Image: Author Glen Patterson talks to writer Winnie M Li
By Una Murphy
WRITER Winnie M Li, who suffered a horrifying attack, was back in Belfast recently to discuss her first novel Dark Chapter at a Féile an Phobail lunchtime event in Culturlann McAdam Ó Fiaich.
Ms Li was raped and violently assaulted by a 15-year-old stranger in Colin Glen Forest Park in 2008 while visiting Belfast.
The event brought together Winnie M Li and women from the local community who responded to the crime and who run services to help victims of sexual crimes.
Belfast writer Glenn Patterson interviewed the Taiwanese- American woman, who lives in London, about her book, which is based on the assault. They were joined by a panel of local women; Cara Cash, CEO Nexus; Susan McCrory, manager of Falls Women’s Centre and Sinn Fein councillor Charlene O’Hara who represents the area where the rape took place in Colin Glen Forest Park.
Geraldine McAteer, CEO of the West Belfast Partnership which organised the event, introduced the discussion. She had got to know Winnie Mi Li when the writer returned to Belfast to research her novel.
Ms Cash said: “In the story of one victim I can hear the victims who engage in our service. Nexus works with people who are affected by any sexual violence.”
Ms O’Hara said she had just taken over as a local councillor when Winnie was raped. She said local people thought: “How do we respond to this…this has happened in our community. For us we felt a responsibility, we knew we needed a response.”
After a high profile campaign which included Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams holding a press conference and using local contacts and social media, the rapist, a 15-year-old boy, was identified and later jailed.
She added it was also important for the local community to “Reclaim the Park”.
Ms McCrory said “every woman needs help to deal with her individual trauma” but said it was “an imperfect system” in place to deal with women who had suffered sexual violence.
Winnie said it was important that victims of rape in Northern Ireland are now treated at The Rowan Sexual Assault Referral Centre. She was raped before the Rowan was set up, and she found it difficult to get anti-HIV medicine that she needed and also struggled to find support she on her return to London.
She said women who have been raped needed after care including an acknowledgement from the medical professionals that an assault had taken place and an understanding of the psychological affects.
After the rape, Winnie said her feelings about Belfast were “fraught”. She said: “I always associated the city with the rape but when I came back I started to form friendships. I didn’t want to have this one event which happened to me and for the rest of my life link it with Belfast.”
She has gone back to the park where the rape happened and said she had noted improvements, including more people being around.
Winnie added that she is not the first writer to use trauma from a rape as the basis of a book and cited ‘I Will Find You’, in which journalist Joanna Connors, who was raped by a stranger, tracks him down 21 years later.
Winnie instead chose to write a novel based on the rape and subsequent trauma, but in real life there was no trial as her perpetrator pleaded guilty, although she had worried for 11 months about the trial and was sitting in a room in the court-house when she was informed the trial was not going to take place due to the guilty plea.
She wrote her novel ‘Dark Chapter’ in the third person, as writing in the first person “would be too much of a challenge”. It has been nominated for Not The Booker prize https://www.theguardian.com/books/booksblog/2017/jul/31/not-the-booker-prize-2017-please-vote-on-the-long-long-longlist
Earlier Glenn Patterson said he thought that the voice of the perpetrator in the novel was “a particular achievement”.
He added: “This is an extraordinary novel. It takes us into a world which we are perhaps afraid to talk about.”
• A link to a video in which Winnie talks about raising awareness of rape and breaking the silence about violence against women – http://bit.ly/1jD1qhx
• Her book ‘Dark Chapter’ is published by Legend Press: http://www.legendtimesgroup.co.uk/legend-press/books/1350-dark-chapter