A Column of Fire (Item #1182131, 9/12) is
available in most Costco warehouses.
Ken Follett has written
both series and stand-alone novels, including
The Century Trilogy
and Whiteout. This month
the third book in the
A Column of Fire, will
be published. It begins in
;;;; and follows the star-crossed romance between
Ned Willard and Margery
Fitzgerald over half a century. In the meantime,
Europe turns against
England when Elizabeth
Tudor becomes queen and
finds herself beset by plots
to dethrone her. The measures taken to protect her
prove to be the beginning of
the British secret service.
In this Connection
exclusive, Follett writes
about the research that
fueled the rich details of
A Column of Fire.
—Stephanie E. Ponder
BY KEN FOLLETT
THE NOVEL I am most known for is Pillars of the
Earth, a story set in the Middle Ages about the
building of a cathedral. Many years later I wrote
the sequel, World Without End, which is about
the Black Death, set in Kingsbridge ;;; years
after the building of the cathedral. It’s been ;;
years since I published that book, and this
September, Viking will publish the third book in
the Kingsbridge series, A Column of Fire, also set
in Kingsbridge, but during Queen Elizabeth I’s
Readers enjoy transporting themselves to
another time and place, to get lost in a world of
queens and knights, heretics and heroes. But
these stories would crumble if I didn’t get the history right. And that does not come easily. I used
;;; books in my research for A Column of Fire.
Many were just for reference, but I read about
half—more than ;;; books—all the way through.
I started with the monumental Oxford
History of England—;; authoritative volumes.
The eighth volume, titled The Reign of Elizabeth,
gave me the rigid factual framework of names
and dates, battles and assassinations and massacres, within which I had to construct my story.
The books most relevant to A Column of Fire
are the ones about spymaster Francis Walsingham
and the organization of secret agents and code
breakers he created for Queen Elizabeth, especially the three-volume Mr Secretary Walsingham series, by Conyers Read. Everything they did
was secret, of course, so it is difficult to ferret out
the details, but several historians with a leaning
toward detective work have uncovered a great
deal of information.
I was surprised to find out that so many his-
torians of this period have a religious bias, either
Protestant or Catholic. H. Noel Williams made
no pretense of objectivity about the powerful
Guise family from Lorraine when he titled his
book The Brood of False Lorraine. My friend
Antonia Fraser seems partial to the subject of her
Mary Queen of Scots, an affectionate biography
of a monarch who really never made a good deci-
sion in her life.
Often the hardest facts to find are the more
commonplace details of everyday existence—
underwear, cutlery, coins, toilets, hairdressing,
shops, booze—and for these, The Time Traveler’s
Guide to Elizabethan England, by Ian Mortimer,
is quite marvelous.
Novels of the period can be helpful with this
kind of thing, but unfortunately there are no
;;th-century novels: The form had not yet been
invented. Happily, we have the plays of
Shakespeare, who was writing during the time of
A Column of Fire. For example, he gives a useful
list of horse illnesses in The Taming of the
Shrew—lampas, windgalls and spavins. And
Falstaff’s gargantuan appetites tell us about eggs
with butter, fat capons (chickens) and sack, a
strong wine from Spain.
How far can a horse be ridden in a day? I
found out from Horse and Man in Early Modern
England, by Peter Edwards. (Answer: It depends
on the horse.) What were guns like in the ;;th
century? See Firearms: A Global History to ;;;;,
by Kenneth Chase. What kind of tableware did
they have—had forks been invented then? I
found a French book, Festins de le Renaissance:
Cuisine et Trésors de la table (Renaissance Feasts:
Cookery and Treasures of the Table), by Élisabeth
Latrémolière, with lots of pictures.
Part of what readers enjoy is the interesting
background detail, but it has to be accurate, and
I couldn’t manage that without history books.
Hundreds of historians have toiled all their lives
to make it easier for me, and I raise a glass to
them in gratitude for their work. C
Ken Follett shares how
he researches his novels