Small talk: Ken Follett

Born in 1949 in Cardiff, thriller writer Ken Follett has sold 100m copies of his 31 books worldwide. His first major success was Eye of the Needle (1978). Other bestsellers include The Key to Rebecca (1980), The Pillars of the Earth (1989) and World Without End (2007). Fall of Giants, his latest novel, is the first part of a trilogy recounting the history of the 20th century through the tales of five families. Follett studied philosophy at University College London and worked as a journalist before becoming a writer. An amateur musician, he is married to Barbara Follett, a former Labour MP. They have five children and live in Stevenage, Hertfordshire.

Who is your perfect reader?

I don’t have one. I’m trying to write for millions of people – I want everyone to be a reader.

What books are currently on your bedside table?

Isabel Allende’s Island Beneath the Sea. It’s wonderful. She’s a very physical and sensual writer.

What book changed your life?

Father and Son [1907] by Edmund Gosse, which I read when I was 14. It’s about a young man who abandons his religion. It gave me permission to do the same.

Where do you write best?

I usually write in the library in one of my three homes [Stevenage, London, Antigua].

Who are your literary influences?

Writers who taught me literature is the greatest adventure. It was Enid Blyton and her Noddy books from age four, and then Ian Fleming’s Live And Let Die when I was 12. And Stephen King.

Who would you choose to play you in a film about your life?

George Clooney. But my kids would laugh their socks off so I’d say Sir Robert Stephens, who played the best Falstaff I’ve seen.

What are you scared of?

David Cameron.

When do you feel most free?

On stage with my band.

How do you relax?

I spend a lot of time with my family, several of whom will show up most weekends. I cook dinner, we open a bottle of champagne and they tell me about their week.

What is the best piece of advice a parent gave you?

My mother told me: don’t make enemies. I never took her advice.

What would you go back and change?

I wore some “Rupert Bear” trousers in 1969; I think if I had my time again I wouldn’t.

What book do you wish you’d written?

The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. I wish I had created Hannibal Lecter.

What does it mean to be a writer?

I can spend all day doing what comes naturally and then share it. We all live in our imaginations.

Ken Follett’s ‘Fall of Giants’ is published by Macmillan

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