Fiona McPhillips chats her top five contemporary Irish writers

When We Were Silent is her debut novel.


With the 1980s Dublin setting, to the gripping mystery, to the heartfelt exploration of heavy topics, When We Were Silent is the perfect dark academia story to add to your TBR list. We are honoured to have Fiona McPhillips here to celebrate her debut novel with us today.

This guest post was written by Fiona McPhillips. 

Singling out five contemporary Irish writers is as hard as having to choose a favourite song or film – there are just too many. You could say we’re living in a golden age of Irish writing but I don’t ever remember it being otherwise. At school we studied Yeats, Joyce, Beckett, men celebrated by surname alone. It took me several years to ask, where are all the women? It turns out they were there all along but their voices were suppressed, always deemed too quiet to matter.

Fast forward a couple of decades and we have plenty to shout about and many of us are going back in time to give voice to the women who were denied one in the past. In my own debut novel, When We Were Silent, outsider Lou Manson enrols at the prestigious Highfield Manor in 1980s Dublin to try and expose the culture of abuse at the school. 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.

Louise Kennedy

Louise Kennedy goes back to the 1970s for her debut novel, Trespasses. It’s a quietly devastating story about a young school teacher who starts an affair with an older, married barrister, set in a small town outside Belfast during the Troubles, and it was my book of 2022. Louise is an expert at weaving the personal with the political and she does this with utter authenticity in her 2021 short story collection, The End of the World is a Cul de Sac which, incredibly, was her first book.

Claire Coughlan

Claire Coughlan’s mesmerising debut, Where They Lie, is a literary thriller, my favourite kind of book. It is such a rare treat to read a genuine, page-turning thriller with considered prose, characters and setting and all the more exciting when that novel is set in Dublin. Again, Claire travels back in time, to the 1960s where Nicoletta Sarto is an ambitious young journalist, battling to make her name at the Irish Sentinel. When the remains of a missing actress are discovered, Nicoletta must confront the underworld of the abortion industry as well as the long-buried secrets of her own past. With a second novel on the way, Claire is a writer to watch.

Paul Murray

There are still some male writers out there! Paul Murray’s Booker shortlisted The Bee Sting is my book of 2024 already. It beguiled and devastated me over and over and I’m still trying to piece it all together weeks later. It’s both brilliantly funny and deeply sad and it’s the sort of book that makes you want to be a better writer, to try to reach that level of masterful plotting and character development. In Murray’s Booker longlisted Skippy Dies, he proves his skill in writing about the confusions and comedy of young adulthood but The Bee Sting brings this to another level, exploring the power dynamics between parents and children and the unspoken shame that holds us all in its thrall.

Sally Rooney

The genius of Sally Rooney is that she makes it look so easy. The complex interior lives of her characters in Conversations With Friends, Normal People and Beautiful World, Where Are You are laid bare so effortlessly that reading and relating to them feels like the most natural thing in the world. And yet, it also feels like the first time that novels about young women have been allowed to be received as great literature. While men’s stories have been teaching us about the human experience for centuries, Rooney gives us such an intimate exploration of life and love through the eyes and minds of her young women.

Naoise Dolan

Naoise Dolan is an absolute joy to read at sentence level alone. Her voice, her wit, her turn of phrase is unmatched. That her character development and social commentary are so acutely observed is only a bonus. In both Exciting Times and The Happy Couple, Dolan shows us the resulting chaos when societal expectations of relationships conflict with the simplicity of our human needs. Like Rooney, her characters are flawed and at times infuriating but always authentically complex.

When We Were Silent by Fiona McPhillips is published by Bantam (£16.99).







Leave A Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.