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 shortlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize

It’s been nearly three months since Dark Chapter’s publication in UK/Ireland — and here’s the most exciting news yet: my novel’s been shortlisted for The Guardian’s Not The Booker Prize! You may wonder why the prize exists (the winner receives a mug, and nothing more), but it was set up partly to challenge the elitist, insider world of literary prizes.  So the prize is entirely crowdsourced. This means that of the 160+ longlisted titles, Dark Chapter was among the top five books receiving the most votes from the public — more specifically, we tied for second place.  This means a great deal to me, as it can be tough for books with independent publishers to gain traction.   But it looks like the novel has already started to connect with readers, and I hope the attention Dark Chapter gets from the shortlisting will introduce it to even more.  By complete coincidence, The Guardian also ran this excellent interview with me (unrelated to the Not The Booker), on July 31st about the book and after-care for rape victims.

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In other news, the US/Canada publication is two weeks away — Polis Books will be publishing it on September 12th, and you can pre-order the book at all major booksellers in North America. Trade reviews have been fantastic:       

“A gripping debut… Li does a fine job exploring how one incident can change the course of a life in this astute psychological study.” — Publishers Weekly

“That Li was able to write this novel, as both personal catharsis and public service, speaks volumes about her inner strength. Li’s novel is both a valuable social document and a riveting page-turner.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Li skillfully compels the reader to examine life stories that have converged through a nightmarish act of violence.” — Library Journal (Starred Review)

“A thoughtful, empathetic portrayal of the challenges rape victims face when seeking justice.” — Booklist

I also got to write this short piece for Publishers Weekly. (I am of course open to any media interviews or event suggestions in the US)  I’m currently on vacation in California and just opened a box full of the US copies…

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Five days after that on Sept 17th, Harper Collins Holland will publish the Dutch edition.  Here’s what the cover looks like, it’s pretty different from the British and American versions!

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Needless to say, Dark Chapter has started to reach international readers even before translated editions come out.  Die Zeit online newsletter ran this interview in German with me, and someone even blogged about my book in Greek.  This summer, we also sold translation rights in German, Czech, Korean, Italian, and Icelandic. That makes a total of nine territories where the novel will be published!  

Meanwhile, I continued my book tour in the UK and Ireland this summer, speaking at more events in Bristol, Brighton, London, before returning to Belfast for the Feile an Phobail. I was in conversation with the eminent Belfast writer Glenn Patterson at a standing-room only event at the Culturlann Arts Centre in West Belfast, the area of the city where my real-life assault and the novel’s events took place. 

Culturlann, Winnie M Li in conversation with Glenn Patterson about her new book Dark Chapter. pictured: Winnie M Li with Glenn Patterson, Councillor Geraldine McAteer and Daniel Lawton (US Consul General) 0408JC17

Culturlann, Winnie M Li in conversation with Glenn Patterson about her new book Dark Chapter. pictured: Winnie M Li with Glenn Patterson, Councillor Geraldine McAteer and Daniel Lawton (US Consul General) 0408JC17

I also led a discussion group with women from the Falls Women’s Centre, and popped down to Dublin for a double book launch with the author Clar Ni Chonghaile at the legendary Hodges & Figgis bookstore there. In Belfast, there was a fair amount of press coverage, including articles with The Belfast Telegraph, Belfast Media Group, Irish News, and this television piece with UTV News.

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Anyway, I’m supposed to be not working (though I have just spent time updating this webpage… ha), but when I get back to London next week, there’ll be plenty more events and news to announce. I have a busy autumn ahead of me! 

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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!

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.

Reclaim the Night, Women of the World & more

I’ve been invited to speak at the first-ever Reclaim the Night March at the University of East Anglia, so I’m headed to Norwich on Saturday, Feb 20th.  Many thanks to the UEA Students’ Union for inviting me — I’m looking forward to hearing from other activists as we speak out about against rape, sexual assault, and gender-based violence.  Never spoken at a rally before, but there’s always a first.  And check out the DJ-style billing!

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In the meantime, remember to book your Saturday day passes for the Women of the World Festival at the South Bank Centre.  On Saturday, March 12th, I’ll be on the Rape: Giving Testimony panel AND I’ll be co-leading the discussion group afterward, on behalf of the Clear Lines Festival.  Hope to see you there!

Speaking of festivals, I had a fantastic time at the One Billion Rising Festival, where I chaired the opening and closing panels on Violence Against Women: How can we achieve revolutionary change?  Lots of lively and inspiring discussion, along with amazing women who approach the topic from various legal, health, and artistic angles in their work.

L-R: Thea Tadiar, Tessa Hart, me, Pavan Amara in One Billion Rising colors

L-R: Thea Tadiar, Tessa Hart, me, Pavan Amara in One Billion Rising colors

And on Thursday, Feb 25th, I’m running part of an ‘impact’ seminar at the London School of Economics, for PhD students funded by the Economic and Social Research Council.  It’s on how academic researchers can have an impact outside the academy… the event’s closed to the public, but let’s hope there will be a trickle-down (or trickle-out?) effect!

 

Clear Lines was a success!

So the festival I decided to launch in April ended up happening July 30 – Aug 2 — and I’d say it was a success!  The Clear Lines Festival had an estimated 500 people involved over the four days, including 60+ speakers and artists who wanted to help us start a new conversation about sexual assault and consent.  People cried at our Theatre Night and laughed at our comedians, including the brilliant Tiff Stevenson, Josie Long and Bridget Christie — and there were heated discussions at many of our panels.  A number of events were filled to capacity, and Channel 4 News even aired this nifty segment on us:

Overall, there was a lot of press generated about the festival.  We were covered by The Telegraph, the Daily Mail, Time Out London, The Huffington Post, among others.  And I had a live television interview on London Live and some live radio interviews on various local BBC stations.  Check out our press here and you can read our wrap-up blog post on Clear Lines here.

A special shout-out to my festival Co-Founder Dr. Nina Burrowes, to our sponsors On Road Media and McAllister Olivarius, a dedicated Planning Committee, a great team of volunteers, and our 138 Crowdfunders… without whom the festival could not have happened!

Just launched the Clear Lines Festival

After two months of hard work and a lot of enthusiasm, I’m very pleased to announce the launch of the Clear Lines Festival, the UK’s first-ever festival dedicated to talking about sexual assault through the arts and discussion. It’s something I co-founded in April (coincidentally, on the anniversary of my own rape) —  over coffee with Dr. Nina Burrowes and a group of other amazing women, all of whom are passionate about wanting to change the public conversation about sexual abuse and assault.  I personally believe the arts are one of the best ways to approach the issue, by bringing to light the human stories that underpin these experiences.  So we’re putting together an exciting programme of artists, writers, comedians, performers, and filmmakers, who will be exploring the topic through their art — along with panel discussions and workshops featuring psychologists, experts, social workers, journalists, and survivors, among others.  Nearly all events will be free to the public. The festival will run July 30 – Aug 2 in Central London.

At the moment, we’re busy crowd-funding so we can have enough funds to make the festival possible.  We’ll need £3,500 for that — and if we reach our stretch target of £9,000, we’ll be able to film the events and post them online so others around the world can access them.  So please do consider pledging if you can!  You can watch a video of me talking about the festival here.  Join us and together, let’s see if we can replace the silence and stigma that cloud this issue with insight, understanding, and community.

 

A few theatre projects

I’m pleased to say the London performance of my short play “Everything’s Normal” was sold-out!  Thanks to everyone to came, and especially to a great cast and to Tessa Hart at Goblin Baby Theatre Company for making the whole thing possible.  Here’s a few photos from the night at the Bread and Roses Theatre:

Photographer: Kenneth Jay

My play was part of the UNHEARD 2015 Festival, exploring themes of sexual abuse and violence through performance.  Proceeds from ticket sales went to nia, a non-profit dedicated to ending violence against women and children.  More importantly, it was great to meet other artists committed to exploring the many angles and human aspects of this issue through storytelling.  The various plays were

Photographer: Kenneth Jay

diverse, funny, often heart-wrenching, and powerful — and I hope to see more theatre like it.  For my HuffPost article on the creative process behind the festival, click here.

Another short play of mine will be performed on Saturday, March 21 at The Space Arts Centre in London. This one’s just a silly exercise I knocked off during the 28 Plays Later Challenge, which kept me occupied in February.  Yes, me and a bunch of other ambitious/insane writers decided to a write new play every day in February (hence the 28 plays). A creative prompt was emailed out every night, and 36 hours later, we had to send in a new play responding to that.  Needless to say, my play on March 21 is a response to: ‘Write a play that rhymes.’ Actually, that one was pretty fun to write!

Anyway, enough with theatre for now (though I hope to do more with writing drama in the future).  I’m back to re-drafting my novel at the moment…