Absolutely no swearing

Photo of scrap of paper saying 'No Swearing'

… and I really did have to be told. More than once.

I’m not a natural-born baker but if I were my cakes would probably be over the top. Too many coloured icing decorations, hundreds of sprinkles and plastic shapes and candles – even if it wasn’t anyone’s birthday.

My spoken language is a bit like my cakes might be, but possibly not so pretty.

I use profanities quite a lot with the exception of one particular word that for some (no doubt bourgeois) reason I just cannot say. Partly because my dad was an American soldier, so cussing was pretty standard when I was a kid, but mostly because the more I live and the more I see, the more I feel the need to use expletives. It’s what they were made for: shock, disbelief, anger and, just occasionally, when something is surprising but in a good way.

That spaghetti junction of emotions is what I experience every time I talk about what the people who told their stories in Four Feet Under have to endure. My speech reflects my rage.

And I have just spent about ten days doing pretty much nothing but talk about The Book, after its fabulous launch into the world.




The Guardian’s Book of the Day, a review in The Observer and then I had to pull my own weight and step up to do a handful of radio interviews and one (terrifying) live interview on TV.


At the start of my very first (ever) radio interview I asked the presenter if there was a 5-second delay in the broadcast. She said there wasn’t and I said I thought it might have been better if there were … because I swear when I get animated and passionate.

And that’s when she scribbled the note in the picture.

I held it in my hand throughout and then kept it for later, similar, events. Obviously I couldn’t hang onto it while I did that live bit of telly so I forced myself to talk extremely carefully. Someone told me later that I sounded like I was on a hearty dose of Mogadon. I wish they hadn’t said that.

The people living on pavements fight for their lives, I have fought hard for the book and now I want people to fight their way into bookshops to buy it.

Front Cover only with Quote,





Everyone who reads it tells me that it has changed them. For the better. I hope that the struggle to get this book made is rewarded with a change in people’s attitudes – and that includes all and any governments.



That said, I cannot imagine a time when I would never need to swear again. But, hey, I can dream, right?


About Tamsen Courtenay

I write. I take photographs. I worry and I laugh - both of them rather a lot. Inner stories, secret stories, are what fascinate me. My book, FOUR FEET UNDER, chronicling the lives of 30 homeless people in London, is now published, and it's had really terrific reviews. It was supposed to help change how people think about the huddled, damaged souls living on the streets and it seems to be doing its job. So, I am content.

Let me know if you want to say something ...

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