When When We Were Silent by Fiona McPhillips

Fiona McPhillips shares a few words on a forthcoming book, When We Were Silent.

Dubray Grafton Street is where it all began. I launched my first nonfiction book there in 2008 and will return to celebrate the publication of my debut novel, When We Were Silent, on the 3rd of May. It’s a thriller set in 1980s Dublin that follows teenager Lou Manson when she enrols at the elite Highfield Manor to try and expose the school’s dark secret.

This time around, the journey to publication began in 2020 when I had the good fortune to read Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird. I took to heart her advice to write about your childhood: “that time in your life when you were so intensely interested in the world, when your powers of observation were at their most acute, when you felt things so deeply.”

At the time, I was also listening to the BBC podcast Where is George Gibney? about the former Irish national swimming coach who avoided trial in 1994 for years of sexual abuse against his young swimmers. I was so inspired by all the victims who stood up to him in the early 90s, and by everyone who went public with their stories for the podcast. They painted a very clear picture of how he was supported to keep abusing kids for so long, how slow everyone was to believe he was capable of it and to understand the true horror of what “it” actually was.

In When We Were Silent, I wanted to explore both of these things, the determination, loyalty and joy I remember from my own teenage years, and the forces that try to steal that power. Like most women, I have my own stories, although this one is a work of fiction.

Lou Manson is an outsider in the throes of grief and rage when she joins Highfield Manor, a private convent school. Beyond the granite pillars and the wrought-iron gates is a world of wealth, privilege and potential – and the abuse Lou has come to expose. But the deeper Lou digs, the more she discovers that the Highfield elite will go to any lengths to protect their own reputation…even when the consequences are fatal.

Thirty years later, Lou has rebuilt her life after the harrowing events of the so-called “Highfield Affair” when she is called to testify in a new lawsuit against the school. But telling the truth means confronting her own complicity and there is one story she swore she’d never tell…

You can now pre-order When We Were Silent by Fiona McPhillips.

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