Book Talk: Ken Follett tackles the 20th Century

MEBLOURNE Wed Sep 29, 2010 7:26am EDT

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MEBLOURNE (Reuters) - British author Ken Follett decided he wanted to take on a massive project -- so he embarked on a trilogy following five families across the entire 20th century and the major historical events of that period.

The first novel in "The Century Triology," "Fall of Giants," is released this month at about 1,000 pages.

Follett, 61, known for writing over 30 thrillers and historical novels including "Eye of the Needle" and "World Without End," said he believed people still had an appetite for long books, if they were well written and engaging.

Follett started out as a journalist and then publisher and is a prominent supporter and fundraiser for Britain's Labour party. He recently joined 54 other public figures in an open letter opposing Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain.

Follett spoke to Reuters about his writing:

Q: "Fall of Giants" was quite a project.

A: "It took me 2-1/2 years which was about six months of planning and 15 months on the first draft."

Q: What spurred it?

A: "After I finished World Without End (published 2007) I was looking for an idea with the same sweep. World Without End doubled my readership. I wanted to try that kind of book again but I didn't want to write about the Middle Ages again."

Q: Why do you think World Without End was so popular?

A: "I think it's the kind of book which isn't written much any more. It is a long and meaty story but it is, in a funny way, old fashioned. It has a plot and characters and conflicts and resolution. This kind of novel is really Victorian and there is a shortage of these nowadays. When I started to write Fall of Giants I was looking to read something like this but could find nothing. No one had tried to write about the whole century like this, putting characters in large historic events."

Q: You don't think long books are losing appeal in the Internet age?

A: "People love a long book as long as it is interesting. I even get mail from readers saying they wish the books were longer. I've no doubt that, provided I keep their attention and keep them involved, I will keep them reading. I have to do my job and write well. It can go badly wrong if I start to think that everything I write is magic."

Q: Any more adaptations to screen?

A: "World Without End has been optioned by the same people who produced Pillars of the Earth. It is a very good mini-series with very good actors. It's been a big success and I am pleased that the same people are looking at going with World Without End.

Q: Do you get involved?

A: "They are good enough to show me the script and ask my views. But also I played a very small role in the mini-series of The Pillars of the Earth. I am on the screen for about 15 marvelous seconds. I may not win an Oscar for it! I also made a cameo appearance in the mini-series "The Third Twin" when I played Larry Hagman's butler with the immortal line: "right away, sir."

Q: Are you still active in the Labour party?

A: "The fact Barbara (his second wife) was an MP for 13 years and for 13 years Britain was ruled by my friend is part of what made me write Fall of Giants. I am very comfortable writing about politics and what is going on in Downing Street and the backrooms because the people with whom I have been having dinner and going on holiday with and so on for 13 years are all involved in this world. Barbara has retired now though and one way or another we are out of it now."

Q: You're on a major world tour to promote Fall of Giants. Are you still working on the second book in the trilogy?

A: "Absolutely. It is hard to write on tour but I am trying to do it. I find I like writing on planes and I am doing a great deal of flying in the coming months. I want to publish the second book in 2012 and the third in 2014."

Q: Are you disciplined with your writing?

A: "I think most authors are. If you can't discipline yourself you never finish a book and you can't become an author. I don't know anyone who sits and waits for inspiration."

(Editing by Steve Addison)

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