My Life in Books

6 books that influenced Ken Follett's prolific writing life

The award-winning writing and author of A Column of Fire is an avid reader — he shares with us some of the books that helped shape his writing career.
Ken Follett is the author of A Column of Fire. (Wikimedia Commons)

Ken Follett's thrillers and historical novels have been published in 33 languages and have sold more than 150 million copies worldwide. His latest novel, A Column of Fire, is an epic story of a 16th century England torn apart by power struggles and religious conflict. Against this historical backdrop, young Ned Willard and Margery Fitzgerald are lovers who find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict.

Follett describes himself has an avid reader; here are six books that have helped shape Follett's career as an author. 

Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming 

Ian Fleming is the creator of legendary character James Bond. (HarperCollins/Wikimedia Commons)

"When I was 12 years old, I read Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming. I became a James Bond fan immediately. A decade or so later, when I began to write novels, my aim was to give my readers the same intensity of excitement that I had felt reading Fleming. I still love those books and Bond is probably the most enduring fictional character in all of 20th century literature."

The works of Shakespeare

Poet, playwright and actor William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the greatest writer in the English language. (Wikimedia Commons/Modern Library)

"Around that same age, I discovered Shakespeare. My local public library had single-play volumes, slim and therefore not too daunting. Reading a play takes much less time than watching a performance. I read them for the stories, mainly, but I was vaguely aware that the drama was enhanced by the poetic techniques the author used. Nowadays I go to productions of Shakespeare plays about six times a year."

The Holy Bible (King James Version)

The King James Version (KJV) is an English translation of the Christian Bible for the Church of England, originally completed in 1611. (Random House/Wikimedia Commons)

"In my family, we used to read the Christian Bible every day. As a teenager I read every word, following a course of home study in which I had to answer questions on one book before going on to the next. Although I'm no longer a believer, I still love the majestic prose of the King James translation, much of which was written by William Tyndale, one of the greatest of English stylists."

Father and Son by Edmund Gosse 

Sir Edmund William Gosse was an English poet, author and critic. (Penguin/Wikimedia Commons)

"In the trauma of questioning my parents' most cherished beliefs, I was helped by Father and Son, a memoir by Edmund Gosse, who like me was brought up in the Plymouth Brethren then came to question and finally reject fundamentalist Christian dogma."

The Winds of War & War and Remembrance by Herman Wouk

Herman Wouk is an American author of historical fiction. (Wikimedia Commons/Back Bay)

"Herman Wouk's novels The Winds of War and War and Remembrance taught me that history can be woven into fiction in a way that is both exciting to read and true to the facts, which is what I tried to do in A Column of Fire."

The Reality Dysfunction by Peter F. Hamilton

Peter F. Hamilton is a British author best known for writing science fiction. (Pan Macmillan/Wikimedia Commons)

"I've enjoyed science fiction since boyhood, but my favourite writer is Peter F. Hamilton, whom I discovered when I read The Reality Dysfunction about 10 years ago. I wish I had his imagination."

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