‘I’m still figuring it out’: Second memoir and debut novel helping Naomi Jacobs come to terms with trauma

In the final instalment of our trilogy of stories chronicling the amazing life of Naomi Jacobs, she tells us her plans for the future, and the possibility of a move to fiction writing.

Sipping the final dregs of herbal tea just as we are being asked by Costa’s waiters to leave, because it is way past closing time, Naomi talks about her time off in the last six months and her first attempt at fiction writing.

When she was 32, Naomi woke up without 17 years of her memory due to a rare type of amnesia.

The amnesia lasted eight weeks but in the mean time she used the diaries that she had written since the age of 10 to help piece her memory back together.

The 40-year-old recorded the experience in a memoir, Forgotten Girl, which was published by Macmillan in April 2015 and is now being transformed to film by Steve Coogan’s Baby Cow Productions.

But she admits that over the last six months she has been ‘hibernating’.

“I’ve not been well,” she says.

“So for autumn and winter I’ve just hidden away.

“I think for you to survive in any of those industries – whether it’s the music business, the book world, or even artists, painters – you have to every now and again take a step back from the business and strip everything away.

“All the agents, the publishers, the music producers and television, and get back to basics so you remember who you are and why you do it.

“But I started to get very comfortable and quite complacent.

“There was no deadlines, no pressure. So I really enjoyed it and you can see why I was reluctant to leave the confines of my woman cave and go back out into the world.

“But it’s not until you break free from the ‘Writer’s Room’, as I call it, that you remember what reality is like and how nourishing it is.

“You need to socialise and you need to go to concerts and meet your mates for a drink because that’s your food, that’s what feeds your creativity.”

Naomi’s trip to Paris in April to promote Forgotten Girl, which was translated and published in France in March 2016 as Une Vie Oubliee, broke her out of this hibernation and she says she is ready to embark on a new journey.

Her focus now is on her first fiction book, which she started writing when she was living in a homeless hostel one year before her amnesia which happened in 2008.

The novel takes a big step back from the trauma of the memory loss and her memoir writing which has been such a central part of her life for the last eight years.

FAMILY: Naomi with her son, Leo

“It’s huge,” she says.

“It’s got 12 main characters. It is four books long now, possibly five. So I’m ready to find a fiction agent.

“My characters and this world building that I have going on almost feels real to me – I’m so immersed in it.”

Certainly, Naomi goes to extreme lengths to share this experience with her readers.

“All 12 of my characters are from all over the world,” she says.

“One of my characters comes from this obscure little northern town called Archangel in Russia.

“When I’ve asked everyone will they come with me for research – ‘no’. Because I have heard the town is quite depressing and dark and it’s full of poverty. I think if I ever visited there I’d have to have security with me.

“But my character comes from there so I’ve got to try and do as much research as I possibly can to bring as much authenticity.”

Naomi says she can get nervous when writing because she’s such a stickler for detail.

“One of my characters is part African-American and part Native American Indian. So I’m even part of some Native American Facebook Groups and I’ll just ask questions,” she says.

AMNESIA: Naomi woke up thinking she was 15 again – when she was 32

“I’ve ordered books from deep American book shelves and it has taken six months for the book to get to me from Amazon, but it’s all worth it in the end.

“I think my greatest nightmare is somebody from that tribe or from that city or from that culture reading it and going ‘it just doesn’t happen like that’.”

Naomi also admits that she has written a second memoir, in which she shifts the focus from her mind to her body.

Forgotten Girl was initially too long to publish, so she was asked to take out 60,000 words from the draft which became the basis for this second memoir.

“In Forgotten Girl 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,” she says.

“The second book, that story is about the body. It’s a journey that I’m still on.

“Now I’m focusing on healing the trauma in my body that was caused by rape, abuse, self-abuse, drugs.

“I’m going through therapies now where I’m exploring ‘when did I start over-eating and emotionally eating and feeling like I needed to put an extra layer of fat around my body as a protection’.”

Naomi explains that she is now physically and emotionally getting to the heart of this trauma in her body which led to her reliance on food.

TRAUMATIC: Naomi’s sister Simone helped her at her lowest ebb

“It’s still quite complex – I’m still figuring it out, but I suppose I wouldn’t be embarking on this new journey if I hadn’t have done what I did with my mind,” Naomi explains.

“I’ve always been very active but there’s always been a struggle with my weight.

“It’s not society because I like myself whether I’m big or small, slim or curvy. It’s more food and the unhealthy relationship with food.

“I used to be bulimic when I was a teenager, which I know is not exclusive to me – I know a lot of women deal with this on a daily basis. So hopefully with the second book it will help women who have gone through that as well.”

Yet she says that she does not plan to publish this memoir as her deal with Forgotten Girl was just a one book deal.

“It’s not for a fragile ego really because on a public platform you invite opinion, and some of that opinion isn’t nice, and some of that opinion’s quite negative, and some of that opinion’s amazing and beautiful,” she says.

But she still has a lot on her plate as she searches for a fiction agent to help with her new venture.

“I’m excited,” she says.

“I’m also a bit nervous, but mostly excited to see whether I can write fiction.”

The mug of herbal tea stands empty as we get up to leave the staff at Costa to clean our table, the last to be emptied in the entire cafe.

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