Ken Follett Biography

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(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Kenneth Martin Follett was born on June 5, 1949, in Cardiff, Wales, the son of Martin D. Follett and Lavinia C. Evans Follett. His father was an Inland Revenue clerk and later a lecturer at a school for tax inspectors. After growing up in Cardiff, Follett studied philosophy at the University of London. He married Mary Emma Ruth Elson in 1968, and their son, Emanuele, was born later that year. A daughter, Marie-Claire, was born in 1973. Follett’s wife worked as a bookkeeper while he continued his education. After he graduated in 1970, he worked as a reporter and popular-music columnist for the South Wales Echo in Cardiff. In 1973, he became a crime reporter for the Evening News in London for a year. Follett’s switch from journalism to fiction resulted from financial necessity. His daughter had just been born and the family had recently bought a house when Follett’s car broke down. Because a fellow journalist had made some quick money by selling a mystery novel, Follett hurriedly wrote The Big Needle (1974), a mystery about drug dealers. The book paid Follett’s car repair bill and encouraged him to continue pursuing fiction.

In 1974, Follett joined the staff of Everest Books, a modest London publisher, to learn the essentials of writing best sellers. He spent the following years rising to deputy managing director of the firm and writing nine more books—mysteries, thrillers, and children’s mysteries—under his own name and a series of pseudonyms, earning about five thousand dollars for each. Follett told the Los Angeles Times that he learned to create good books “by writing mediocre ones and wondering what was wrong with them.” He also attempted to make some of these early efforts at least different from the flood of popular fiction, with industrial spying the subject of The Shakeout (1975) and The Bear Raid (1976).

Follett’s breakthrough came with The Eye of the Needle (1978). The novel, which resulted from an English publisher’s request for an adventure novel having something to do with World War II, was an international success. It sold more than ten million copies and won the Edgar Allan Poe Award of the Mystery Writers of America. It established Follett as a novelist. After publishing Triple with Arbor House in 1979, he signed a three-million-dollar deal for three more books with New American Library/William Morrow. He then took his family to a village near Nice, France, where they lived until returning to England in 1982.

During the 1980’s, Follett continued to write spy novels but also ventured into other fields. The success of the American industrialist H. Ross Perot’s company in rescuing hostages from the Iranian government provided the material for Follett’s On Wings of Eagles (1983), a nonfictional book. In 1989, he published his first historical novel, The Pillars of the Earth, a family saga involving the building of a medieval cathedral. Despite the book’s controversial sexual content, it was judged one of England’s best one hundred novels by a British Broadcasting Company poll in 2003. Owing in part to that novel’s success, Follett signed a deal with Dell Publishing Company to write two more books for $12.3 million. However, although Dell was pleased with A Dangerous Fortune (1993), it was less enthusiastic about A Place Called Freedom (1995), a saga set in the United States. Eventually Crown Publishers negotiated a deal with Dell and published the book, enabling Follett to retain authorial control of his work.

Meanwhile, during the 1980’s, Follett and his wife divorced. Afterward, Follett married Barbara Broer, who was a Labour Party member of Parliament for Stevenage, England, where the couple settled.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Kenneth Martin Follett was born in Cardiff, Wales, on June 5, 1949, the son of Lavinia C. Evans and Martin D. Follett. His father worked as an inland revenue clerk and then as a lecturer training tax inspectors. Follett’s conservative Christian parents barred television in the home and disapproved of films....

(The entire section is 1,989 words.)