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Ken Follett Loves Google Earth, Calls for New Pope: Interview

Ken Follett fans in 16 countries can pick up a copy of his latest work, “Fall of Giants,” or “Sturz der Titanen,” or “A Titanok Bukasa,” and settle in for a nice, long read.

Coming in at almost 1,000 pages, the novel tells the story of five families, four European and one American, as they get swept up in the changes wrought by World War I and the Russian Revolution.

More good news for Follett fans -- this is just the first installment of an epic trilogy that will end with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

We spoke at Bloomberg world headquarters in New York.

Lundborg: Why is bigness so appealing to you?

Follett: If people are enjoying a book, they don’t want it to end, and a long novel gives you a larger story.

“Fall of Giants” is about Western civilization, which is about as big a subject as you can get.

Lundborg: Have you already mapped out all three parts?

Follett: I have a rough plan, but I decided at an early stage that if I tried to plan the whole thing, it would take too long.

By the time I got round to actually writing it, people would have forgotten who I was.

My Grandfather

Lundborg: Do you write all the time?

Follett: I stop at cocktail hour and I take Sundays off.

Source: Penguin via Bloomberg

The cover jacket of "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett. Close

The cover jacket of "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett.

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Source: Penguin via Bloomberg

The cover jacket of "Fall of Giants" by Ken Follett.

Lundborg: The novel begins as Billy Williams goes down into the Welsh mining pit on his 13th birthday, which is unimaginable to us now. How did people justify that?

Follett: It happened to my grandfather, Evans, who did just that.

The upper classes said God put us here to rule over lesser men, and the privileged life we lead is part of His plan.

God is very convenient in situations like that.

Lundborg: Why did you protest the Pope’s visit to England?

Follett: The Catholic Church can’t recover until it has a new Pope. The fact that this Pope, when he was Cardinal Ratzinger, covered up hundreds of crimes of pedophilia, some of them victimizing orphans with no parents to protect them, and the fact that he hushed that up and let it continue is insupportable.

Big Family

Lundborg: You’ve sold more than 116 million books so far. What’s the best thing money buys you?

Follett: This summer I took all of my children and grandchildren to California. We stayed at Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica, rented five convertible Mustangs and drove down to Disneyland.

It enables me to have a great time with my quite large family, what the French call “une famille recomposee,” since we both have children from previous marriages.

Lundborg: What part of writing do you enjoy most now?

Follett: Outlining is the most fun because you can do anything and it doesn’t cost you. You can change a character from male to female, which is something I quite often do, without rewriting anything.

The hardest part is turning that plan into the reality of the first draft.

Lundborg: Are there subjects you avoid?

Follett: Addiction. Very, very boring. It’s also generally not a good idea to write a novel about farmers.

Lundborg: Why is the major romance between an English woman and a German spy?

Google Earth

Follett: I thought that was terribly clever of me. There’s a lot of drama in the leadup to the war, but it’s all diplomacy and a bit dry.

For them every step towards war is a personal drama, so it allows me to tell the story in a way that’s emotional.

Lundborg: Why do all those women get knocked up in your novel?

Follett: They get knocked up for the same reason women always get knocked up: They have sex with men they like. But I also needed another generation for the second book.

Lundborg: Which digital tools have you found most useful?

Follett: I’m enjoying my iPad. But the program that’s made the most difference to me as a writer is Google Earth.

You can remind yourself so easily of places. When I was writing the scenes of storming the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg, I could get the whole street layout, where the trees are, where the river is.

Lundborg: Why do you still go on book tours?

Follett: I want millions of people to read my books. I wouldn’t be comfortable sitting at home when my book is appearing in the shops for the first time. I’d be antsy.

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Zinta Lundborg is an editor for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. The interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Zinta Lundborg at zlundborg@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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