... and not for nothing is Fallon still in business, five books in.

While Gervais has seemingly gone more 'Hollywood' in recent years, losing weight and reportedly whitening his teeth (though he denies this furiously), Fallon makes for a glowing plus-one on the red carpet. Given that writing is such a solitary existence, I wonder if the likes of the Golden Globes and Emmy Awards are still something of a culture shock for her.

"For me, it's a question of finding amazing people to do my hair and make-up," she says. "You do realise that the pictures will be knocking about after – forever in the case of the internet. Initially, I found that a bit traumatic, a bit stressful. If I were 25 or 30 when it first happened, I might feel different, maybe not as confident about how I looked. But I look forward to dressing up and picking out a nice dress, all of that."

When I interviewed Fallon in 2010 ahead of the release of 'Foursome', I asked her about the pressure to conform to Hollywood's physical ideals. Her reply was: "I hope I never become that person who is all about getting Botox. If you spend too much time in LA you might start to lose a sense of what's normal."

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Ricky Gervais and Jane Fallon at the NTAs in London

With a few more red carpet shindigs under her belt, her 50th birthday now behind her and with Gervais seemingly in an ongoing bid for physical self-improvement, does this anti-Botox sentiment still stand?

"I'm still the same, it all still moves around," she deadpans. "If you woke up one morning and you were clinically depressed about wrinkles, maybe. But I don't like that look. I don't want to look like a startled rabbit. As for the people with big cheeks that weren't born with big cheeks?"

She sounds a bit exasperated, like she's seen plenty of this carry-on at close range.

"I just hope it goes out of fashion," she adds. "It's like, 'What are you doing?' It's not graceful and slightly alien."

So does she ever Google herself?

"I do occasionally," she concedes. "Anyone who says they don't is lying. I do it when I have a book coming out, to see what people are saying about it. But I'd never do it to see just what people were thinking. You'd go mad."

Fallon is happy to partly debunk the 'Mr and Mrs Hollywood' myth. "We only spend two or three of the weeks there," she says. "We spend more time in New York. I love LA for a couple of days, I like the healthy food, but it's a one-industry town. From the hairdressers to the waiter, everyone's involved in the industry."

A former TV writer and producer (among her credits are 'This Life' and 'Teachers'), Fallon has scored several Hollywood meetings off her own bat. Alas, the much- mooted film adaptation of 'Getting Rid of Matthew' has yet to get off the blocks.

"Universal and Jennifer Aniston bought the rights, and we spent four years going 'okay, she's off doing something ... oh, she's off again doing something else', and then we kind of came out the other end," explains Fallon.

"Film is a torturous process. With TV you pitch to the broadcaster and it gets commissioned and green-lit and that's it. Film is so vague and so endless. No one ever works with any urgency. You would speak to someone for months and they'll say, 'I'm gonna get you a list of directors'. Months later, you'll have the exact same conversation. Give me TV any day."

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Ricky Gervais and Jane Fallon at the NTAs in London

Yet even while carving out a sterling career in TV, Fallon admits that her successes were a distraction from her real calling as a novelist. She had written for decades, starting and abandoning projects. She was 44 before she finished her first novel.

"It was a courage thing," she says. "Plus, I'd never found a way of writing that I felt comfortable with. It sounded pretentious and too literary and it didn't feel like me. I'd write away in the evenings and never admitted it to anyone, because I was really self-conscious about it and unconfident about it. It's a bit ridiculous to be embarrassed about showing someone your work. But TV was definitely like a substitute, yeah – working with stories and dialogue and storylines was great, so I let myself think I was fulfilling that part of me."

Writing 'Skeletons' over 18 months, Fallon has certainly found her groove and is even tearing into her next book project with relish.

"I occasionally miss friends and colleagues in TV, but not the nature of the work. I'm such a solitary person that working on my own is perfect for me," she says.

These days, she makes a concentrated effort to write something every day.

"The best time for me is early in the morning," she says. "I get up at 7.30am before the distractions – your partner getting up or the doorbell ringing.

"There's always someone coming to our house because we always need something repaired. It's like we live in 'The Money Pit'."

'Skeletons', published by Penguin, is in bookshops next month

(Weekend)

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