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When We Were Silent – A Dublin tour with Fiona McPhillips

  • Submitted: 28th April 2024

When We Were Silent – A Dublin tour with Fiona McPhillips

Fiona McPhillips is in Dublin today and she’s taking you for the ride. You might never see Dublin in the same way again!

Locations in WWWS

Highfield Manor sits on the top of a fictitious hill of the same name in the heart of middle-class, suburban South County Dublin. I wanted to position it looking down on the rest of Dublin, and Sandyford, a village tucked into the foothills of the Dublin mountains, was the perfect location. It also helped that there is no private convent school in Sandyford so I could create Highfield without fear of reprisal from any of the local schools!

Sandyford

Locations in WWWS

It’s really an amalgam of many private, Catholic South Dublin schools as is the boys’ school, Rockdale, which is located in Donnybrook, south of Dublin city centre. I wanted to create two environments that were both elegant and illustrious enough to confer prestige and inspire success and yet also claustrophobic enough to stifle creativity and individuality.

Donnybrook Energia Park

Locations in WWWS

Highfield is more than a setting, it’s the whole ethos that drives the narrative. In fact, it’s more of an antagonist than any of the characters. So it was important to present an aesthetic that was a gateway into an exclusive world of wealth and privilege, and yet had secretive and sinister undertones.

The smart streets of Sandyford

Locations in WWWS

The wrought iron gates, the granite pillars, the Victorian building with its high-arched windows and wood-panelled walls all give a sense of the money and power but also the light and shade at Highfield. It provides a great closed setting that offers so many opportunities for conflict – young against old, rich against poor, newcomers against the status quo. In fact, in When We Were Silent, setting is the scaffolding around which everything else is built.

(This is actually the model for Satis House in Great Expectations but could it also be Highfield Manor)

Locations in WWWS

Highfield Manor itself was created from memories of my own convent school and swimming club and a healthy dose of Google maps and images and archive photos. I tried to focus on the small details  – the gravel path that runs around the school, the chequerboard tiles on the corridors. And then I kept leading the reader along those trails so they would get to know them and feel like they were there.

Locations in WWWS

Ballybrack

In contrast, Lou lives in a housing estate in Ballybrack, a working-class suburb about 9km from Sandyford. Despite the proximity, her life could barely be any different to her Highfield peers. Shauna lives in a huge Victorian house in the affluent village of Dalkey, only 4km from Ballybrack and yet it might as well be another world.

Locations in WWWS

Fiona McPhillips

Fiona McPhillips

Lou’s present day life is also far from her Ballybrack upbringing. As a lecturer in Trinity College, she is surrounded by the sort of students who might have attended Highfield or Rockdale. She has finally got the life she always wanted – a happy marriage, a daughter and a home in the seaside suburb of Clontarf on the other side of the Liffey. It’s as if the river separates not just Southside from Northside but also before from after.

Clontarf

Locations in WWWS

To create each setting, I visited some of the places in real life but I also spent a lot of time walking the paths on Google maps to make sure I didn’t miss out any important details. Even then, I often needed to delve back into the past and sought out old photos to make sure I could describe each time and place as authentically as possible.

Locations in WWWS

Highfield Manor has changed over the decades, as Lou discovers when she returns there in the present day. But the old granite building, the grand entrance hall and the gilt-edged photos on the wall all conspire to keep the elitist atmosphere as timeless as it has always been, making the dark academia setting as compelling now as it was in the 1980s.

 

Thanks Fiona!

 

BookTrail Boarding Pass: When We Were Silent

Twitter : @fionamcp

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