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Manuscript received
Publication date: TBC
101% funded
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Thirty homeless people share the secrets of their lives, through first-hand accounts, conversations and intimate photographs

A businessman, a builder, a transsexual woman, a soldier, a child prostitute, an elderly couple, a battered wife and many more describe - in their own words - the events that led to the life they live now, four feet under the rest of us, on pavements and in shop doorways. They talk of childhoods, jobs, their strengths and weaknesses, dreams and regrets. They share opinions, fears and petty snobberies, all with humour and a breathtaking lack of guile.

The 30 people I met during two months on London’s streets became my heroes. Their stories are the backbone of the book, recorded and then transcribed verbatim, with portraits and photographs of their affairs. My adventures and observations are threaded throughout. I met people who made me laugh till I shook and changed forever the way I look at cardboard. I was beaten badly with a piece of wood by a drunk (non-homeless) man in a suit, and I discovered what ‘crack’ looks (and smells) like.

 

It was a mini-odyssey spent mostly in the rain, with chewing gum stuck to my frozen backside, aching joints, bronchitis, blistered feet and coffee stains down my front where passersby had knocked me as I sat. For me, it was a privilege.I didn’t have to go very far to find these home-grown exiles. I didn’t need foreign currency, a phrase book (although there were times when one might have been handy) or a passport. My Oyster card was enough. They aren’t on distant shores, they’re at the bottom of your road. Have you ever wondered how they got there?


George Orwell's Down and Out in Paris and London meets Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York ... but with exceptionally intimate imagery and a directness and detail that is new.

Tamsen Courtenay worked as an investigative journalist for the BBC’s Panorama and Channel 4’s Dispatches, looking at the forces that shape our world. Three events led to the decision to make this book: working a night shift at a shelter for the homeless, encounters with homeless people in Rome and in London, and losing her own family home.

On an impulse, Tamsen left her job one Friday and by dawn on the Monday morning, dressed in dreary grey sweatpants, clutching a posh camera, a cheap Argos audio recorder and several packets of fags, she was in central London. She began recording these chronicles and taking the photographs that accompany them. For two months, day and night, she sat on bleak, windswept pavements talking to the homeless and destitute - people who feel they are invisible.

Tamsen currently lives in central Italy, where she writes a blog called Land of the Forgotten Earthquakes and campaigns for the government to help victims in the region. Ironically, the earthquakes have left her technically homeless.

I do go through the bins, I do pick up pizza off the floor … all that … it makes me feel horrible. I look around, like, ‘Is anyone watching me?’”

Over the weeks I regularly ran into Jade, and she became important to me for the short time we had together. I developed great affection for this girl. An archaeologist could have taken a soft brush and gently dusted away the grime, the dirt and the pain to reveal the radiant young woman that lay beneath it all.

Some evenings and nights, if I was just out with the camera and tripod - searching for pictures and not people - I would look for her and we’d sit together, usually outside Leicester Square tube station. It meant I could rest my legs and enjoy her company for an hour or so. She was engaging - a fighter, small, tough, scarred inside and out and so brave.  Her courage was only fractionally greater than the violence she lived with.

On our first meeting, she wanted doughnuts to eat. Homeless people seem to have a sweet tooth. She ate with the unabashed gusto that small children have, and her words came fast and furious, mingled with little puffs of icing sugar.

Jade had been homeless for most of the last eight years - a lifetime when you are only 23 years old. Before I turned on the recorder, I was asking general questions about her childhood and that was when I first heard her say she was ‘daddy’s little princess’.  She said it with her huge smile.

Had I left it at that - walked away then - I would have thought what a shame things ended so badly for her, but at least she’d had a loving father.  And that would have been a huge, huge mistake.

Read more...

Update #3

Friday, 11 August 2017

Grenfell tower  b w

We have done it ...

You all and I. We have made a book that will be on sale in shops. A real book. Real shops. People will buy it, read and people will change. For the better. They will love the stories.

Most of you who backed this book, I have managed to track down and thank personally but there are one or two of you who eluded my detective skills - no clues as to who you are at all (but…

Update #2

Thursday, 20 April 2017

Start following four feet under instagram

Thursday 20th April, 2017

Well, I’ve been going at this crowd funding for about a month now. I thought the writing of the book was the hard part but I was so wrong!

You – my Supporting Sixty – have been totally brilliant and we are now at 10%. I keep thinking that if I hadn’t taken so many (fab) photographs and was putting this book together as a 250pp paperback, we’d be at about 40% now…

#1 Update

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Melissa portrait

This is my immense thank you to my Top Drawer Twenty (you know who you are) ... seeing your names there, on the Pledge page, makes me really believe that this project will become a book. A proper, glorious book.

It's what I have always wanted, since that very first day when I set off into London and spoke to Melissa - the first homeless person I ever sat with and listened to - and realised that homeless…

Stephen Phelps
Stephen Phelps asked:

Can you let us see some photos of the characters you interviewed? I think a few faces might be a nice way to engage fresh suppporters

Tamsen Courtenay
Tamsen Courtenay replied:

Absolutely ... In fact, it's weird you mentioning it as I was thinking that I wish people could see more of the magnificent faces I photographed. It's a way of somehow feeling 'closer', and that's what the book is all about ... I'll get on and sort that out. Thanks for your encouragement!

Rebecca Greer
Rebecca Greer asked:

Are any homeless charities benefiting from this book if it gets to publication? [I have just pledged on the hardback].

Tamsen Courtenay
Tamsen Courtenay replied:

I’m not too sure what you mean by benefiting? Do you mean are they getting any money from my book? The answer to that is no, they aren’t. If you mean do they know about the book, are behind the idea, and are glad that it ‘benefits’ the cause, as it were, then yes, they are!

It’s always tricky if you write about a subject or a group of people to whom charities have allied themselves. I haven’t been asked your question before but it is a good one!

I am now a writer. Nothing much more than that! It is a job. I don’t know if you read the bit called ‘About the Author’ but I used to work as an investigative journalist - issues that are sensitive, difficult or are about people who live on the margins of society, have always interested me, concerned me.

I feel that the book is really about benefiting the homeless themselves rather than charities. As individuals, the homeless don’t often get a very public opportunity to express their thoughts and so on in depth.

The book is a homage to them – they won me over and earned my respect and admiration. Others will feel the same, I am sure, when they read it.

I decided to give up my job and actually go out and talk to them, listen to them and what they had to say.

They themselves desperately want the public to know who they are and how they got where are they are. I was happy to do that job. And in a way it was a job ... It took nearly 12 months to transcribe the 70 hours of conversations, deal with 300+ photographs, write the book, re-write the book and so on, and cost me a fortune one way and another – but totally, totally worth it.

It is enormously encouraging for me to discover that people like you – who I don’t even know – bother to care, bother to get involved in some way. Crowdfunding a book is hard work. It takes up virtually all my waking hours and can be soul-destroying but then, someone does pledge, and it all seems possible.

The crowdfunding will end with the production of the First Edition (which you will get!) and that done, it triggers the production of the trade editions for the bookshops and Amazon through Penguin-Cornerstone. So, you have helped take a step towards that and a step towards making people think twice about walking past a homeless person, sitting there, Four Feet Under.

Tam and thank you for supporting this book

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