'I feel blessed that I survived': Meet the woman whose tragic tale of amnesia and abuse is set for Hollywood
'I feel blessed that I survived': Meet the woman whose tragic tale of amnesia and abuse is set for Hollywood
Imagine waking up without 17 years of your memories – becoming a kid again.
You’d be forgiven for thinking imagining some cheesy teenage rom-com starring Zac Efron or Lindsay Lohan.
But this was the reality for Naomi Jacobs – a normal person living a normal, though admittedly ‘chaotic’, life.
Now, after waiting six years for a book deal, the 40-year-old is an author with her memoir Forgotten Girl, or I Woke Up in the Future in Australia, being sold across the globe.
And she is set to see her story play out on the big screen as Steve Coogan confirmed this month that he is in the process of transforming Naomi’s experiences to film.
FORGOTTEN GIRL: Naomi's amazing memoir has been published by Macmillan
“I would definitely say books and film saved my sanity,” she told MM.
“Without sounding a bit too dramatic, it’s the God’s honest truth.”
As she sets the tray down in Costa, with her healthy herbal tea next to a caffeine-filled Americano, she recalls her journey through abuse, drug-addiction and amnesia.
Naomi says that, to explain the amnesia, the story starts in her ‘chaotic’ childhood.
She was abused and raped at six years-old, abused again at 10, attempted an overdose at 15 and watched her mum develop an addiction to alcohol.
“I knew by the time I was 26 that I’d been abused, but I couldn’t remember – I’d buried it,” she says.
“When I was 29 I had a flashback to the rape and then that was the start of my cocaine habit and my mental health just fell apart.
“I was misdiagnosed with bi-polar disorder and I was on loads of medication for it.
“That was when I lost the house, my business, car, I ended up homeless and bankrupt.
“So it’s been a journey and a half. But I still feel very lucky and I still feel very blessed in the way that I’ve managed to survive all of that.”
Naomi grew up in Liverpool but moved to Manchester when she was 19 just ‘with a bag and a box’ after realising that ‘part of my problem was my environment and I needed to get away from that’.
Then, in 2008, when Naomi was 32, she woke up thinking she was 15 again.
The memory loss was caused by Dissociative Amnesia followed by a Dissociative Fugue state – where people temporarily lose their sense of personal identity – which is very rare and difficult to diagnose.
FUGUE STATE: Naomi as a schoolgirl
“The first 24 hours were just ridiculously traumatic,” she says.
“There was just no sense to be made of what was happening to me at all. I was in complete denial. I was so convinced that I was going to fall asleep that night and wake up in 1992.
“I felt 15, my last memory was of me being 15 and I wake up 17 years in the future in a bedroom I’ve never seen before, in a house I don’t know, knowing that on some level I’ve given birth and not remembering the child.”
This type of amnesia can be triggered by stress and at the time Naomi was worrying about her homeopathy business, was studying for exams in her psychology degree and she had recently split with her Parisian partner, Henri.
The amnesia meant that, although Naomi lost her memories, she could remember things that she had frequently repeated, like her best friend, Katie’s, phone number which she rang immediately after waking up that day.
Naomi says that, for first two weeks, the only time she was not scared was when she was with her son Leo, 11 at the time, her sister Simone, 31, and Katie, 35.
“I wouldn’t have survived it without them,” she says.
“They were a wall to the outside world. It was almost like they just battened down the hatches and surrounded me with this safety, security and protected me.
“I credit them with getting me through that period of time with some level of my sanity still intact because it easily could have gone the other way.
“I could have ended up in hospital, I could have ended up being pumped full of drugs, psychiatrists. And the way my mental health was going, I wasn’t far from that anyway.
“They almost allowed my teenage self to dictate what was going to happen.”
Naomi’s amnesia lasted eight weeks and she used the diaries that she had written from the age of 10 to piece together her memory.
She says: “I became curious about why my life has turned out like this – ‘why am I a single mum, with this amazing child?’
“But I’d always promised I’d never have children – and I had a cat [Sophia], I was allergic to cats as a kid. Living in a council house, driving a beaten up car, on welfare.
“Like ‘what the hell happened?’.
“I was initially really judgemental, really disappointed. But then after I read the diaries I just developed this compassion for myself that I’d never had before and my teenage-self grew up a little bit.”
AMAZING CHILD: Naomi with son Leo
Though Naomi was working in psychology, she had wanted to write from a young age and penned her first book at 11.
“It was about a bear and honey,” she laughs.
“My mum still talks about it.”
But Naomi felt like she had to make dramatic changes to get herself back on track to writing.
“I felt like I had to keep a promise that I had made to my teenage-self,” she said.
“Once I’d read the diaries my teenage-self understood the path I’d taken, but it was like ‘OK, now I have to see if I can reach that potential that I, at 15, thought I could reach’.
“So I went on a creative writing class and I wrote a short story called Time Traveller about what I’d just been through.”
After a blunt suggestion from a friend, Naomi changed the title to I Woke Up In The Future and sent her story to the Guardian.
From there, she wrote a short film script for the story, calling it The Pot, then a romantic comedy feature film script which she also called I Woke Up in the Future.
“I just kept entering my scripts into loads of competitions,” Naomi explains.
“It was a bit of a frustrating time because I kept getting second place or I kept getting shortlisted.”
Her break came at London’s Raindance Festival in 2010 where she pitched her script to an audience of 300 people and was noticed by Robert Jones, producer of Run, Fatboy, Run and executive producer of The Usual Suspects.
She says: “I just pitched my script and all the judges were like ‘carry on, carry on’. One of them said ‘reach for the stars’ and I went ‘hey, why not?’
“I came second in that which I was really buzzing about.”
TRAUMATIC: Naomi's sister Simone helped her at her lowest ebb
Robert asked to read Naomi’s full script, but she was reticent.
“I ended up having a meeting with him and he was very interested in the romantic comedy, but he was more interested in me and the story behind the story,” she says.
“But at that point I wasn’t ready to tell the whole story. I just didn’t want to go into that. I think intuitively he knew that.”
But it was then that Naomi took the leap and decided to write the book.
She says: “On the train I was like ‘well, OK, if he wants to make a film I might as well write the book – that way I can explain the whole story’.
“That’s when I started to sit down and really apply myself to writing.
“Everything just spilled out into the book and I did it to put this chaotic life into some form of order.
“The focus was the mind and the realisation after the amnesia I’ve got this really damaged, fractured mind and I need to do everything in my power to heal it, to mend it in some way.
“Unbeknownst to me, writing the book was part of that healing, it was very cathartic.”
Soon after, Naomi began sending book proposals to agents.
But she kept getting turned away.
“I was just tired of the rejection,” she says.
“I was tired of coming second.”
It wasn’t until April 2011 that Naomi was contacted by journalist Sophie Ellis who wanted to pitch the story to the Independent, Psychologies Magazine and Woman Magazine, and Naomi agreed, but with one condition.
“I don’t want my story in any of the red tops,” she says, “definitely not the Sun.”
However, just a few months later, Naomi found her picture sprawled across the Sun’s front page after being misled by another journalist.
She says: “I just thought my writing career is over, no one’s going to take me seriously.
“But luckily enough the actual article wasn’t really that tabloid-y, it wasn’t exploitative, which I think was my greatest fear.”
The exposure sent Naomi’s story global.
“My friend in Ireland phoned me like ‘Gloria Hunniford’s talking about you on breakfast television’.
“They were blogging about me in China, South America, America, Canada, Africa, it went everywhere.
“Then I had reporters outside the door. I was hidden under my duvet. I felt completely out of my depth.”
After receiving ‘the best piece of advice’ from Robert Smith Literary Agency during this exposure, Naomi signed with him, and he is still her agent to this day.
But, another three years went by and Naomi still could not find a publisher.
“It was six years and I just thought ‘I need to move on with my life’,” she says.
“After a while rejection takes its toll on the spirit.”
In 2013 Naomi was ready to give up writing and start a teaching job when her sister offered to pay for her to self-publish.
So, I Woke Up in the Future was published on Amazon just after New Year in 2014.
A week later Steve Coogan’s team contacted her, only for the Philomena to ‘blow up’ with Oscar and BAFTA nominations.
But Naomi refused to give up, and sent a copy of her book to Coogan’s secretary.
Naomi says: “I remember standing in Aldi and switching my phone on and there was just this flurry of Tweets, inboxes, emails.”
Then Steve Coogan put in an offer.
“I think he heard my radio interview first,” she says.
“But he said what captured him about the interview was that thought of ‘wow, what would my 15-year-old self say and what would they think about my life now’.”
It was only then that Naomi finally got the book deal she had been waiting six years for and was able to publish Forgotten Girl through Macmillan, sending the story global once again.
She says: “I was so surprised.
“I genuinely thought when the book comes out hopefully it will sell by word of mouth and I’ll do a couple of interviews.
“It went crazy. Ashton Kutcher blogged about me, Zooey Deschanel blogged about me.
“I did a Colombian interview, Japanese, Canadian, in California, New York, South Africa, Germany, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, everywhere.”
Naomi’s book is now on sale across the world and has been translated into French and, soon, into German.
“I never in a million years thought it’d ever get published,” she says.
“I wrote it for myself. I needed to make sense of everything that had happened to me.
“In the following eight years I think she [Naomi’s teenage-self] would have been very pleased with what I’ve filled my diary with so far,” she says.
“I think she’d be happy with the majority of decisions that I’ve made and some of them she’d be ecstatic about completely.”
To Naomi’s joy the contract with Steve Coogan was confirmed earlier this month and now the film is currently in development.
“But it wasn’t just a simple over-night thing,” Naomi says, sipping her herbal tea.
“It was a succession of all these experiences and all these people that I’ve met which led up to today, I suppose.”
Read MM next Sunday for the next installment in Naomi's amazing tale.