Author of the Month

Name: Helen Fitzgerald

First Novel:

Most Recent Book: Viral

'‘Viral’ is a book that will make you think.'

‘So far, twenty-three thousand and ninety six people have seen me online. They include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year Biology teacher and my boyfriend James.’

When Leah Oliphant-Brotheridge and her adopted sister, Su go on holiday together to Magaluf to celebrate their A-levels, only Leah returns home. Her successful, swotty sister remains abroad, humiliated and afraid: there is an online video of her, drunkenly performing a sex act in a nightclub. And everyone has seen it.

Ruth Oliphant-Brotheridge, mother of the girls and successful court judge, is furious. How could this have happened? How can she bring justice to these men who took advantage of her dutiful, virginal daughter? What role has Leah played in all this? Can Ruth find Su and bring her back home when Su doesn't want to be found?

There’s an urban legend in my family that the only reason my Mother has never watched ‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’ is because the first word uttered is the F-word. I mention this because of the opening line of ‘Viral’ - one that has caused quite some discussion amongst readers. To me it is the best opening line I have ever read. It’s iconic, the perfect hook, grabbing your attention round the scruff of the neck and setting the tone of the whole novel.

I’ve long been a fan of the work of Helen Fitzgerald, and couldn’t wait to read ‘Viral’, which is quite possibly her best work yet. I had to regularly force myself to put the book down because while I could have quietly and easily devoured it in a few short hours, I really wanted to savour every word, and reflect on the actions and reactions of the characters. The reason for this is because ‘Viral’ is a book that deserves your full concentration, and thought.

The characters are sculpted to the extremes of their traits, the hard stiff judge of a mother, in contrast to the almost carefree, light-heartedness of the father and the studious hard working adoptive daughter, Su, in contrast to the troublesome teen wild child of their natural daughter, Leah. Yet each felt well crafted, like any one of them could fit into my own family. Reading ‘Viral’ brought back many of my own memories of bad decisions, teenage angst, and sibling rivalry. It has also made me very glad that I made all my mistakes before the internet was such an integral part of our lives!

There is so much to this book. I dare anyone reading it not to identify with some part of the story, from the parental favouritism and desire to protect your children at all costs, to the way that one single unguarded moment can define who we are and the struggle to accept and change the perceptions of others. The impact of seemingly innocent actions in the ‘spirit of fun’ and how they can impact on the people around us. 'Viral' is a book that will make you think.

It is a book that I am a little sad I won’t get to read for the first time again, but saying that, I know I will discover more of this amazing novel from a second read. I feel in my bones that ‘Viral’ will be one of the biggest novels of 2016.

Reviewed by: J.P.

CrimeSquad Rating


1) I really love the opening of ‘Viral’, it’s the perfect hook. Did you realise how much online debate it would cause, and what do you think about what’s being said?
No, I just thought it was a great line, and the right line. At the same time, what writer doesn’t want to grab people’s attention from the start? It’s part of the job description.

The online debate took me completely by surprise. I’ve written umpteen blog posts in the past and they all pretty much disappeared without trace. This one just grew and grew. Some people were very supportive – one lovely woman said it was the best first line since Price and Prejudice! Others thought it was an adolescent attempt to shock.
2) ‘Viral’ is a great tale about the repercussions of a single drunken act and the speed at which a single moment can be spread amazingly quickly. What sparked the idea?
My daughter and her friends booked an end-of-school holiday in Magaluf, so I Googled it. Following the panic attack I sat down and started writing. There was probably an element of soon-to-be-empty-nest syndrome about it too. The novel’s about a middle-aged-mum coming to the rescue of her teenage daughter for God’s sake… You don’t have to be a psychologist to figure it out!
3) What do you think of the recommendation that parents should give your book, ‘Viral’ to their teenagers to read before they go on adult free holidays?
I think parents should give their teenagers two copies, in case they lose one.
4) With every mobile now having an in-built camera/cine-camera, people can’t do anything without it being documented in some way. Do you feel that teenagers today are more pressurised due to the scrutiny of social media?
They’re more pressurised in terms of exposure, certainly. They have to learn the skill of image-management, and even if they do, an unlucky turn of events can – literally overnight – turn them into objects of public ridicule or contempt. But I reckon the classic pressures of youth are pretty much the same as they ever were. They just look different from the outside.
5) Do you feel that young people have become too reliant on social media like Facebook and Twitter, whilst at the same time losing grip on reality?
I doubt young people have fewer grips on reality than my generation did. The whole point of being young is to avoid too much reality. Like I said before, things just ‘look’ different.

As for Facebook and Twitter, in some ways they’re a great thing. My daughter and I are constantly in touch because it’s so easy and casual. Social media can be abused, of course, but the same can be said of any tool. We didn’t have poison-pen letters before we had pens, and we didn’t have threatening phone calls before we had phones. Social media frightens us because it’s a new tool. We’re not comfortable with it yet.
6) Your books are more psychological than police procedural. Do you prefer not to have series characters and like to start with a blank sheet with every new book?
My main characters are always ordinary people, and I always put them through hell. To put them through hell twice would stretch credulity. To put them through hell multiple times would be taking the piss!
7) For writers who are just starting out on their ‘novel journey’, what one piece of advice would you give?
It’s not an outrageous or self-indulgent thing to want to be. Oh, and don’t skimp on the re-writes.
8) Are you a fan of crime fiction in general? What would you say are the top three crime novels that have made a lasting impression on you?
There are so many different types of crime fiction. I enjoy books about deviance, where the victim and/or perpetrator have a strong voice. Three of my favourites may not even be on the crime shelf – they are Room, The Lovely Bones and We Need to Talk About Kevin.