A poet whose inspirational verses got celebrities through lockdown is a mum-of-two from Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire.
Before her words went viral, Donna Ashworth hid behind her social media page.
But as soon as they were discovered by the likes of TV hosts Fearne Cotton, Cat Deeley and Lisa Snowdon and actresses Lisa Faulkner and Samia Longchambon, she stepped forward to claim the glory.
The 47-year-old said: “I started to share inspirational quotes other people had written. Then I thought, ‘With some of these quotes, I’m pretty sure I could write them. And if I don’t put my name on them, I won’t be embarrassed.’
“It is embarrassing to start sharing little bits of yourself. So I wrote a few poems and didn’t put my name on them. Then, of course, the minute they went viral, I said it’s mine.”
Now Donna’s fans tell the world about their favorite poet. Snowdon recently posted a clip of herself hugging Donna’s book of her. Wanted star Tom Parker’s widow, Kelsey, has quoted Donna’s poem I Wish I Knew and she is namechecked twice in Cotton’s new book Bigger Than Us.
Donna has yet to meet any of her famous fans. At the start of lockdown she and her husband Robert and their two sons Felix and Brodie had moved home to Scotland from Manchester. Plans to sell their business, a children’s soft play center, fell through in the face of the pandemic.
She said: “I did what everybody else did – thought, ‘What am I going to do to keep myself sane? I decided to write every day and try to keep everybody afloat.
“I was really worried. We had moved up here. My husband no longer had a job. I had a Facebook page with a few thousand followers. I had to turn that into money.
“I put myself fully to that in lockdown and it just snowballed and spiraled.”
So Donna put all her feelings – the confusion and isolation but also the optimism that we would emerge from this horrible experience better – into seeing.
Her first big viral hit was a poem, History Will Remember When the World Stopped. It was performed by Michael Sheen, Griff Rhys Jones and Vicky McClure as they honored Welsh heroes during the
When that first lockdown ended, she produced her first collection of verses.
Donna said: “I quickly put together lockdown words into a book. I wanted to make something to remember. So I self-published a small book on Amazon called History Will Remember When The World Stopped.
“Then it all went on for two years after that. There was no need to rush.” It was, she said, “very idealistic.”
She added: “Remember how kind we all were? We were going to come out of this better. Then it all dragged on and we got a bit angry and fed up.
“Mental health really started to suffer as it continued. So I took the opportunity to do another book with favorites from the page. It sold like hot cakes. It still sells hundreds of copies every day.”
Donna’s DIY books – which don’t look slick or professional, she describes them as “pretty rubbish” – have sold 175,000 copies so far. They have gone all around the English-speaking world.
She said: “I went to No1 in the US and Canada. I’ve been No1 in the UK poetry section three times. That was unbelievable.”
Now Donna is taking it to the next level. She has signed with Scottish publishers Black & White. Her de ella first hardback collection de ella I Wish I Knew, £9.99, is in bookstores now. This way she hopes her words from Ella can reach a wider audience, including teenagers.
She said: “With mental health, the way it is with young people at the moment, it’s a particular worry I have.
“My earlier book was aimed at midlife women and mothers, with lots about aging, body image and what we are doing with our lives.
“I went back to basics with this one so teenagers can pick it up. I went back to the roots of what you need for good mental health – self-esteem and confidence.
“I cover body image and how we look, health, all the pressure there is on kids today. Grief, family, relationships, all of these things are addressed in little bite-sized chunks.”
This format is deliberate. Donna said: “It’s so you’re not sitting down having to face a book. If your mental health is poor, the last thing you want to do is read a book.
“The idea is that you can open it anywhere and get the ball rolling on some sort of emotional thought.
Donna is a hyper-empath, someone who feels other people’s pain very acutely.
She said: “I always had a melancholy demeanor. When I go low, I go very low. Even as a child, I worried about the world. I was called oversensitive and over-emotional. For years I wouldn’t read a newspaper or watch the news.
Jamie Bulger died when I was at university. At the same time someone killed themselves in my halls of residence. I had a complete mental breakdown. I left university and didn’t go back.”
It was a bleak time for Donna. She recalled: “I went to bed in the halls of residence for a few days. I remember opening my big giant window and wondering if I could freeze to death.
“I never got to that stage but I remember very vividly wanting to get off this planet.”
After years of being slated for her hyper-empathy, Donna is now channeling it into her writing.
She said: “People have criticized me over the years, saying I’m never going to get through life if I keep feeling everybody else’s pain.”
Yet her poems on grief have been some of her most successful. Donna gets about 10 emails a day from people asking to read them at funerals.
She said: “We have all lost certain people. I’ve lost family members, my best friend’s mum who I grew up with as a second mum and a friend to suicide. When my great died, we were very close. That hit me hard.”
But it doesn’t need to be her own family to inspire Donna. She said: “I open a newspaper and go away and write something. I see people who have lost children. I write a lot about parents being lost because I can see what’s going on with people being left.”
And, thanks to the internet, these poems have connected with people around the globe. Donna added: “It’s all because of Facebook. I didn’t have any professional contacts, I’ve never paid for an advert, it’s all been completely organic through the gods of social media.
“Now I have a lot of followers. This is an opportunity to change something.”
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.