Ken Follett

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Ken Follett

BornKenneth Martin Follett
(1949-06-05) 5 June 1949 (age 74)
Cardiff, Wales
Alma materUniversity College London
GenreThriller, spy novel, historical fiction
Notable worksEye of the Needle
The Key to Rebecca
The Pillars of the Earth
World Without End
Century Trilogy
Mary Emma Ruth Elson
(m. 1968⁠–⁠1985)
(m. 1985)
RelativesJann Turner (step-daughter)

Kenneth Martin Follett, CBE, FRSL[1][2] (born 5 June 1949) is a Welsh author of thrillers and historical novels who has sold more than 160 million copies of his works.[3]

Many of his books have achieved high ranking on bestseller lists. For example, in the US, many reached the number-one position on the New York Times Best Seller list, including Triple (1979), The Key to Rebecca (1980), Lie Down with Lions (1985), A Dangerous Fortune (1993), World Without End (2007), Fall of Giants (2010), Winter of the World (2012), and Edge of Eternity (2014).[4]

Early life and education[edit]

Follett was born on 5 June 1949 in Cardiff, Wales. He was the first child of Martin Follett, a tax inspector, and Lavinia (Veenie) Follett, who went on to have two more children, Hannah and James.[5][6] Barred from watching films and television by his Plymouth Brethren parents, he developed an early interest in reading but remained an indifferent student until he entered his teens.[5][6] His family moved to London when he was ten years old, and he began applying himself to his studies at Harrow Weald Grammar School and Poole Technical College.

He won admission in 1967 to University College London, where he studied philosophy and became involved in centre-left politics. He married Mary, in 1968, and their son Emanuele was born in the same year. After graduation in the autumn of 1970, Follett took a three-month post-graduate course in journalism and went to work as a trainee reporter in Cardiff on the South Wales Echo. In 1973 a daughter, Marie-Claire, was born.


After three years in Cardiff, he returned to London as a general-assignment reporter for the Evening News. Finding the work unchallenging, he eventually left journalism for publishing and became, by the late 1970s, deputy managing director of the small London publisher Everest Books.[5] He began writing fiction during evenings and weekends as a hobby. Later, he said, he began writing books when he needed extra money to fix his car, and the publishers' advance a fellow journalist had been paid for a thriller was the sum required for the repairs.[7]

Further successes[edit]

Success came gradually at first, but the 1978 publication of Eye of the Needle, which became an international bestseller and sold over 10 million copies, made him both wealthy and internationally famous.[8]

Each of Follett's subsequent novels has become a best-seller, ranking high on the New York Times Best Seller list; a number have been adapted for the screen. As of January 2018, he had published 44 books.[9] The first five best sellers were spy thrillers: Eye of the Needle (1978), Triple (1979), The Key to Rebecca (1980), The Man from St. Petersburg (1982) and Lie Down with Lions (1986). On Wings of Eagles (1983) was the true story of how two of Ross Perot's employees were rescued from Iran during the revolution of 1979. The next three novels, Night Over Water (1991), A Dangerous Fortune (1993) and A Place Called Freedom (1995) were more historical than thriller, but he returned to the thriller genre with The Third Twin (1996) which in the Publishing Trends annual survey of international fiction best-sellers for 1997 was ranked no. 2 worldwide, after John Grisham's The Partner. His next work, The Hammer of Eden (1998), was another contemporary suspense story followed by a Cold War thriller, Code to Zero (2000).

Follett with the German edition of his book Whiteout in October 2005

Follett returned to the Second World War era with his next two novels, Jackdaws (2001), a thriller about a group of women parachuted into France to destroy a vital telephone exchange – which won the Corine Literature Prize for 2003 – and Hornet Flight (2002), about a daring young Danish couple who escape to Britain from occupied Denmark in a rebuilt Hornet Moth biplane with vital information about German radar. Whiteout (2004) is a contemporary thriller about the theft of a deadly virus from a research lab.

Follett in Helsinki, Finland on World Book Day in 2005.

Kingsbridge series[edit]

Follett surprised his readers with his first non-spy thriller, The Pillars of the Earth (1989), a novel about building a cathedral in a small English village during the Anarchy in the 12th century. The novel was highly successful, received positive reviews and was on The New York Times Best Seller list for eighteen weeks. It topped best-seller lists in Canada, Britain and Italy, and was on the German best-seller list for six years. It has sold 26 million copies so far.[10] On 16 August 2017, it was published as a computer game adaptation by German developer and publisher Daedalic Entertainment.[11]

Its much-later sequel,[12] World Without End (2007), returns to Kingsbridge 157 years later, and features the descendants of the characters in Pillars. It focuses on the destinies of a handful of people as their lives are devastated by the Black Death, the plague that swept Europe from the middle of the 14th century.

The next novel in the series, A Column of Fire,[13] was published in September 2017.[13] Beginning in 1558, the story follows the romance between Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald over half a century. It commences at a time when Europe turns against Elizabethan England, and the queen finds herself beset by plots to dethrone her.[14]

A fourth novel, The Evening and the Morning (2020), is a prequel to The Pillars of the Earth. Set in the decade around 1000 AD – in the so-called Dark Ages – the story "concerns the gradual creation of the town of Kingsbridge and of the many people – priests, nobles, peasants, the enslaved – who played significant roles".[15] As such, the book provides "a solid underpinning to the later installments of the Kingsbridge series".[15]

A fifth novel, The Armour of Light, was released in September 2023. The novel is set to open in 1792, around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution.[16]

The series has been described as being "as comprehensive an account of the building of a civilization – with its laws, structures, customs and beliefs – as you are likely to encounter anywhere in popular fiction".[15]

Century trilogy[edit]

Follett's novels, Fall of Giants, Winter of the World and Edge of Eternity, make up the Century Trilogy. Fall of Giants (2010) followed the fates of five interrelated families – American, German, Russian, English and Welsh – as they moved through the world-shaking dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the struggle for women's suffrage. Fall of Giants, published simultaneously in 14 countries, was internationally popular and topped several best-seller lists.[17]

Winter of the World (2012) picks up where the first book left off, as its five interrelated families enter a time of enormous social, political, and economic turmoil, beginning with the rise of Nazi Germany, through the Spanish Civil War and the great dramas of World War II, to the explosions of the American and Soviet atom bombs and the beginning of the long Cold War.

The final novel in the 'Century' trilogy, Edge of Eternity, which follows those families through the events of the second half of the 20th century, was published on 16 September 2014. Like the previous two books, it chronicles the lives of five families through the Cold War and civil-rights movements.[18]

A major element of the first two volumes, Fall of Giants and Winter of the World, is the increasing political assertiveness of the British working class and the rise of the British Labour Party – exemplified by the Williams Family, Welsh coal miners, of which several viewpoint characters end up as Members of the British Parliament and one of them becomes a cabinet minister in Clement Attlee's post-WWII Labour government. However, the theme of British politics is nearly absent from the third part Edge of Eternity, which concentrates on the Cold War on the one hand and the US Civil Rights Movement on the other; for example, though the novel continues until 1989, it makes no reference at all to the rise of Margaret Thatcher in 1979.


Follett has had a number of novels made into films and television mini series: Eye of the Needle was made into an acclaimed film, starring Donald Sutherland, and six novels have been made into television mini-series: The Key to Rebecca, Lie Down with Lions, On Wings of Eagles (1986), The Third Twin – the rights for which were sold to CBS for $US1,400,000, a record price at the time – and The Pillars of the Earth (2010) and World Without End (2012).

A video game adaptation titled Ken Follett's The Pillars of the Earth, developed and published by German studio Daedalic Entertainment, was released in three parts from 2017 to 2018.

Follett had cameo roles as the valet in The Third Twin and later as a merchant in The Pillars of the Earth. In 2016, A Dangerous Fortune was also adapted.[19]

Public life[edit]

Follett is a member of various organisations that promote literacy and writing, and is actively involved in various organisations in his home town of Stevenage.

  • Chair of the National Year of Reading 1998–99, a British government initiative to raise literacy levels.[20]
  • Fellow of University College, London (1994)
  • Fellow of Yr Academi Gymreig – the Welsh Academy (2011)
  • Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
  • President, Dyslexia Action (1998–2009)[21]
  • Patron, Schools Radio (2007–)
  • Chair of the Advisory Committee, Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) UK (2003–)
  • Board Member, National Academy of Writing (2003–)
  • Trustee, National Literacy Trust (1996–)

He is active in numerous Stevenage charities and was a governor of Roebuck Primary School for ten years, serving as the Chair of Governors for four of those years.

On 15 September 2010, Follett, along with 54 other public figures, signed an open letter published in The Guardian stating their opposition to Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the UK.[22]

He has also donated £25,000 to the Yvette Cooper campaign in the 2015 Labour Party (UK) leadership election,[23] as well as another £25,000 from his wife Barbara Follett.[24]

Follett's archival papers are housed at the Saginaw Valley State University in Michigan, United States. They include outlines, first drafts, notes and correspondence, original manuscripts, and copies of early books now out of print.[25]


Personal life[edit]

Follett statue in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Basque Country, Spain

Follett became involved, during the late 1970s, in the activities of Britain's Labour Party. In the course of his political activities, he met Barbara Broer, a Labour Party official, who became his second wife in 1984. She was elected as a Member of Parliament in 1997, representing Stevenage. She was re-elected in both 2001 and 2005, but did not stand in the 2010 general election.[33] Follett himself remains a prominent Labour supporter and fundraiser as well as a prominent Blairite.

He is an amateur musician playing bass guitar for Damn Right I Got the Blues, and appears occasionally with the folk group Clog Iron playing a bass balalaika.[34]

Follett now lives in Hertfordshire, England.[35]


Apples Carstairs series (as Simon Myles)

  • The Big Needle (1974) (a.k.a. The Big Apple – U.S.)
  • The Big Black (1974)
  • The Big Hit (1975)

Piers Roper series

  • The Shakeout (1975)
  • The Bear Raid (1976)

Kingsbridge series

The Century Trilogy

Standalone novels



  1. ^ "Ken Follett: Proud to be made CBE for work I love". ITV News. 8 June 2018. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  2. ^ "Royal Society of Literature – Ken Follett". Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  3. ^ "Ken Follett – Master Storyteller and Best-Selling Author". Archived from the original on 12 May 2020. Retrieved 13 February 2015.
  4. ^ "Ken Follett".New York Times List of Number One Best Sellers
  5. ^ a b c "Ken Follett". WNYC. 7 December 2003. Archived from the original on 1 December 2008. Retrieved 28 January 2009.
  6. ^ a b "The early years ..." Archived from the original on 24 January 2009. Retrieved 28 January 2009.
  7. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (21 July 2010). "No Money to Fix Your Car? Write a Best Seller". The New York Times. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  8. ^ "Follett, Ken | List of Writers". Archived from the original on 13 April 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  9. ^ Fantastic, Fiction. "Ken Follett". Retrieved 2 February 2018.
  10. ^ Frauenfelder, Mark (18 August 2017). "Interview with Ken Follett about forthcoming 3rd book in Kingsbridge series: A Column of Fire". Boing Boing. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  11. ^ "The Pillars of the Earth video game is out now". Ken Follett. September 2017. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  12. ^ "Ken to pen sequel to The Pillars of the Earth". Ken Follett. 5 May 2014. Archived from the original on 4 September 2017.
  13. ^ a b "A Column of Fire". Ken Follett. n.d. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  14. ^ "The Kingsbridge Novels". Pan Macmillan. Archived from the original on 16 December 2018. Retrieved 4 September 2017.
  15. ^ a b c Sheehan, Bill (21 September 2020). "Ken Follett's 'Pillars of the Earth' prequel is just as transporting – and lengthy – as his famous epic". The Washington Post. Retrieved 3 November 2020.
  16. ^ "The Armour of Light". Ken Follett. n.d. Retrieved 19 January 2023.
  17. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 February 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2013.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  18. ^ svetlanalasrado (23 September 2014). "Follett tweaks beststeller formula".
  19. ^ Barraclough, Leo (30 September 2015). "Watch: Ken Follett Drama 'A Dangerous Fortune' Heads to Mipcom (EXCLUSIVE)". Variety. Retrieved 2 March 2022.
  20. ^ "Ken Follett – Greater Talent Network Speakers Bureau".
  21. ^ "Charley Boorman's visit to young offenders". 19 February 2009. Archived from the original on 4 December 2013.
  22. ^ "Letters: Harsh judgments on the pope and religion". The Guardian. London. 15 September 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2010.
  23. ^ "The Electoral Commission (donations search)". Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  24. ^ "The Electoral Commission (donations search)". Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  25. ^ "Ken Follett | Biography | Archives". Ken Follett. Archived from the original on 13 January 2016. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  26. ^ "Author and campaigner Ken Follett CBE awarded Honorary Doctor of Letters degree by University of Warwick". University of Warwick. 18 January 2019. Retrieved 17 April 2024.
  27. ^ "No. 62310". The London Gazette (Supplement). 9 June 2018. p. B8.
  28. ^ "Ken Follett". RSL. Retrieved 17 April 2024.
  29. ^ "María Dueñas y Ken Follett, premios Qué Leer de los Lectores | Qué Leer – Revista". Archived from the original on 17 June 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  30. ^ "Goodreads".
  31. ^ Multimedia, Spiral. "FUNDACIÓN CATEDRAL SANTA MARÍA KATEDRALA FUNDAZIOA – VISITS, MEDIA LIBRARY, PRESS, BLOG..." Archived from the original on 18 February 2012. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  32. ^ "Fondazione Città del Libro". Premio Bancarella – Pontremoli – Lunigiana. Retrieved 3 June 2019.
  33. ^ "MP Follett to repay largest sum". BBC News. 4 February 2010. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  34. ^ "Ken Follett | Biography". Ken Follett. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  35. ^ Ken Follett Biography. Book Reporter, 2021.
  36. ^ "Ken Follett | A Column of Fire". Archived from the original on 5 May 2019. Retrieved 3 May 2017.
  37. ^ "Winter of the World, by Ken Follett". CBS News.
  38. ^ "Follett rewrote this book after two translators had failed to produce a publishable version of the original French work. He has tried to keep it from being published under his name and disowns it entirely, entreating readers not to buy it". Archived from the original on 5 April 2006. Retrieved 1 April 2006.
  39. ^ Translation from original French version.

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