Novelist and Patron of Humanists UK
I think human life is the fundamental value. This is not a belief, but a moral choice. Most people feel the same, even if they don’t know it. But we don’t need the imaginary ogres of religion to enforce morality. Valuing the lives of other people is simply part of what it means to be human.
Ken Follett was born in Cardiff, Wales, on the 5th of June, 1949, into a family of religious fundamentalists, but found himself dissatisfied from an early age with that worldview:
I asked ‘Why should I believe this?” and never got a rational answer. I understand why people like my parents cling to religion, against all reason. Its facile answers bring comfort and consolation in a world that can be bewildering and cruel. But we should not deceive ourselves by believing what is not known to be true: we diminish ourselves when we give in to that temptation.
From a very early age, Ken was creating imaginary worlds for himself:
“My mother told me stories all the time. I don’t know whether I inherited it from her or just acquired it under her influence, but by the time I was seven years old I was an imaginative child.”
Ken was also reading from a very young age. As devout born-again Christians his parents did not allow their children to watch television or go to the cinema, and Ken found his escape in books:
With no TV or radio, and no Saturday morning pictures which all the other kids used to go to, reading was my entertainment. I didn’t have many books of my own and I’ve always been grateful for the public library. Without free books I would not have become a voracious reader, and if you are not a reader you are not a writer.
At 18, he went to University College London, where he studied philosophy. This course was a very personal choice, as. he saw philosophy as a source of answers to some of the searching questions that had not been satisfied by his parent’s beliefs. He became increasingly sceptical about the religion in which he had been brought up, and at the same time, began to develop his life-long interest in politics. In September 1970, just out of university, Ken got a place on a graduate journalism course and began his writing career as a journalist. He also started writing novels in his spare time, seeing them as a kind of ‘paying hobby’ until his first best-seller, in 1978, The Eye of the Needle, gave him the confidence to give up his day job.
Since then, he has sold over 100 million copies of his books, which have also been made into films. He began by writing thrillers, but in 1989 he surprised readers with Pillars of the Earth, a novel about building a cathedral in the Middle Ages which was later voted second of the 60 greatest novels of the last 60 years in a poll of readers of The Times.