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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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….

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!

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!

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!

Prize nominations, a literary agent, a feature in the Irish Times — exciting stuff

It’s been a busy few months for me since the Clear Lines Festival… I’ve been doubly shortlisted for the Emma Humphreys Memorial Prize, awarded annually to recognize women working against male violence.  This year for the individual prize, they focused on women who use writing in their activism, so I’m quite humbled to be nominated alongside other, more prolific women who write regularly for The Guardian or have had entire books published.  Clear Lines was also nominated for the group prize, along with three fantastic organizations: Million Women Rise, Sisters Uncut, and Rights of Women.  Anyway, I’ll be speaking on Sunday afternoon, October 25th, at the Feminism in London Conference, and the winners will be announced at the closing event shortly afterward.

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A recent newspaper feature on me

As for my own book, well, I FINALLY finished my novel, Dark Chapter — and I’ve signed with The Pontas Agency, a very nifty boutique agency based in Barcelona, who specialize in representing international authors writing on globally relevant themes.  Click here to read their announcement about me joining the Pontas fold. It’s very exciting to work with them and to join their distinguished list of clientele.

Me and Anna-Soler Pont, the Pontas CEO, right after I signed with them

Me and Anna-Soler Pont, the Pontas CEO, right after I signed with them

The Irish Times have recently run this feature article on me and my experiences leading up to writing the novel.  It opens with the first paragraph of Dark Chapter… Hope you enjoy the read!

Not bad! No.1 in The Irish Times Life & Style section

Not bad! No.1 in The Irish Times Life & Style section

Shortlisted for The James White Award!

Some very unexpected news here — my short story “White Fur” has been shortlisted for The James White Award!  This is kinda surprising for me, especially since the competition is for science fiction, and… I don’t tend to write in that genre (even though I am a fan).  But encouraging to know that people think my stab at sci-fi is decent!  I guess you can say “White Fur” is a dystopian ecology tale and yes, it involves polar bears (my favorite animal).  Anyway the winner of the competition will be revealed Easter Sunday at 6pm, at Eastercon 2015 (the British National Science Fiction Convention).  The competition is named after  James White, the prolific sci-fi author behind the Sector General stories, and is a collaboration between the British Science Fiction Association and Interzone, the UK’s leading and longest-established science fiction magazine. Congrats to the other short-listed writers, and for the official announcement, click here.