Ken Follett tells Savera R
Someshwar what it takes to
write a bestseller
Remember the story of the spider that kept trying till he succeeded? Best-sell- ing author Ken Follett’s has a similar story. Though his first 10 books brought in much-needed money, it was only with his 11th book, Eye Of The Needle, that he finally learnt to write a bestseller.
Follett, though, was not content with writing thrillers
that sold millions of copies. At 37, he took a literary leap
of faith and penned Pillars Of The Earth, which remains
his best-selling work.
The millionaire author — whose books have sold more
than 116 million copies across the world (not counting
pirated versions) and who, with $20 million, comes in at
number five on Forbes magazine’s Top 10 Richest Authors
list shares tips for aspiring writers.
You have a section on your Web site called Masterclass,
which is aimed at budding authors. But if you had to cull
out just one tip, what would it be?
Tell a good story; tell it from your heart.
The basic elements of a good story are universal. If you
write about love, hatred, revenge, growing up, getting
married, having children, killing your enemies — people
all over the world understand it. The reader must react
emotionally. His heart must beat faster; he must shed
tears or be angry or scared about what’s going to happen
to the hero. Only then is it a great story.
Readers are basically the same all over the world.
They’re interested in love, hatred, battles, marriage,
romance and making or losing money.
In the age of instant gratification provided by television and the Internet, what can a writer do to keep
his reader hooked?
I have to say television is great. TV drama is
often brilliantly written and constructed. When
I am thinking about what subject to write on
next and I’m talking with my publishers and
editors and agents, I often say we book writers have to give people something they can’t
get on television. As writers, we have to
develop that because I want you to turn that
TV off and sit down with a book for a couple
of hours. So, I have to give you something in
the book that’s better that what is available
on television. The one thing that books can
give us is depth of understanding; this is something that television does not give us.
How can a budding author
deal with writer’s
You cannot just
wait for inspiration to strike; if
you are serious
about writing, you
have to discipline yourself to write every day. I start my writing day at 7 am and end at 5 pm. I give myself a holiday
on Sundays. Even when I am on tour, I try to write whenever I get the time. Once I open my laptop, I am no longer
at the airport lounge; I’m right in the middle of the
How do you relate to technology?
Oh, I love it. It’s great to be able to take your laptop
along so that you can work wherever you are. And Google
Search is great. Instead of walking up to library shelf —
incidentally, that’s where I work, in my library — I can
just search for the information I want to verify online. It’s
become so much easier and so much faster.
To what extent do you edit your books? How much was
edited out of your latest book, Fallof Giants?
I don’t usually cut much. When I rewrite, I usually add
things; I add more details about how people feel about an
event... There was a chapter set in Buffalo about Gus
Dewar, who meets Rosa Hellman, the editor of The
Anarchist newspaper, and uncovers a scandal. It was
quite a nice chapter, but it delayed the story from really
getting going. So, those 30 pages went right out. But
that’s unusual. Most of the time I’m usually adding
Do you think we’ll see that chapter online at some
(Laughs) I doubt it.
You took a huge leap of faith when you moved from
writing racy best-selling thrillers like Eye Of The Needle
to writing Pillars Of The Earth, which is historical fiction.
I started writing that book when I was 36 and young
men think they can do anything. I was no different.
Do you still feel that way?
No, I’m much wiser (laughs). But
if you are a creative artiste and you
want to do something good, there
is always that element of risk.
Even Fall of Giants is somewhat
different from anything I have
done before. There is always an
element of risk, yes. It is always a
bit of a leap into the unknown. ;