Ken Follett on the Art of Suspense

Jim Hayman:  Anyone interested in the art and history of thriller writing ought to enjoy watching a video I recently found on Ken Follett’s website.  It’s a rather grainy video of a lecture Follett gave on the subject about five years ago at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.   Follett is a witty and amusing speaker and, more importantly, he really knows his craft.

I met Follett briefly–really just to shake his hand and to chat for a minute or two–about a year and a half ago as we were both walking into the banquet at the 2010 ThrillerFest in New York where he was being honored with that year’s Thriller Master award.

During our brief conversation I told him–truthfully and not just trying to be a celebrity suck-up–that I thought his first major best-seller Eye of the Needle (which he wrote when he was just twenty-eight years old) was one of the best suspense/thrillers I’ve ever read. Which it is. Anybody who enjoys the genre and hasn’t read it ought to. Anyway, Follett thanked me for my praise and wished me success with my own writing.

We then both went off to our respective tables for the banquet where Follett was about to be honored as that year’s “Thrill Master.” The talk he gave that night was not so much about thrillers as it was about his career and how he came to write Pillars of the Earth, which,

Erskine Childers,

Erskine Childers, author of the first thriller

as I’m sure you know, is a one thousand page epic tale of the building in twelfth century England of “the greatest gothic cathedral the world has ever known.” In the talk Follett proved himself to be an engaging, informative and amusing speaker.

The same qualities are evident in the talk he gave at the  92nd Street Y. Titled “The Art of Suspense: A History of the Thriller” Follett discusses the development of the genre and highlights the contributions made by some of its most influential practitioners.  The talk takes us from the book Follett considers the very first modern thriller, Erskine Childers’ Riddle of the Sands, which was published in 1903, right up to the present day.

Those who are interested can watch The Art of Suspense: A History of the Thriller on Ken Follett’s website at

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