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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 753

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Kenneth Martin Follett (FAHL-iht) is a writer of popular spy thrillers. He is the son of Martin Follett, a clerk in the British internal revenue department, and Lavinia Follett, a full-time homemaker. Raised in a strict, fundamentalist environment, Follett was a voracious reader who lived in the fantasy world of books. He did well in school, and an aptitude test taken at the age of eleven gained him admission into a college preparatory high school and later into the prestigious state-supported University of London. The shift from working class to middle class, accomplished through the educational process, enabled Follett to move later with ease through different worlds and cultures in his books as well as in his own life.{$S[A]Myles, Symon;Follett, Ken}{$S[A]Ross, Bernard L.;Follett, Ken}{$S[A]Stone, Zachary;Follett, Ken}{$S[A]Martinsen, Martin;Follett, Ken}

Upon his graduation with an honors degree in philosophy in 1970, Follett began his career in journalism as a rock-music columnist for the South Wales Echo from 1970 to 1973. He returned to London in 1973 to work as a crime reporter for the Evening News. In 1974 he left journalism for a young publishing company, Everest Books, joining some journalistic acquaintances who knew very little about book publishing. He assumed the position of editorial director and later became deputy managing director in 1976. Eager to learn what make books sell, Follett stayed at Everest Books for five years.

In 1973, feeling the need to earn additional income, Follett followed the example of a coworker and hurriedly wrote The Big Needle, using the pseudonym of Symon Myles. He then wrote a series of mysteries, thrillers, and science-fiction novels, along with two children’s books, all written under various pseudonyms.

In 1978, convinced that he had achieved sufficient writing skill to author under his own name, Follett wrote Storm Island (published in the United States as The Eye of the Needle), which became a best-seller, establishing him as a writer of spy fiction, making him a millionaire at the age of twenty-nine, and winning for him the Edgar Allan Poe award from the Mystery Writers of America. His first big success was succeeded by Triple, The Key to Rebecca, and The Man from St. Petersburg—all spy thrillers which focus on a moment of international crisis, around which Follett creates suspenseful fictional events and characters whose actions might have altered the outcome.

In 1985 Follett divorced his wife, the former Mary Elson, whom he had married in 1968 and with whom he had two children—a son, Emanuele, and a daughter, Marie-Claire. In that same year, he married Barbara Broer, the widow of a slain South African civil rights activist, and soon afterward established and pledged to fund a scholarship in memory of her husband.

Also in 1985 Follett began writing The Pillars of the Earth, a lengthy historical novel about the building of a medieval cathedral. His one-thousand-page book deals not with religion but the political machinations of forces to control the cathedral. Maintaining that his interest was not in the church, Follett, an avowed atheist, moved away from the conservative ideals of his youth—a process that had begun in college with his participation in student protests. His earlier novels had reached a wide audience in the United States at a time of conservative leadership under President Ronald Reagan, and, ironically, their success enabled him to write books that incorporated his more liberal political leanings.

Follett commenced working actively in the British Labour Party, a group traditionally defined by its working-class membership. He served as press officer and celebrity unit chair for the organization, a position from which he resigned in 1995. In 1997 he helped his wife win election to Parliament; he has remained in the Labour party.

The 1990’s saw Follett returning to the spy thriller genre with which he began his career. His foray into historical fiction resulted in personal artistic growth as well as the expansion of the conventions of the genre itself. In a form of writing that historically has relied upon tough-guy heroes, characterized by clichéd speech and a first-person voice, Follett has broadened his point of view to contrast male and female outlooks. Also, he has gradually shifted the point of emphasis from the male to the female perspective, depicting, in the process, strong women characters and exhibiting an inclination toward patterns of romance. It is noteworthy that a writer of tough fiction whose political sensibilities were formed in the 1960’s would pioneer a shift toward more equity for male and female characters.


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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 187

Ken Follett was born in 1949, in Cardiff, Wales. After graduating from college with a degree in philosophy, Follett worked as a journalist and later as an editor in the publishing industry. Follett has said that he realized he would not be as good a journalist as he had hoped, so he first took up writing fiction as a hobby, working on stories in his free time. However, with the 1978 award-winning publication of his thriller Eye of the Needle, Follett's focus changed. This was actually Follett's eleventh book, but it was the first to become popular. The novel built a large and supportive reading audience for Follett, who continued writing in the same genre. He went on to publish more thrillers, many of which were adapted to screen and television.

Then in 1989, Follett surprised readers by publishing his first historical novel, The Pillars of the Earth. It turned out to be a pleasant surprise, and his audience grew, especially after the novel made Oprah Winfrey's list of best books. Follett has published fifteen novels since writing his first successful book, most of them featuring strong, central female characters.


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