Vauxhall author Winnie M Li is aiming to raise awareness about sexual assault with a crime novel inspired by her own rape.
Dark Chapter, which comes out on June 1, follows a Taiwanese American tourist who is sexually assaulted by a teenager in West Belfast. “The book is a work of fiction, inspired by what happened to me,” the New Jersey native said. “I want to reserve a bit of privacy but quite a lot of my own experience is in the book. The assault itself, and the way it’s presented in the book, is not any worse or more severe than what happened in real life.”
The Harvard graduate, who also has a Masters from Goldsmiths University, has lived in Vauxhall since 2003 and was working as a film producer at the time of her assault in 2008. Winnie flew back to London the day after her attack in Ireland to attend the Leicester Square premiere of a film she worked on. “I kind of knew a few weeks after the assault that I wanted to write a book,” she said. “I sat down and wrote the prologue in a weird post traumatic haze.”
But it took five years of recovery before Winnie could start writing the rest of it, in late 2013. “A lot of rape survivors from colleges in the US started coming out about their experiences, and there were a lot of other women sharing their stories. I blogged for the Huffington Post, I went back to Belfast to research for my novel, and eventually I became an activist,” she said.
In 2015, Winnie and a group of volunteers launched Clear Lines: the UK’s first ever festival addressing sexual assault and consent. It was held over four days in Southwark with 500 people attending. “It was empowering to have that space, and celebrate our creativity as survivors and artists,” she said. “There’s a community of people out there who want to, and need to, talk about these issues.”
The writer describes seeing her first book in print as “surreal.” “Hopefully it’ll raise awareness about the issue a bit more, and the personal reasons I wrote it,” she said. “As an activist, I wanted to start conversations about this topic, and create a scenario where readers could understand that.” Dark Chapter doesn’t just focus on assault, but rather the recovery process.
“I’ve had almost a decade of recovery,” Winnie said. “The recovery period and the whole legal process that victims have to go through lasts years.”
Dark Chapter is published by Legend Press, priced at £14.99 and is available on Amazon, as well as all leading book stores.