Ken Follett on the inspiration for The Pillars of the Earth
Ken Follett has made a career of keeping readers at the edge of their seats, engrossed in his suspenseful spy thrillers. So what made him write about cathedrals in the Middle Ages? Follett sheds some light on the little book that could.
Nothing happens the way you plan it.

A lot of people were surprised by The Pillars of the Earth, including me. I was known as a thriller writer. In the book business, when you have had a success, the smart thing to do is write the same sort of thing once a year for the rest of your life. Clowns should not try to play Hamlet; pop stars should not write symphonies. I should not have risked my reputation by writing something out of character and overambitious.

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.

So Pillars was an unlikely book for me to write—and I almost didn't. I started it, then dropped it, and did not look at it again for ten years.

This is how it happened.

More from the complete reader's guide to The Pillars of the Earth.


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