An Irish documentary, a South African literary festival, and the final stages of the Not The Booker Prize!

Hello – I’m writing this on a train up to Yorkshire, after a few weeks in South Africa.  Lots to update you on, but in brief, I have a busy week of events coming up, starting with tonight’s launch of the 2018 SI Leeds Literary Prize at the Ilkley Literature Festival. It will be great to return to Ilkley — last time I was here, as one of the 2016 prize winners, I was deep in the edit of Dark Chapter and one year on, it’s amazing to present it as a tangible book! 

Tomorrow, I’m back in London for a panel with the other short-listed writers in The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize, chaired by Sam Jordison, the prize founder and a Guardian book critic.  The panel takes place 7-9pm at the Big Green Bookshop.  Looking forward to meeting the other shortlisted writers, as well as Sam, who called Dark Chapter ‘an impressive debut… defiant and urgent… conveyed with skill and emotional force’ in this great review.  In fact, we’re in the final stage of the Not The Booker Prize — so if you liked the book, please consider voting for it  before midnight, GMT, Sunday, Oct 15th.  All you have to do is vote in the comments section of this article, providing a brief review of the book.  Many thanks to all who have supported the book thus far in getting to the shortlist! 

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You’ll see my October events list above, which also includes speaking on panels about feminism, change, and online spaces at WoW Exeter; about recovery after rape at FiLiA (formerly the Feminism in London conference); and about sexual harassment in institutions at the London School of Economics. On Monday, Oct 16 from 5-6pm, I’ll also be part of a BBC World Service radio programme for BBC 100 Women, broadcast live from the London Transport Museum about sexual harassment on public transport. 

I'm one of the four women in this TV3 Ireland documentary...

I’m one of the four women in this TV3 Ireland documentary…

I’m also headed to Dublin in late October, where I’ll be at the awards ceremony for Irish Tatler’s Women of the Year Awards.  I’m nominated in the Special Recognition category, and it has been an honour to be part of a larger, much-needed conversation in Ireland about sexual assault.  In September, TV3 Ireland aired ‘Unbreakable: True Lives,’ a two-part television documentary featuring four Irish stories of sexual assault and rape. I was one of those four survivors, and the documentary follows my return to Belfast to revisit the park where I was violently raped by a stranger in 2008. When we filmed last autumn, the thought of returning to that park (which features heavily in my novel) filled me with great deal of trepidation and anxiety. But the actual return was not as awful as I expected — and the huge public reception generated by the documentary this autumn has made everything worth it.  The social media reaction has been incredible, connecting a great number of survivors, and we even elicited a statement from George Hook, the Irish journalist who recently came under fire for his questionable comments about rape victims. For those in Ireland, you can still watch the show on TV3 player until Oct 26. My story is in Part 2, which aired on Sep 28th.         

Screen Shot 2017-09-22 at 01.29.40While the documentary was airing in Ireland, I was actually in South Africa, where I’d been invited to speak at the Articulate Africa Book Fair, part of the Essence Festival Durban.  It was my first time in Durban, and I’ve always been keen to connect with readers in South Africa, which the media rather salaciously calls ‘the rape capital of the world.’  Needless to say, a great number of survivors and activists are eager to change the situation around sexual violence in South Africa —I hope my talk resonated with many. It was also great to meet with eminent writers like Chris Abani and Christopher Merrill from the US, and South African authors like bestselling crime writer Deon Meyer, debut phenomenon Mohale Mashigo, literary critic Karina Szczurek, and the renowned Etienne van Heerden (whose novel Ancestral Voices, I’d first heard about as a 14-year-old in New Jersey).

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After the book fair, I took the opportunity to travel around South Africa for a week. I got to traverse the Sani Pass and stay at the highest pub in Africa (in Lesotho), explore the Drakensberg Mountains, hike in the Golden Gate Highlands, sample the art and dining scene in Clarens, and meet three of the Big 5 game animals on safari in Hluhluwe-Imfolozi Park. Nothing quite like turning a corner and finding an elephant right there next to the road!  I hope to return to South Africa soon (especially if my book finds a distributor there), and it’s great to see readers of Dark Chapter already enjoying it down there.

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Finally, my novel came out in the US and Holland in September, with Polis Books and Harper Collins respectively. I wrote this piece for LitHub, on how my background in film influences me as a writer (with a special nod to the car chase scene from The Bourne Supremacy).  Already, Dark Chapter has been included among the top 2017 debut novels by Library Journal and top autumn thrillers by Book Riot. In the UK, Dark Chapter continues to generate buzz, both in the media, with those working on the issue of sexual violence, with book bloggers, such as Books Beyond Borders, Book Muse, and From First Page to Last.

The paperback will be out on November 1st, and already I have an exciting line-up of events in London and elsewhere around the UK.  Looking forward to meeting more readers and seeing how far the book can go in reaching both individuals and organisations on the issue of sexual violence.  If you read the book and think it’s a worthy read, spread the word!  And don’t forget to vote for Not The Booker!

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!

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.

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

Asian Women of Achievement Awards – I’ve been shortlisted!

I’m very honored to have been shortlisted for the prestigious Asian Women of Achievement Awards in the Social and Humanitarian category, for my work on the issue of sexual assault and consent, including launching the Clear Lines Festival.  The awards are meant ‘to celebrate the often unsung Asian heroines of British life’ so… hey, I appreciate that!  Awards evening is May 12 at the London Hilton on Park Lane.  Looking forward to it!

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Speaking of Clear Lines, we’ve recently sent out our Spring 2016 newsletter, which you can read here.  And on March 12, I had the opportunity to run an important discussion group on sexual assault and abuse at the Women of the World Festival (WOW) at the South Bank Centre, on behalf of Clear Lines.  This followed the Sexual Assault and Abuse: Giving Testimony session, where I spoke on the panel, chaired by Jude Kelly, Artistic Director of the South Bank Centre. Overall, WOW was a fantastic weekend, full of inspiring talks and performances, addressing all sorts of issues related to achieving greater gender equality. Many thanks especially to the survivors, witnesses, and supporters who came shared, listened, and spoke out at our discussion group.

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Leading up to WOW, I wrote this opinion piece for The Huffington Post on the Oscars — did you notice the issue of sexual abuse was center-stage at the Academy Awards this year?  That’s progress!  As well as this blog post for Polis: Journalism and Society at the LSE, on the importance of celebrity, solidarity, and activism around sexual assault.

For now, I’m off to New England and New York for a short break, and will be back in London in mid-April… whereupon I’ll have to start working on my PhD upgrade in earnest. Lots of exciting things happening at the Department of Media and Communications at the LSE – we were recently ranked 3rd best Media Studies Department in the world… Not too shabby, eh?

 

Upcoming festival talks in Feb and March

This week is the inaugural Sexual Abuse & Sexual Violence Awareness Week in the UK, and I’ve been part of an active social media conversation at #ItsNotOk. I’ll also be chairing the opening panel at the One Billion Rising Festival on Sunday, Feb 7th.  We’ll discuss the importance of the One Billion Rising campaign and other activism movements against gender-based violence.  The talk is free (taking place right after The Vagina Monologues) and you can book tickets in advance here.  There’s also loads of other performances and workshops during the 7-day festival — be sure to check it out!

And in March, I’ll be speaking at the excellent Women of the World Festival at the Southbank Centre on Saturday the 12th.  The full programme isn’t up yet, but you can book a Saturday day pass — their lineup is never short of inspiring!

Other than that, I’m plugging along on my PhD work at the LSE and continuing to collaborate with other artists, thinkers, and activists on the issue.  Here’s a video of me speaking at last year’s Clear Lines Festival on media representations of sexual assault and what it’s like to have your own attack reported in the press:

A Swedish book deal & my current PhD research at the LSE

Happy 2016!  This update is very overdue, but I haven’t had much spare time these past few months, ever since starting my PhD.  But more on that later…

The first bit of exciting news is that my debut novel Dark Chapter has its first publication deal — it’ll be coming out in Sweden in Spring 2017 thanks to Norstedts, one of Sweden’s most prestigious publishing houses.  They also publish Margaret Atwood, Elena Ferrante, Colm Tóibín, and they discovered Stieg Larsson, so it’s not bad company to be in! The deal was listed at the top of Publishers Weekly Hot International Book Properties in November. I’m looking forward to publishers making the book available in other countries… I hope you are, too!

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Alongside my creative writing, I’ve begun my PhD at the Department of Media and Communications at the London School of Economics. I’ll be researching the impact of social media on the public dialogue about rape and sexual assault — a very topical subject, and obviously, one which I feel strongly about, given my own experience and exploration of the issue. You can watch a video and read an article on my research here:

At the end of October, I spoke at the Feminism in London Conference, as a nominee for the annual Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize.  I didn’t win in the end, but it was an honor to be at the awards ceremony, both as an Individual Award nominee and as a representative of the Clear Lines Festival (nominated for the Group Award).  To have the chance to meet the other shortlisted women — and hear about their collective efforts working against gender-based violence — was nothing short of inspiring.

Me and Kate Llewellyn representing Clear Lines

Me and Kate Llewellyn representing Clear Lines

Speaking of Clear Lines, we have begun to release videos from the festival online.  You can watch them for free here, including videos of me speaking on the panel about news coverage of sexual assault, commenting on what it’s like to have your own rape reported in the media.   There’s also videos from our Spoken Word Night, featuring some very talented poets, and more videos will pop up over the next few months.

You can read my end-of-2015 round-up here.  Looking forward to what 2016 will bring!