Stephen Lloyd Jones grew up in Chandlers Ford, Hampshire, and studied at Royal Holloway College, University of London. He now lives in Surrey with his wife, three young sons and far too many books. The String Diaries is his first novel, and the follow up, Written in the Blood, will be published in May 2015.
The paperback edition of The String Diaries just came out, and Stephen kindly answered a few of my questions about it, and more!
Kristin Centorcelli: The String Diaries just came out in paperback, and it was one of my favorite books last year. For those that haven’t read it, will you tell us a little about it and what inspired you to write it?
Stephen Lloyd Jones: I’m so pleased to hear that you enjoyed it! The String Diaries is the story of a young woman, Hannah Wilde, hunted by a man who has slaughtered the last five generations of her family. Hannah knows that the killer, Jakab, is one of Hungary’s fabled hosszú életek, meaning that he has the ability to change his appearance at will, even assuming the identity of one of her loved ones.
All Hannah’s knowledge of Jakab comes from the String Diaries themselves, a collection of journals, notes and letters written by her ancestors. They record everything the family has managed to discover about the hosszú életek. Buried within the diaries’ pages, Hannah hopes, are the clues she needs to defeat Jakab and put an end to her family’s terror.
The story grew out of an image I’d been carrying around in my head for a while: a woman driving through the mountains at night, looking for a place to hide. Her husband is slumped on the passenger seat beside her, bleeding from terrible injuries sustained earlier that evening. She knows that if she doesn’t stop to treat his wounds he’ll die; if she does, they both might. That woman developed into Hannah Wilde, and that scene developed into the book’s opening chapter.
KC: Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us a little more about yourself and your background?
SLJ: It’s the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve been writing fiction for as long as I can remember. I pretty much grew up in the local library, and I spent much of my childhood hunched over my dad’s PC, typing out stories. I received my first rejection slip when I was fifteen. Looking back, there are probably far better ways for a hormone-rich teenager to spend his time. I think I was a late developer.
KC: What kind of research did you do for The String Diaries, and what was one of the most interesting things you discovered?
SLJ: The String Diaries is a story told across multiple time-lines and locales. Its historical settings, especially those in Eastern Europe (where the mythical hosszú életek originated), demanded the most research. Before I sat down to write, I had no idea what kind of clothing the aristocracy wore in nineteenth century Budapest, or the décor of a provincial home in 1920s Hungary. I’m always interested, when researching a particular period, to learn how people conducted their daily lives: what they ate, how they travelled, what they believed.
KC: What are a few of your favorite authors? Which ones do you think have influenced you the most?
SLJ: Tolkien probably affected me the most, as a child. My dad read me The Hobbit when I was five. Then, at my insistence, he read it again…and again. Some of my most precious memories are of him sitting next to me on the bed, narrating Bilbo’s tale. Other favorites authors are Dean Koontz and Stephen King.
SLJ: Ha! The Lord of the Rings. Shockingly, I think it’s the first time I’ve re-read it since the film trilogy came out. I’m halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring at the moment and it’s like putting on an old pair of walking boots. Comforting and thrilling in equal measure.
KC: When you’re not writing, how do you like to spend your free time?
SLJ: With three sons aged six, four and two, we live in a pretty lively household. Most of my spare time is spent refereeing lightsaber battles, reading bedtime stories and ferrying children to accident and emergency departments.
I’m a board game nut, and have also been known to spend quite a bit of time in pubs.
KC: Care to give us a bit of a teaser for the next book, Written in the Blood?
SLJ: Written in the Blood is set fifteen years after the climactic events of The String Diaries, and features a few of the characters who survived the first book. It’s a loose sequel, but can be read as a standalone novel. I hope it’ll scare the pants off you.