GEORGE Costigan is one of those actors you instantly recognise on screen but whose name may easily escape you.

"When I'm out and about, people go, 'I know you'," he chuckles.

He's probably best remembered for his role as adulterous businessman Bob who embarks on an affair with two schoolgirls in classic 1987 film Rita, Sue and Bob Too, filmed largely on Buttershaw estate.

He's also been directed by Clint Eastwood in Hollywood drama Hereafter and played Eddie, philandering husband of Ruth (Penelope Wilton), in the movie Calendar Girls.

TV roles have got meatier as he's got older, he says. He has clinched roles in award-winning dramas including Sally Wainwright's Happy Valley (playing brash businessman millionaire Nevison Gallagher, whose daughter goes missing), Line Of Duty, Unforgiven, Scott & Bailey and Emmerdale."The TV roles have got meatier but I can be choosier now," he reflects. "If I don't want to do something, I can be a bit picky. There's stuff I did when the kids' feet were growing because I needed to financially and I recognise that."

He loves working on Wainwright's projects. "She's such a good writer. She's done all the work and the thinking. Basically you turn up and say the lines in the right order and you'll look terribly good."

Yet he has been surrounded by good writers throughout his career, including Willy Russell and Alan Bleasdale during his years with the Liverpool Everyman Theatre, which spawned such actors as Julie Walters and the late Pete Postlethwaite.

He's also married to writer Julia North, whom he met while at the Everyman, and has himself written plays and collaborated with North on TV comedy Birds Of A Feather.

But it has taken him nearly 20 years to complete his first trilogy of novels. Last year his debut, The Single Soldier, was published, a love story beginning in the Second World War during the German Occupation of France, which sees Frenchman Jacques move and rebuild his home for his loved one, Simone, to return to after the war. Costigan, who has lived in France for 30 years, says: "We were out mushrooming one day with friends who took us through an old, dark wood. We got to the end and they showed us a house perched on an impossible hill."

The house, he says, stood in desolation with a view across to the Cathar mountains: "But it was sad. We discovered that at the turn of the 20th century the owner fell out with a neighbour and moved it from a nearby village to this field and rebuilt it there."

The image of him moving it brick by brick in a cart to rebuild it in a field - a feat that took seven years - gave Costigan the idea for the novel. The follow-up, The Soldier's Home, continues the story, with Simone and Enid, two interlinked stories in one book, continuing the tale. Simone is living as a single mother in the US, pining for Jacques, the father of their son, and hoping they can rekindle their love and that she will one day move back. But life moves on, they both form other relationships and their dreams fade.

Costigan divides his time between home in the Aveyron in southern France and the UK. His eldest son, actor Niall, lives in Yorkshire and Costigan comes over when he can to see his grandson, Felix.

He's currently starring in Eugene O'Neill's Long Day's Journey Into Night as angry patriarch James Tyrone at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow. When it finishes, he'll return to his French home - "27km from the nearest traffic light".

Born in Portsmouth, he grew up in Salford, and has found that a lot of his roles have demanded a Yorkshire accent. He'll soon join Suranne Jones in Gentleman Jack, Sally Wainwright's new eight-part TV drama filmed at Shibden Hall, Halifax, and is thinking of writing a whodunnit for his wife. "It started as a present for Jules - I've written half of it and now I'm getting stuck on the police procedural bit, so it may take some time."

Hopefully not another 20 years.