Authors: Ken Follett

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Welsh-born English novelist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

The Big Needle, 1974 (as Symon Myles; pb. in England as The Big Apple, 1975)

The Big Black, 1974 (as Myles)

The Big Hit, 1975 (as Myles)

The Shakeout, 1975

Amok: King of Legend, 1976 (as Bernard L. Ross)

The Bear Raid, 1976

The Modigliani Scandal, 1976 (as Zachary Stone)

Paper Money, 1977 (as Stone)

Capricorn One, 1978 (as Ross)

The Eye of the Needle, 1978 (pb. in England as Storm Island)

Triple, 1979

The Key to Rebecca, 1980

The Man from St. Petersburg, 1982

Lie Down with Lions, 1986

The Pillars of the Earth, 1989

The Mystery Hideout, 1991

Night over Water, 1991

A Dangerous Fortune, 1993

Pillars of the Almighty, 1994

A Place Called Freedom, 1995

The Third Twin, 1996

The Hammer of Eden, 1998

Code to Zero, 2000

Jackdaws, 2001

Hornet Flight, 2003


The Heist of the Century, 1978 (with Rene Louis Maurice), 1980 (as The Gentlemen of 16 July), revised 1986 (as Under the Streets of Nice: The Bank Heist of the Century)

On Wings of Eagles, 1983

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

The Power Twins and the Worm Puzzle: A Science Fantasy for Young People, 1976 (as Martin Martinsen)

The Secret of Kellerman’s Studio, 1976


Fringe Banking, 1978

A Football Star, 1979 (with John Sealey)

Lie Down with Lions, 1988 (adaptation of his novel)


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.{$I[A]Follett, Ken}{$S[A]Myles, Symon;Follett, Ken}{$S[A]Ross, Bernard L.;Follett, Ken}{$S[A]Stone, Zachary;Follett, Ken}{$S[A]Martinsen, Martin;Follett, Ken}{$I[geo]WALES;Follett, Ken}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Follett, Ken}{$I[tim]1949;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.

BibliographyFollett, Ken. Interview. Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, December, 1978, 95-96. Brief but revealing interview published early in Follett’s writing career.Freeman, Lucy, ed. The Murder Mystique: Crime Writers on Their Art. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982. Includes a chapter in which Follett comments on his early fiction and the craft of writing. Provides useful insights into Follett’s early novels.Ken Follett: A Reader’s Checklist and Reference Guide. Middletown, Conn.: CheckerBee, 1999. Paperback book containing brief plot summaries of all Follett’s fiction through 1999, along with a short biography of the author.Ramet, Carlos. Ken Follett: The Transformation of a Writer. Bowling Green, Ohio: Bowling Green University Popular Press, 1999. Mixture of biography and analysis of the novels, quite helpful.Reilly, John M., ed. Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985. Brief but enlightening discussion of the plot formulas and characters that Follett successfully employs in his best-selling novels.Turner, Richard C. Ken Follett: A Critical Companion. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1996. Using a variety of critical approaches, Turner provides an indispensable analysis of all Follett’s major works. Includes a biography and a bibliography of Follett’s works and the secondary works about his fiction.
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