Print Friendly, PDF & Email

By Kathleen Antrim

Ken Follett is an inspiration.  Yes, he’s an internationally acclaimed, bestselling author with 21 blockbusters to his name, and that is definitely inspiring, but it’s his honesty and generosity in sharing his experience and knowledge that is a true inspiration.

Upon visiting his website, the reader will find a wealth of information including a “Masterclass” for writers and a lecture on “The Art of Suspense.”  In an age when almost nothing is free, Follett offers a step-by-step guide to writing a novel, without charge.  It’s concise and dense with fabulous information.

Ken Follett.jpg

He also speaks frankly about his early work, “I was trying to write a big bestseller by creating a hero that would captivate the readers of the world. The ‘Apples’ books fell a long way short! Looking back, they seem trashy and full of gratuitous sex and violence. But I was doing my best. Every one of my early books was the best book I could write at the time.”  He’s one of us.  He’s struggled.  He started where most of have started, at the bottom; and he’s not afraid to admit it.  He proves that where there is a willingness to do the hard work, there is hope.

I asked him to weigh in on a few questions, and again, he was very generous.

Over the years, you’ve made an incredible contribution to the thriller genre.  I would even classify you as the father of the historical thriller. Would you offer your perspective on the evolution of the historical thriller since you began your career, and your contribution to the immense growth and success of this genre?

Eye of the Needle was the first story I had tried to set during a specific period in the past, and I found that the historical context gave my writing a sense of the grain of everyday life that I had failed to achieve writing contemporary thrillers. For readers, the way the story related to day-by-day events during the Second World War gave a realism that I had not previously managed. But I must point out that I was not the first to discover all this: Jack Higgins, for one, had written the magnificent The Eagle Has Landed.

Would you talk a bit about how your work has changed over the years?

From the start I found plot mechanics easy, emotions more challenging. But I realized early on that a fight is not exciting unless you care about the people using their fists on one another. The key to success is the emotional involvement of the reader in the fate of the characters. I think I’ve got better at this over the years.

As a veteran writer, can you tell young writers if it gets any easier to produce such high quality work?

For me it never gets easier. Every book is at least as challenging as the first, if you want to continue pleasing the readers. It always seems a miracle that anyone would pay money to read a story I made up in my head. I know, at some level, that if I did it before I can probably do it again; but at a gut level I just don’t believe it.

What advice would you offer to aspiring authors?

Be a perfectionist. Give your all to every aspect of the book: plot, characters, description, prose style, research, punctuation. Even then it may be only just good enough.

Would you tell us a little bit about your new series, “The Century Trilogy,” and your book debuting in September?

I was so thrilled with the way World Without End was received all over the globe that I really wanted to write another book that would get the same kind of welcome from readers and booksellers, so I decided to do something very ambitious. ‘The Century Trilogy’ will tell the story of Western civilization in the 20th century, with the great sweep of history seen through the eyes of a small group of families. Of course several of the characters are in military intelligence so there is a strong slant towards the secret stories behind the well-known events. So I hope I can combine historical saga and spy thriller. Wish me luck.

For more information on Ken Follett and a complete list of his novels go to:



Kathleen Antrim is the Vice President of National Events in charge of ThrillerFest for ITW.  After working on Capitol Hill, as a national correspondent for NewsMax Magazine, a columnist for the San Francisco/Washington D.C. Examiner newspapers, and a pundit on radio and television, she’s excited to be focusing on fiction.  She’s the award-winning author of the political thriller, Capital Offense.  Her short story, “Through a Veil Darkly,” is available in the anthology Thriller 2: Stories You Just Can’t Put Down, edited by Clive Cussler. More about the author at