Ken Follett and Kate Mosse discuss Ken’s Kingsbridge Novels
Masters of historical fiction, Ken Follett and Kate Mosse, discuss The Evening and the Morning, Ken’s highly anticipated prequel to the bestselling The Pillars of the Earth.
Ken Follett’s Kingsbridge Novels are adored by readers around the world. Now Ken returns to Kingsbridge with the prequel to The Pillars of the Earth, The Evening and the Morning. In this fascinating video, Ken talks to fellow historical fiction writer Kate Mosse about what inspired him to write a prequel, his strong female characters and why a broken down car led to him writing his first book.
Ken on why he wrote The Evening and the Morning
I like that period of history because there are three powerful groups competing for control of England – the Anglo-Saxons, who lived here, the Vikings, who treated England like a supermarket where you didn't have to pay and the Normans, who were destined to be the eventual rulers of the country. A three-way contest like that gives you lots of possibilities in the story. It's not the same conflict continuing chapter after chapter, it's a much more diverse source of story ideas. So I liked the period and the Vikings, of course, people think they're sexy. They're not really, but they are very violent and horrible, and throughout the book they are a constant threat although they don't appear very much.
The other thing was Kingsbridge itself because this fictional town which I invented for The Pillars of the Earth has become a thing, it's got its own fan club and I've now written four books about it. I must say, if I'd known this was going to happen I would actually have thought of a more unusual name for the place – there are several places called Kingsbridge in the United Kingdom and the United States and it's a common name, it's like John Smith. I had no idea this was going to happen but it has been the centre of four novels and readers feel they sort of know it. So I thought, okay, what was it like before this place was a great city? Maybe it was a village or maybe it was even less than that, maybe it was a settlement with half a dozen houses and a tiny little church and a river, and that began to intrigue me. I also began to think if I'm interested in that there's a good chance that I can make it interesting for the readers too. So as well as this dramatic moment in history it's also about the development of a place and how it changes. The great thing about that is there are always conflicts, which is great for story ideas. Whenever there's progress there's a conflict, there are people who want progress and want things to get better, there are people who say ‘there's nothing wrong with the way things are, we want to keep it exactly as it is. Stop trying to change things, we're entitled to have things the way they have always been.’, and so there's automatically a set of conflicts there. So when I began on this I already felt that it was going to be very rich in story ideas.
Ken on the three main characters of The Evening and the Morning
Ragna has a lot in common with a real character from that time called Emma of Normandy who did something similar to what Ragna does in the book, in that she left Normandy and married an English nobleman. In fact, she married King Ethelred. She must have been a remarkable woman, but I'll talk about Ragna. Ragna is one of those people who refuse to accept the role that society has ready for them. She looked at what her parents wanted her to do and in particular, the man her parents wanted her to marry, and she said ‘forget it’. There are always people in every period of history like that. I always write about women who are fighting against the constraints that are imposed. I'm sometimes criticized, they say your women are feminists, but they're not, they just belong to that small group of people who always rebel. There are men like that as well. So anyway, she will not do what she's told and that makes her interesting to write about. She's very smart, she's very sexy and she's very strong-willed.
Edgar is a type of character that I often have in that he's a craftsman and he's what we would today call an early adopter. He's always interested in the new thing and he's always one of the first to try anything. He's a shipbuilder, and the first ship that he makes entirely on his own is a small imitation of a Viking ship. So he's always looking at the new thing and that makes him sort of one of the leaders of society, and of course in doing things first you always get into trouble.
Aldred is a gay monk and his mission in life is scholarship and education, and he sees that the Dark Ages is backward in this respect and he's trying to create in his monastery a school, a library and a scriptorium – in other words, a centre of learning. Throughout the Dark Ages the Church, and in particular the monks, were the last vestiges of culture and knowledge, books and learning, and this is his passion in life. And of course, like many people who have a passion, he finds himself in conflict with others who say, ‘Oh come on, why rock the boat? You know life isn't bad, we do our best, but why do you have these big ideas?’
So those are the three heroes and each of them is somebody who wants to change things. Not necessarily selfishly, it's not necessarily for themselves, they sometimes just want to make the world a better place. And of course, they all know each other and they all have passionate relationships with one another which we better not give away yet!
Ken on why he started writing thrillers
I was working for the London Evening News as a reporter and I had just started the job. I was married to my first wife Mary and we bought a new house and my daughter had just been born so we had a lot of expenses, and then the darn car broke down. It was going to cost £200 to get it fixed and we just didn't have the money. So the car was stuck in this garage somewhere in Essex where I'd broken down and I couldn't get it fixed and I couldn't get it back, but there was a reporter on the paper with me who had just written a thriller and got it published. All the other reporters were very interested in this and we asked him how he found the time to write it and how he found a publisher for it and how much money did he get, and he told us he got £200, and this seemed like a message from providence or something. And so that day I went home and I said to Mary, ‘I figured out how we're gonna get the car back. I'm gonna write a thriller.’ and she said ‘Oh yeah?’ and, as they say, the rest is history.
Ken on the pleasure of writing
I think for me the pleasure actually comes from the day-to-day craft. It comes from thinking about a scene and saying what is the drama in this scene, what is the principal character hoping for and what is he or she afraid of and how do we play that out, and what's going to keep the reader turning pages? In other words, it's what I do every day on a fairly small scale that gives me the kind of satisfaction that makes me feel at the end of the day now that's not a bad scene. That's really the joy of it for me.
There was a special pleasure in The Evening and the Morning in that it gave me a chance to think about the origins of this town which had sort of accidentally become so important to me and important to readers as well. To think about that idea of seeing this little hamlet, which is almost no place at all, but knowing, as most readers will know in the back of their minds, this is going to be a big town one day. I enjoy creating the things that I feel readers will like. You never meet an author who's not a voracious reader – we start with the love of reading and we eventually become writers because of that love. What we love as writers is often what we love as readers.
Ken Follett photo credit: © Olivier Favre and West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village
Kate Mosse photo credit: © Ruth Crafer