7 facts about the Ken Follett's Kingsbridge novels

Here are seven facts about Ken Follett's historical Kingsbridge novels that you probably did not know, including that The Pillars of The Earth was the most challenging book Ken has ever written.

Ken Follett's bestselling Kingsbridge NovelsThe Pillars of the EarthWorld Without End and A Column of Fire, are loved around the world for their historical detail and gripping plots. Here are seven fascinating facts about Ken Follett's Kingsbridge novels you probably didn't know. Discover the Kingsbridge series here.

It takes a long time to write a Kingsbridge novel

Before Ken Follett puts pen to paper, or in his case starts typing, he will spend approximately a year researching and writing an outline for each novel. He then spends another year writing the first draft before sending it his editors and to historians to fact check. He will also share the draft with family and friends as they are "very good at criticising my work." After this, Ken will put all those notes together and write the whole thing again from scratch.

When I actually key the words again, I see a better way to construct a sentence or I think of a better selection of words to use and so on.

Watch Ken travel around Europe researching for A Column of Fire:

The Kingsbridge novels were inspired by cathedrals

Before becoming a full-time writer, Ken Follett worked as a reporter for London's Evening News. Whilst on an assignment, Ken visited Peterborough Cathedral and soon cathedral visiting became a hobby of his.

I was interested in cathedrals just as a hobby for ten years before I started writing The Pillars of the Earth. I would spend a couple of days looking around these buildings. I started thinking 'why did they build it? Why did medieval people want one of these?' I mean medieval people had nothing – they slept on the floor, they lived in wooden houses that were drafty and cold. They had terrible food and awful clothes and they spent so much money and effort building these buildings that we still go and look at. So I began to read books about the Middle Ages, about the people who built the cathedrals – the men and women. It occurred to me that one day it might be a good idea to write a story that would explain how the cathedral fitted into medieval life and why these people built these cathedrals.

The Pillars of the Earth was the most challenging book Ken Follett has ever written

With nearly 1,000 pages and over 400,000 words, The Pillars of the Earth took Ken three years and three months to write.

At the end of The Pillars of the Earth, I felt a kind of imagination fatigue. I thought 'Oh my goodness, I don't think I could ever write another story.' Happily, I did.

Prior Philip is Ken Follett's favourite character in the Kingsbridge novels

I knew as soon as I started The Pillars of the Earth that there had to be at least one sincere, admirable Christian in the story. I'm not a Christian, I'm an atheist. So Philip's devotion is kind of alien to me and yet he's probably the best character I've ever created.

The titles of each Kingsbridge novel are biblical

During the writing process, Ken went through several different titles before deciding on The Pillars of the Earth. He continued with this theme for World Without End and A Column of Fire.

Phrases from the Bible often have a kind of resonance to them - they often make good titles.

Ken Follett didn't plan to write a sequel to The Pillars of the Earth

By the end of the story most of the principal characters are either very old or dead, so I couldn't write another book about them. Also, I couldn't write another book about building a cathedral because it would the same book . . . If I had envisioned the sequel, then I would've planned that much better.

However, eighteen years later, to the delight of many readers, Ken released World Without End. Set in Kingsbridge 200 years after The Pillars of the Earth, the novel focuses on how the Black Death affects the city of Kingsbridge and the townspeople.

Some people have asked me why I waited so long. I wasn't really waiting, I was thinking. It wasn't clear to me what the sequel would be. What holds The Pillars of the Earth together was the building of the cathedral and I need another big theme like that for World Without End and it took me a while of what that would be and then I hit on the Black Death.

The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End have both been adapted for television

The Pillars of the Earth eight-part mini-series aired in 2010 with Rufus Sewell as Tom Builder, Matthew Macfadyen as Prior Philip and Eddie Redmayne as Jack. Ken even has a small cameo!

Ken Follett and Eddie Redmayne on set of The Pillars of the Earth
Ken Follett and Eddie Redmayne on set of The Pillars of the Earth.

The Pillars of the Earth

by Ken Follett

This spellbinding tale of ambition, anarchy and absolute power set in twelfth-century England is Ken Follett's classic masterpiece and the first in the Kingsbridge Novels series. 

World Without End

by Ken Follett

Set in Kingsbridge, two centuries after The Pillars of the EarthWorld Without End sees the men, women and children of the city grapple with the devastating sweep of historical change. 

A Column of Fire

by Ken Follett

It's 1558, and Europe is in revolt as religious hatred sweeps across the continent. Elizabeth Tudor has ascended to the throne, but danger lies in wait. Can Ned Willard, a man desperate to escape Kingsbridge, protect his queen?