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  • Writer's pictureJudith D Collins

When We Were Silent

Narrator: India Mullen

ISBN: 9781250332097

Publisher: Macmillan Audio

Publication Date: 05/21/2024

Format: Audio

My Rating: TBR (ALC)

An outsider threatens to expose the secrets at an elite private school in this suspenseful debut novel for readers of My Dark Vanessa and Dare Me

Louise Manson is the newest student at Highfield Manor, Dublin’s most exclusive private school. It seems nearly perfect: the high arched window alcoves and tall granite pillars, the overspill of lilac at the front gate and the immaculate playing fields, the giggling students, the dusty, oak-lined library, and the dark, festering secret she has come to expose.

At first, Lou’s working-class status makes her the consummate outsider, though all that changes when she is befriended by the beautiful and wealthy Shauna Power. But Lou finds out that even Shauna is caught up in Highfield’s web, and her time there ends with a lifeless body sprawled at her feet.

Thirty years later, Lou has rebuilt her life after the harrowing events of the so-called “Highfield Affair,” when she gets a shocking phone call. Ronan Power, Shauna’s brother, is a high-profile lawyer bringing a lawsuit against the school. And he needs Lou to testify.

Now with a daughter and career to protect, the last thing Lou wants is for Highfield Manor to be back in her life. But to finally free herself and others, she has to confront her past, go to battle once more, and discover, for once and for all, what really happened at Highfield. Powerful and compelling, When We Were Silent is an unputdownable, thrilling story of exploitation, privilege, and retribution.


“Searing. . . McPhillips deftly alternates between past and present, maximizing suspense by playing multiple mysteries in each timeline off one another. . . This is a triumph.”

―Publishers Weekly, starred review

“I LOVE a great literary psychological drama. I devoured this debut, a lovechild of Tana French and Patricia Highsmith that’s also totally original. Absolutely brilliant!”

―John Boyne, #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and All the Broken Places

“Fiona McPhillips captures the claustrophobic nuance of teenage loyalties, lies and privilege on every page. A twisting, turning dive into a web of long-buried secrets, When We Were Silent marks Fiona McPhillips as one to watch.”

―Jane Harper, New York Times bestselling author of Exiles

“With a dark and poetic pen, Fiona McPhillips snakes through the waters of a tony private school, peeling away secrets in tiny waves until they crash into a powerful ending. This book absolutely nails what it feels like to be young, female, powerless, and dead set on redemption. A wonderful, relevant, and beautifully written debut.”

―Julia Heaberlin, bestselling author of We Are All the Same in the Dark and Night Will Find You

“‘Derry Girls’ meets My Dark Vanessa in this compelling debut. Fiona McPhillips has woven a story that is compulsive, tender and chilling in its familiarity. I was hooked all the way through, and had an enormously cathartic sob at the end! One of the most compelling books I've ever read.”

―Jessica Bull, author of Miss Austen Investigates

“When We Were Silent is powerful, moving, enraging. . . I cared PASSIONATELY about the characters here.”

―Marian Keyes, internationally bestselling author

“A stunning debut – beautifully written, tender and poignant, but pulls no punches. A powerful, unforgettable read.”

―Andrea Mara, #1 internationally bestselling author of No One Saw a Thing

“Taut, compelling, powerful and devastatingly relevant. A sensational debut.”

―Louise O’Neill, internationally bestselling author of Asking For It

“I raced through this spellbinding, gripping thriller about scandal and secrets at a prestigious girls school. It’s gripping, shocking and enraging, a story of lost youth, redemption and the power of speaking out, and it’s so beautifully written.”

―Cressida McLaughlin, author of From Cornwall with Love

“A heart-pounding, gripping, fury-inducing, all-consuming emotional rollercoaster of a story.”

―Jennie Godfrey, author of The List of Suspicious Things

“I devoured Fiona’s book. . . Such achingly beautiful, lyrical writing. It’s no mean feat to develop a teenage character of such depth and complexity, and I was utterly enthralled by Lou’s journey. The prose was at once defiant, vulnerable and deeply compelling. I found myself holding my breath so many times and the slow burning rage of Lou’s voice gripped me throughout.”

―Natalie Chandler, author of What We Did

“Amazing and powerful. . . Brilliantly written, compelling and harrowing in equal parts. Absolutely loved it. You don't want to miss it.”

―James Oswald, author of All that Lives

“An urgent and suspenseful read that asks important questions about consent, agency and complicity. It will keep you gripped.”

―Katie Bishop, author of The Girls of Summer

“Fiona McPhillips’ suspenseful debut is a taut, beautifully written exploration of the burden of guilt and grief and the scarring effects of misogyny, abuse, and long-buried pain. When We Were Silent, with its poetic prose and unsettling tension, strikes the perfect balance of discomfort, despair, and ultimately, hope.”

―Ashley Tate, author of Twenty-Seven Minutes

“If you enjoyed My Dark Vanessa, this is definitely one for your TBR. Phenomenally tense and very, very well written.”

―Elle Machray, author of Remember, Remember

About the Author

photo credit: Ruth Maria Murphy

Fiona McPhillips is a journalist, author and screenwriter. Her debut novel, When We Were Silent, which was runner-up for the 2021 CWA Debut Dagger Award, was pre-empted by Transworld (Penguin) in the UK and Flatiron (Macmillan) in the US and will be published in May 2024.

Her prose has been published in The Manchester Review, Barren, Litro and elsewhere and her poetry has appeared in Atrium, Headstuff and The Galway Review. Her screenplay Windmills was a finalist at the 2020 New Renaissance Film Festival in London and the Waterford Film Festival. She is the recipient of a 2021 Arts Council literature bursary.

Fiona started her writing life in music, then jumped to sport. With children came a freelance career, and she wrote features for The Irish Times, The Irish Independent, The Herald, The Huffington post and other publications. She’d always talked about writing a novel… one day. In 2019, it was time to piss or get off the pot and she did an MA in Creative Writing at DCU, graduating with first class honours.

She is a reader for the wonderful Forge literary magazine.

Fiona is represented by Rachel Neely at Mushens Entertainment. WEBSITE



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