BLOG TOUR - On Location with The String Diaries

So today is devoted to the amazing book The String Diaries, 

Check out my post here for my 5 star review and below? 

Well you are in for a treat!!

Stephen Lloyd Jones very kindly wrote a piece on his amazing story covering the different locations the book visits throughout its thrilling journey, notably Snowdonia, Hungary and Oxford.

On location with The String Diaries

I’ve always been interested in the impact a book’s setting can have on its narrative and tone. When I think of my favourite novels, I know an important part of the enjoyment came from the places I visited within their pages.

Often, a book’s setting can become a character in its own right: consider the Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining, or the Victorian London of Dickens’s works; they breathe character, become living entities in themselves.

In my novel The String Diaries, published by Headline this July, setting plays an important role too. What follows is a brief tour of its locations, along with the reasons I chose them.

Cadair Idris, Snowdonia.

The String Diaries opens with a young mother, Hannah Wilde, driving through the Welsh mountains at night, pursued by a man who has murdered the last five generations of her family. On the passenger seat her husband bleeds from terrible injuries sustained earlier that evening. Hannah knows that if she stops to treat his wounds, the delay might kill them. Yet if she doesn’t, he will certainly die.

I have Welsh ancestry, as you may have guessed from my name. While my dad grew up in South Wales, our family’s roots are sunk deep into the mountainous north. As a child, I spent many holidays in the region, so when I was considering a location for the novel’s opening scenes, Snowdonia seemed a natural choice.

I love the mythology and superstitions linked to the mountain of Cadair Idris in the range’s southern reaches. The spectral hounds of the Cŵn Annwn are said to hunt on its slopes, and legend tells that anyone who sleeps on the summit will wake the next morning either a poet or insane. A dragon - Afanc – supposedly sleeps below the surface of Llyn Cau, the mountain’s highest lake.

Cadair Idris, Snowdonia. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Llyn Cau, Snowdonia. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


I’m not an Oxford graduate, but I’ve always been drawn to the romance and mystery of the city’s academic tradition. Balliol college was an obvious candidate for the scenes where Professor Charles Meredith and Nicole Dubois research the dark mythology that lies at The String Diaries’ heart.

Another important scene takes place in an Oxford pub. As a fan of The Hobbit since childhood, I couldn’t resist using the Eagle and Child in St Giles where Tolkien, C S Lewis and others met for beer and conversation during their Inklings sessions. (It’s also the place where the first proofs of The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe were shared.) I’ve had a fair few pints in the Eagle and Child over the years, hoping for a kind of literary osmosis to overcome me. If you haven’t been, it’s well worth a visit.

Readers of the novel will also visit the Oxford Botanic Garden, where plants have been grown for medicinal research since the seventeenth century; incidentally, the garden also contains the bench where Lyra and Will agreed to meet, each year in their respective worlds, in Philip Pullman’s The Amber Spyglass.

Oxford’s Spires. Source: Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

Eagle and Child Public House, Oxford. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Danby Gate in the Oxford Physic Garden. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Balliol College, Oxford. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Although The String Diaries is, for the most part, a contemporary thriller, a few chapters reach back in time to the source of its core mythology. Like so many myths or folktales, the legend of the hosszú életek has been corrupted, over the years, by the mouths of those who have spoken it, until no one is entirely sure of its origins.

I filled countless notebooks with thoughts and scraps of information, but it was only when I visited Hungary in early 2010 that I decided on a geographical source. The country, with its rich and turbulent past, felt like the perfect place for a mythology such as the hosszú életek’s to evolve. Budapest, too, with its grand architecture and unique position along the Danube, offered a plethora of dramatic backdrops: Buda Castle, the Hungarian State Opera House, Széchenyi Bathhouse, the spectacular Lake Balaton a hundred miles or so to the southwest; they’re exceptionally inspiring locales, and they all make an appearance in the book.

I hope you’ll enjoy spending time in these places as much as I have.

Buda Castle. Source: Flickr.

Széchenyi Chain Bridge, Budapest. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Ballroom in Buda Castle, circa 1894. Source: FSZEK fotoarchive.

Hungarian State Opera House. Source: Wikicommons.

Lake Balaton, Hungary. Source: Wikicommons.


Thank you to Elizabeth Masters at Headline / Tinder Press


  1. Fascinating post. I so enjoyed reading 'The String Diaries' and this helps bring it even more to life.

    1. Thank you for reading! Yes you are right it makes it even more real!


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