The Story of 'Nobody Nowhere'

"The Wall" by Donna Williams
"The Wall" by Donna Williams

The first of my nine published books was a number one international bestseller, but to me as the person behind the story, Nobody Nowhere still felt like the literary home movie that is so raw and personal, you hope nobody ever sees. It was once more personal than underwear and parts of the team we collectively knew as 'Donna' have almost died to keep it private and unseen except that some of this team was getting close to choosing to die unless one of us in there dared to let someone know what was going on in 'my world'. The manuscript was the one place where 'Donna's'  utterly patchwork sense of self,  jumbled jigsaw mind,  straight jacketed emotions,  mosaic rollercoaster life came together as one tangible whole embodied in a collection of paper.

Different parts of 'team Donna' wrote it on the verge of suicide after a wild half-crazy life with abuse, homelessness and ultimately hope for belonging only to find we were all terrified of real closeness.  One of us found was  edging closer and closer to the edge of the train platform with each morning train and asking inside... "what about today?..." because without the ability to dare let anyone be close enough to know 'our world', to hold out any hope that 'team Donna' could ever live comfortably with intimacy, closeness and being known, what was life worth in a world of appearances which seemed to want only a performing puppet, a facade.

Someone in Team Donna had a last inkling of hope that we couldn't truly say we'd tried my hardest to cope if we'd never fully disclosed the nature of our own private world. So collectively several of the team took turns in writing out everything that mattered in their different sets of feelings and conceded to give it to one child psychiatrist in the hope they could tell 'Donna' what kind of mad we were and whether there was hope for answers and belonging.The  intention was to then shred it, burn it and then step in front of a moving train.

But of course our main inner protector, an alter named Willie wouldn't let this happen... not without first telling someone, just one human being, what the hell was going on in here and just seeing, was it really true, was there really no hope and that meant trying to speak their language and daring to let them hear Donna speak hers.

On an orange plastic typewriter with the wonky keys the book poured out in four weeks.  As the Core Self, I had allowed my fingers to vomit forth the words that would give some one external person the whole damned thing on paper. There was no thought, barely any eating, barely peed either and my fingers flew like something possessed and a pile of 250 pages was in Donna's hand as one of us knocked at a door that read 'child psychiatrist'.

One of us slapped the papers on the desk and  said 'tell me why I'm like I am'.  Nobody told him about the London Underground thing and the pact with Willie or that all in Team Donna were sure there was no hope anyway and we were delaying the inevitable. We didn't tell him till later that the plan after he'd read it was to burn it so nobody could ever see or touch this life on paper or contaminate 'our world' by 'knowing us'. But when someone in Team Donna did tell him, he said that the manuscript was too important to give back. Our response was that we didn't want it now anyway, it had been seen and was therefore no longer ours, we would exile it.

Instead, once this psychiatrist read it, we abandoned the manuscript and left the country.  Whilst 10,000 miles away, it was passed on to this psychiatrist's mentor.  She passed it on to her publisher (Routledge) who felt it would be too big a book for them.  He passed it on to a well known literary agent.  From there they tracked 'me' down and sent 'my' landlord a fax to tell 'me' four major publishers were bidding for the rights and would 'I' agree to him representing 'me' and to its publication.   Reluctantly, someone in Team Donna agreed (who the hell wants an extremely private book shared with the entire world?).  Within months it became an international bestseller. 

And so it happened that Team Donna did find out why we were like 'this', but also in time why we were collectively so much more than any label and that however strange a fruit we were that we were still part of the diversity of society, that however discarded and discardable Team Donna was, that we had the paradise of society's peripheries to hang out on, out with the other misfits, the eccentrics, the artists, the wackos, the Auties, the Nobodies who would hide their souls too long and finally join us in a place where Simply Being was not a dirty word in a world of appearances.

So many wonderful stories followed in the decades since its publication in 1991, among them another beautiful behavioural mutation staring at me across a conference theatre of a thousand people, his eyes filled with a realness, a foundness, but Team Donna could see he'd been a Nobody Nowhere himself. We had addressed this stranger, this face in the crowd who had said only, 'you saved my life'.

And it was in fact learning of that ocean of Nobody Nowheres which had ironically saved our lives too.  Knowing they were out there had raised some in Team Donna above their own acute paranoid need for absolute detachment and privacy and allowed the book Nobody Nowhere to be published and go all around the world in every language. It is every person's 'coming out' story.

A letter from a 10 year old who wrote to say it was his favorite book and that he carried it with him and it slept under his pillow and people who said the book had become the friend they wished they'd had. The book became a symbol for people from my youngest pre-teen and teen readers to those at the end of their lives and everyone in between. It was one of those books that didn't leave people once they'd finished it.

It became a symbol of daring closeness regardless of fear, of rising above loss, of humanity in the face of abusive inhumanity, of equality in a place of blatant inequality, of the beauty of individuality, the importance of getting 'found', of realness standing with such integrity in the places where superficiality and conformity were king and 'normality' a social bashing stick. Most importantly it became a symbol that none of us are truly alone even in the darkest, craziest and surreal of spaces, the magic of one's own world and never giving up on the idea that we all have a place in the diversity of society if only on its colorful peripheries.

When Team Donna was thirteen some of us wore a tee-shirt which read 'get yourself free'. It took me to nearly twice that age to start to do so but it is never too late, never.


Team Donna *)