One day last week, Ken Follett wrote "The End" on the second draft of his latest novel and mailed it off to his editors.

"I do one major rewrite, and that's what I've just finished," said Follett, the author of "A Dangerous Fortune" (Island), which just took over the No. 1 spot on the New York Times paperback best-seller list.Follett's new manuscript, "A Place Called Freedom," is scheduled for publication by Crown next fall in the United States and Britain.

"It's about a forgotten moment in American history," said the Welsh-born Follett.

"There was a period from about 1717 to the Revolution when convicts were shipped from Britain to America, principally to Virginia, as a punishment," Follett said. "After the Revolutionary War they were sent to Australia. In the pre-Revolutionary period, about 50,000 went to America this way, and my book is about a group of people to whom this happens."

Follett's hero is a Scottish coal miner. "Scottish coal miners were owned by the mine owners," Follett said by telephone from his home in London.

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"They were not allowed to leave the village, and he runs away to London and there becomes involved in a political demonstration and is arrested and sentenced to transportation.

"He arrives in Virginia and eventually escapes again and makes a new life for himself in Kentucky, which at that point was wilderness."

Follett's early best sellers, like "Eye of the Needle" and "The Key to Rebecca," were World War II spy novels, but some of his more recent books, like "The Pillars of the Earth" and "Dangerous Fortune" are set in the more distant past.

"It is a bit difficult to characterize my books because I don't write spy stories anymore," he said. "Suspense is still a very strong element in my stories. Some people call them historical thrillers. That's not bad."

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