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….

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.