Fantastic reception for Dark Chapter!

So my novel’s been out a month, and many many thanks to all of you who came to hear me read, asked questions, bought the book, and sent so many encouraging messages about how it affected you. The feedback I’ve been getting has been really gratifying, after 3.5 years spent writing the novel and well, 9 years living the experiences that inspired it.  Your support and reception has made it all worth it. I’ve had male readers telling me the book made them cry and think very differently about what it’s like to be a woman — and I’ve also had rape survivors say they’ve never before read a book which captures that authentically the aftermath of trauma.  So thank you to all of you.

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Someone remarked Dark Chapter may be that rare novel to have received glowing reviews from publications as different as The Daily Mail and Wasafiri magazine!  Here’s what some had to say:

The Daily Mail: ‘Brave, raw and strikingly original, it is a story that will resonate for many years.’

Wasafiri: ‘Not only highly readable but also incredibly important… deeply courageous’

Publisher’s Weekly: ‘Gripping… Li does a fine job exploring how one incident can change the course of a life in this astute psychological study.’

(If you know any other publications which should be reviewing it, please do give them a nudge!)

To be honest, feedback like this kept me going through an intense June, when I had 12 events and a load of media interviews (in addition to London falling apart politically and sociologically).  Highlights in my media coverage include this piece I wrote for The Times

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and this interview with Matt Barbet on Channel 5 news

There was also a fair amount of media coverage around the Belfast Book Festival, where I returned to launch Dark Chapter in the city which is the backdrop of the book’s action (as well as the city of my rape).  I spoke on The Nolan Show, the popular radio chat show that features on pages 185-187 of my novel.  I was also on the front page of The Andersonstown News, Q Media, Belfast 89 FM, and had this lovely long interview with Novel Ideas, a literature show produced by Northern Visions Television.

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In addition to the book festival event, I also had a very meaningful lunchtime discussion group with counsellors and survivors at Nexus NI, the rape crisis centre in Belfast.  And most significant for me on a personal level: I participated in a panel discussion led by Monica McWilliams, a longtime supporter and legendary women’s rights campaigner, alongside representatives from the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Women’s Aid, The Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre, and Nexus — organisations which are all vital sources of support for survivors.

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It was especially poignant to sign a copy of my book for the forensic doctor who examined me after my 2008 assault, and whose warmth and kindness is portrayed in the novel as well.

In London, the US Ireland Alliance hosted an excellent reception for the book in the Seamus Heaney Library of The Bloomsbury Hotel, which was attended by both the Irish Ambassador and the Acting US Ambassador to the UK.  Click here for some great photos.

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I also had the honour of delivering the keynote speech at a symposium for the Gender and Sexualities Research Forum at City University, as well as readings at Waterstones at LSE, The Library private members club, and the truly fantastic Review bookshop in Peckham. 

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While things calm down for me in July, I’ll be taking the book on the road a bit more. I’m currently in  Newcastle speaking at the English Shared Futures conference, and I’ll be doing signings at Blackwell’s across from the Civic Centre at 1:50pm on Thursday, July 6th and WH Smith (36 Northumberland Street) at 1pm on Saturday, July 8th.  And I’m headed to Bristol and Brighton in the next few weeks!

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Dark Chapter is available to buy now!

Well yes, it’s happened.  Dark Chapter is out! In stores!  Online!  Do go buy it, as soon as you can, as first-week sales can provide a huge momentum boost for authors.  You can get in the UK and Ireland at most major booksellers like Waterstones, WH Smith, Blackwell’s, Foyles, the Hive (to support your local high street bookshop), and yes, Amazon.  In fact, the Kindle version is currently Amazon’s No. 1 bestselling title for ‘Northern Irish Crime’!

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Our official publication day was yesterday, and I’ve been caught up in a flurry of media coverage and events for the past few weeks. I did a live TV interview with Nuala McGovern on BBC World GMT and here’s a few shots from it — you’ll be able to watch the interview once I figure out how to get the file up on this website (not the most tech-savvy over here…!)

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Other media highlights include this radio interview with Jayne McCormack on BBC Radio Ulster, another radio chat with Sean O’Rourke on RTE Radio One, and these interviews with The Irish News and The Irish Sun.  And I’ve especially relished the opportunity to write on the issue of rape for a number of outlets, including this 4-page spread for YOU Magazine and the Mail on Sunday, alongside smaller pieces like this one for The Pool and The Metro.

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While most of the media interest has been about my real-life journey towards writing the book, it’s also been very gratifying to see people engaging with Dark Chapter as a novel in its own right.  Here, book blogger Scott Manley Hadley has written a lengthy (and fantastic) review (also for The Huffington Post), and here’s a fascinating podcast I did with Rob Sharp for English PEN about freedom of expression and self-censorship around the issue of sexual assault.  My launch event at Daunt Books Holland Park was really energizing (yes, we sold 100 hardbacks in one night!), and I have a very busy June ahead of me.  In fact, I’m speaking at Byline Festival tonight, the London School of Economics on Wed, June 7th, and well… you can see the book tour schedule below for more details.  Most importantly for me, I’m returning to Belfast on June 15th to present at the Belfast Book Festival — this event in particular will mean a lot to me, given that my rape took place in Belfast.  Hope to see you at one of these events, and I’m always interested in speaking and fostering a more open conversation about sexual assault. dark chapter may june tour jpeg

One month until DARK CHAPTER is out…

Yes I can’t *quite* believe it, but there’s less than 4 weeks to go until my debut novel Dark Chapter is available in the UK and Ireland. The hardcover arrived last week….

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In the meantime, 1000 Londoners launched their short film of me as part of their ‘Century: 10 Decades x 10 Women’ series.  1000 Londoners are an award-winning project, showcasing short web films about, well, 1000 Londoners.  It’s an honour to have been profiled by them, and especially to be their featured Londoner for the week of May 4-10.

On May 16th, I’ll be speaking at a pre-launch event for Dark Chapter, as part of UK Says No More Week, organised by Hestia to raise awareness about sexual and domestic violence.  There will be 30 advance copies of my novel available to buy, so book your free spot here — space is very limited!

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This follows a successful pre-launch event at Waterstones Piccadilly on April 30, where I’d been invited to read in the New Crime Writing slot as part of the Writers of the World Unite Festival.  Many thanks to those who came and bought advance copies of Dark Chapter!  There wasn’t a spare seat in the house, and the reaction was fantastic… and very encouraging for this somewhat nervous first-time author.  You can watch a clip of me reading the prologue to Dark Chapter here:

Earlier in April, I was on a much-needed holiday in Spain where I got to wander around fantastic places like the Pyrenees and Cuenca on my own.  But I’d also been invited to Barcelona to attend the 25th anniversary celebration of my literary agents, The Pontas Agency.  It was truly magical to meet other Pontas authors who had all been flown in from around the world and were being represented by such a uniquely passionate group of agents.  We got a fair amount of press coverage within the publishing industry, and I’m quoted in this article from Publishers Weekly.

Anyway, things just kicked into a higher gear in advance of Dark Chapter’s UK publication date, so watch this space for more news on events and media coverage….

A Lancôme campaign, a live TV interview… People, remember my book!

We’re still in the buzz of International Women’s Day 2017, so I am very honoured (and slightly amused) to have been chosen by Lancôme as one of 40 powerful women to be featured in the My Shade My Power campaign for their new line of Teint Idole Ultra Wear foundation. 

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Wait, what? As their foundation comes in 40 shades of skin tone, the new campaign features 40 diverse women who have been impressive in different industries and professional fields. Very humbling to be in the same group as cultural icons like Gurinder Chadha, Bonnie Greer, and Malorie Blackman. The campaign will be in the UK and Ireland all spring, and you’ll soon see posters and handouts in stores as well!

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Aside from makeup ads (for which I did NOT get paid, but this underpaid writer could definitely use the money), I’ve been pretty busy writing and speaking.  I’ve started writing for Media Diversified, and my article on Hollywood’s Awards Season Obsession with Rape and Sexual Assault was quite popular.  It’s true: each year, prestige pictures roll out with plum roles for actors to play rape survivors and rapists (and hopefully win awards), but how well do these films reflect the lived reality of rape and sexual assault?

I was in New York and Boston earlier this week, and did a live TV interview with i24 News — on their program ‘Stateside’ with David Shuster.  The Marine photo scandal is still raging in the US, so they asked me to comment and gave me a chance to talk about my upcoming novel DARK CHAPTER.

Guess I can tick ‘live TV interview with international news channel in Times Square’ off my list!

In Boston, I’d been invited to speak at my alma mater Harvard’s 50th Anniversary Symposium for the Folklore and Mythology degree.  Yes, that’s what I got my BA in, and it was truly wonderful and reaffirming to talk about the impact of a humanities education on my life and how I am still using storytelling (to a very large degree!) in the work that I do.

Finally, my red-eye flight landed back in London on International Women’s Day, and I somehow made it through five hours of class to chair a fascinating panel discussion that evening for The Malala Fund.  This was on the importance of girls’ education worldwide, and followed a charity screening of the documentary ‘I AM MALALA.’  I had the chance to speak with an impressive panel of women working on gender equality, including representatives of Women 4 Africa, Educate Girls, The Malala Fund.

But there will be plenty more of such panels this weekend at the sold-out 7th annual Women of the World Festival at the SouthBank Centre.  It turns out I’m speaking/chairing at FOUR different events over the next few days there (all on rape and sexual assault, of course).   

Saturday, March 11, 3pm: Deciding Whose Story Gets Told 

Sunday, March 12, 11:30am: Q&A panel following the World Premiere of ‘Foreign Body’

Sunday, March 12, 6:15pm: Chairing the Discussion Group on Giving Testimony about Sexual Assault and Abuse

Tuesday, March 14, 5:30pm: Chairing a 7pm Discussion Group following South of Forgiveness

This last event is the re-programming of the controversial TED Talk speakers Thordis Elva and Tom Stranger (a rape survivor and her rapist who share the stage), which generated an angry online petition to have the event moved out of the WoW Festival.  WoW, to their credit, moved the event and have felt it was important to enable conversation with survivors to hear their thoughts on the topic.  So it promises to be a heady, but vital discussion.  Hope to see some of you at the SouthBank this weekend!

US Cover reveal & some exciting buzz for DARK CHAPTER

New year, new cover for my novel.  Here we go with the cover reveal for the North American edition of DARK CHAPTER:

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Similar in feel to the UK edition (Legend Press), but with a bit more emphasis on the human element.  I’m a fan of both.  Hopefully, readers will like them, too!  In the US and Canada, DARK CHAPTER will be out with Polis Books in September 2017.

BUT the UK/Irish edition will come before that — in fact, it’s out on June 1st!  We’ve already been getting some really strong endorsements from other authors, thinkers, and activists who’ve gotten advance copies of the book.  Most excitingly, DARK CHAPTER was included on Cathy Rentzenbrink’s list ‘Ten Smashing Debut Novels to Look Out For in 2017’ for Stylist Magazine in the UK.   It’s up there along with George Sanders’ debut novel LINCOLN IN THE BARDO, BROOKLYN by Yaa Gyasi, and a number of other titles which have gone on to become bestsellers already.  A screenshot of our listing is below (although they got the publication date wrong), and the full list is available here.

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DARK CHAPTER was also included in another list of ‘Tremendous Books to Look Forward To in 2017’ on Bookwitty.  There, it’s listed alongside the latest by Mohsin Hamid (THE RELUCTANT FUNDAMENTALIST), Bernhard Schlink (THE READER), and Pulitzer Prize winner Viet Thanh Nguyen (THE SYMPATHIZER).  So no pressure or anything…

Watch this space for more buzz about DARK CHAPTER as the year rolls on!

Cover reveal for DARK CHAPTER!

At long last, here is the cover reveal for the UK/Irish edition of my novel, DARK CHAPTER!

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In earlier versions of the design, the woman’s hair was blonde, so there was a bit of a tussle to ensure she was depicted as a woman of color, but we got there in the end!  I’m quite pleased with it: ominous, yet also somewhat redemptive in feel.  Hopefully, it says intelligent literary suspense to you.

Legend Press will be publishing the novel in hardcover 1st June 2017 in the UK/Ireland, and I look forward to seeing what over cover designs will be like for the other countries.  We’re just about to sign off on the final edit, so I’ll finally be putting to bed a novel I started writing three years ago.  (In fact, during NaNoWriMo 2013.)

In October, I also won 2nd place in the SI Leeds Literary Prize for the unpublished manuscript of DARK CHAPTER, which was a great honour.  Here’s myself and Jamilah Ahmed, the 3rd prize and Reader’s Choice winner, at the awards ceremony at the Ilkley Literature Festival.   Amita Murray won 1st place, and I can’t wait to see the writing from all the shortlisted authors being read out there.

Off the back of the SI Leeds Literary Prize, I had the wonderful opportunity to meet US author Paul Beatty when he was in London for the Man Booker Prize Ceremony.  He eventually WON the Booker Prize for his hilarious novel THE SELLOUT, four days after this photo was taken!  Here he is at the Waterstones Piccadilly with me, SI Leeds shortlisted writer Stella Ahmadou, and the legendary Margaret Busby, who was the UK’s first black publisher back in the 1960s.  So inspiring for an encouraging, down-to-earth, bold and incisive writer like him to have won the UK’s top literary prize.

With Man Booker Prize winner Paul Beatty!

With Man Booker Prize winner Paul Beatty!

Upcoming readings for the SI Leeds Literary Prize

So, I’ve made it onto the shortlist for the 2016 SI Leeds Literary Prize!  The prize will be awarded on Wed, Oct 12th at the Ilkley Literature Festival, at a reading and event with Malika Booker.  On Sunday, Oct 9th, we’ll also be reading as part of the London Literature Festival at the SouthBank Centre, where award-winning writer Bernardine Evaristo will chair an important discussion on diversity in publishing and writing. Come join us at either event!

I already had a fantastic time at the first SI Leeds Literary Prize event at the Rich Mix on September 19th, which was hosted by Sunny Singh. It was a pleasure meeting the other shortlisted authors, each of whom has a unique and valuable perspective in her writing — and I look forward to seeing them again at the upcoming events!  Here’s all of us on stage at the Rich Mix event:

On stage looking a bit awkward at the Rich Mix!

On stage looking a bit awkward at the Rich Mix…

I’m shortlisted for the unpublished manuscript of my upcoming novel Dark Chapter, which my agents will be representing at the Frankfurt Book Fair.  Here’s their pre-Frankfurt newsletter.  They’ve been wonderfully supportive of me for the past year, and we’re all looking forward to the novel’s publication in 2017 in multiple countries!

In other news, I’m continuing to meet with other activists and artists on the issue of sexual assault and consent, both in the UK and elsewhere.  On September 16th, I attended the first-ever Being the Story event, which focused on storytelling to advance social justice and humanitarian causes.  I was asked by the organizers sounddelivery to write a guest-blog on my own uses of storytelling to address sexual assault, and you can read it here.

Longlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize

Sad to see summer winding down, but I had a good one – hope you did too!  Among other exciting news, I’m currently longlisted for the SI Leeds Literary Prize, which is awarded every two years to an outstanding unpublished fiction manuscript by a BAME woman writer.  (BAME is the somewhat odd acronym used in the UK for a person of color, i.e. Black or Asian)  The shortlist will be announced in late September.  Of course, my entry is the as-yet-unpublished manuscript of my debut novel Dark Chapter, which will be published next June in the UK and Ireland, and September 2017 in the US and Canada, and elsewhere! I’m currently in the midst of the final edit, and have been going through draft cover designs for the UK hardcover.  My agent will be selling rights to the finished manuscript at the Frankfurt Book Fair next month, to add to the four territories already sold.  Big thanks to all the editors who have signed on already to bring Dark Chapter to readers around the world.  This includes Lisanne Mathijssen at Harper Collins Holland, who will be publishing my book in Dutch!   

One such editor, Gunilla Sondell, is a fiction editor at Norstedts, Sweden’s oldest publishing house.  I had the pleasure of meeting Gunilla this summer when I spent a couple weeks wandering around Sweden.  I got to stay at her rustic summer cottage, went for hikes in the forest, and picked a few mushrooms. A few days later, I got on a 21-hour train ride to Swedish Lapland, where I did some more hiking north of the Arctic Circle.  Overall, it was a fantastic trip for me, and I kind of fell in love with the long days, fresh lakes, tall pine forests, and impressive mushrooms of Sweden in the summer. I’ll definitely be heading back.

A selfie with Gunilla, my Swedish editor, and my haul of freshly -picked chanterelles

A selfie with Gunilla, my Swedish editor, and my haul of freshly -picked chanterelles

Other trips include a few days visiting friends in Madrid, enjoying both cityscapes and countryside, and an upcoming trip to Germany.  In the meantime, must get back to the grindstone and finish my work on Dark Chapter.  Here’s the exciting post from my agent’s September newsletter!

US & UK book deals for my debut novel!

YES – it’s finally, actually happening!  I am absolutely beyond thrilled (and relieved) to announce my debut novel, Dark Chapter, will be published worldwide next year — in North America by Polis Books and in the UK/Ireland by Legend Press.  Both are dynamic independent publishers, which have been going from strength to strength in recent years. So I am very pleased to be part of these teams on both sides of the Atlantic, and to work with them on finding innovative ways to connect with audiences.   After all, one main reason I wrote this novel was to start a more public conversation about the many angles to sexual assault — and I’m glad to have two fantastic publishers make that possible in my home countries. My agents were thrilled to close these deals – here’s their announcement!

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And here’s the Polis Books announcement.  They call my novel ‘bold, riveting, and above all, human.’ I’m liking those words!  I was very lucky to have these words of praise from New York Times-bestselling author Marti Leimbach:

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Marti’s novel Age of Consent is out now, and the encouragement of other authors and advocates on this issue has been vital for me.

In Sweden, Norstedts (publisher of Stieg Larsson, Margaret Atwood, and Elena Ferrante, among others) have already signed up to publish Dark Chapter.  So watch this space for news on publication dates and more publishers!

An article gone viral, academic presentations & upcoming theatre

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If you haven’t read it, my latest article on the Stanford sexual assault has gone somewhat viral, with over 90,000 people (at last count) reading it around the world!  After The Conversation published it, other media outlets like the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, The Independent, TIME, Scroll, and Raw Story ran it, making it available to readers as far flung as Oz and India.  Case in point: social media amplifies (as I argue in my article), and with millions of people worldwide reading the full impact statement of the Stanford survivor, this case has become a game-changer in influencing the way we think and talk about sexual assault.Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 13.06.16

This is all very on topic for my PhD research on social media and narratives by rape survivors, and  I’m thrilled to announce I recently passed my PhD upgrade at the London School of Economics! Which means it’ll now just be, oh, three years before you can call me ‘doctor’?  (Yep, a long game we’re talking here.) This week I’ve just presented a paper on my work with child sexual abuse survivors at the CMCI PhD Conference ‘(In)Visible Cultures’ at Kings’ College London, and I’ll be presenting it again at the Media and Communications PhD Symposium at the LSE on June 30th.

On June 23 and 27, I’ll chair the Q&A following performances of Foreign Body, a work-in-progress piece of physical theatre, which explores a woman’s memory of sexual assault and her interview with her perpetrator.  The Q&A will be with Imogen Butler-Cole of The What Works (the theatre-maker who created and performs Foreign Body) and Marina Cantacuzino and Anne-Marie Cockburn of The Forgiveness Project.  Marina founded the well-known project, and Anne-Marie’s own restorative process with the young man who supplied a fatal overdose of MDMA to her 15-year-old daughter is a remarkable journey, You can watch her story here. We’ll be discussing trauma, recovery, and restorative justice among other things — and do join us at either of the performances: at the Off Beat Festival in Oxford at 7:45pm on Thursday, June 23 (tickets £8/6) and at the RADA Festival in London at 4pm on Monday, June 27 (tickets £10/5).  Hope to see you there!

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Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 Asian Women of Achievement Awards Dinner, where I was shortlisted in the Social and Humanitarian category.  Although I didn’t win, it was truly inspiring to be among so many fantastic women, who have made such a difference in their work across a range of industries.  Here’s me and the delightful Harleen Kaur, winner in the Sports category, who at 17-years-old is an international World Martial Kombat champion. It’ll be an honour to be part of a growing network of accomplished Asian women recognised by the Women of the Future Foundation — and I look forward to seeing our collective positive impact on society continue!AWAA w Harleen