Ken Follett

On this date in 1949, prolific author Kenneth Martin Follett was born in Cardiff, Wales, the eldest of four children of Martin and Lavinia Follett, respectively a tax inspector and stay-at-home mother. Follett’s parents and extended family belonged to a Puritan religious group called the Plymouth Brethren. “For us, a church was a bare room with rows of chairs around a central table. Paintings, statues and all forms of decoration were banned,” he remembers.

He was not allowed to watch TV or go to movies, so he found entertainment in books. When he was 10 the family moved to London, where he attended public schools, graduating with honors in philosophy in 1970 from University College. Follett then worked as a reporter with the South Wales Echo and London Evening News and started writing novels in his spare time.

He and Mary Elson had wed in 1968, the same year their son Emanuele was born. Daughter Marie-Claire was born in 1973. His spy novel Eye of the Needle (1978) became a best-seller, as did four others in that genre which were popular with readers in several languages. By then Follett was deputy managing director at Everest Books in London. The Pillars of the Earth (1989), a historical novel about building a cathedral in an English village in the Middle Ages, got rave reviews.

The Times of London once asked readers to rate the “60 greatest novels” of the last 60 years. Pillars placed second after To Kill a Mockingbird. Follett wrote in the preface: “What’s more, I don’t believe in God. I’m not what you would call a spiritual person. According to my agent, my greatest problem as a writer is that I’m not a tortured soul. The last thing anyone would have expected from me was a story about building a church.”

His historical Century Trilogy (2010-14), set in the 20th century, details the lives of five families: American, English, German, Russian and Welsh. His book sales top 130 million copies. He married politician Daphne Barbara Hubbard in 1985. She went on to serve 13 years in Parliament and in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s administration. In 2010, Follett and 54 other public figures signed an open letter in The Guardian objecting to Pope Benedict XVI’s state visit to the UK.

Photo (cropped) by Blaues Sofa under CC 2.0.

Freedom From Religion Foundation