When a customer comes to ABC asking for an intelligent thriller that’s ‘not like Dan Brown’ then we’re very likely to hand them a copy of Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth; a historical novel, that was a 2007 Oprah pick, and is still an ABC Evergreen, about the building of a cathedral in 12th century England. It’s a massive, immersive and utterly enthralling book that grabs the reader from the first page, widely acknowledged as Follett’s masterpiece. It was recently turned into a miniseries for television, helmed by none of other than Ridley Scott. Pillars of the Earth was published in 1989 – readers had to wait almost twenty years for the sequel, World Without End, which shot straight to number one in the bestseller charts across the globe, even outselling Harry Potter in some countries.
At last, Follett has another new book, Fall of Giants, the first in a brilliantly researched trilogy, spanning Europe and the 20th century. Fall of Giants moves seamlessly from Washington to St. Petersburg, from the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty. It’s another massive book, but as always with Follett, the pages turn fast and the characters draw you into their world.
Mr Follett graciously took the time to answer a few questions from Do You Read Me? reader GJ.
I have three houses, and there is a library in each. I like to work surrounded by books. At present I write from 7am to 5pm, Monday to Saturday.
How do you keep a book with 700 pages exciting on every page?
The story must turn every four to six pages. A story turn is anything that changes the situation for the characters.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 12 months?
Island Beneath the Sea by Isabelle Allende. It’s about slaves in Haiti, and the Caribbean really suits her sensual writing style.
Fall of Giants is the first part of a trilogy, have you mapped out where book 2 and 3 will go?
I’m writing the second book, and I have a rough idea of the plan for the third.
Absolutely. Everything I say about people such as Woodrow Wilson or Lenin is true. If they have a fictional conversation, I used words they really did use in other circumstances.
There are a lot of nationalities and countries in Fall of Giants. How do you come up with names for every character?
There are now Internet web sites with names in every country.
Your first novel was published in 1974, how has your writing style evolved since then?
My style was too brisk in the early days, because I was used to writing for newspapers. My early unsuccessful books were all too short. Clearly I have now solved that problem!
Have you been stuck writing at a certain point in Fall of Giants and how did you find a way to continue?
No, I don’t often get stuck. Sometimes I pace around for a while, thinking.
What is it like to have Pillars of the Earth turned into a mini-series? Have you turned down many requests to adapt it and why?
I’m very pleased with the miniseries. The script is good, the actors are wonderful, and the whole thing is very exciting. Two sets of negotiations for the rights foundered on the question of length: I insisted on at least six hours. Ridley Scott was prepared to guarantee that, and we made a deal.
When can we expect the second book in the Century Trilogy and what have you done to relax between book 1 and 2?
I hope to finish the second book in time for it to be published in autumn 2012. I haven’t done much relaxing.