A play for radio
'LEAVE NOTHING BUT FOOTPRINTS', a 15-minute radio play, was Highly Commended in the BBC's 'Moving Stories' competition in 2005.
When Peta, a professional photographer, is putting on her make-up and preparing for a new day, she hears raucous singing down in the area at the front of her house. A tramp is sitting there, drinking, and when she shouts at him to go away he starts to chat her up. Amused, intrigued, she wants his photo.
He climbs drunkenly over the side-gate into her garden and tries to climb in through the open conservatory window. But the floor is wet cement – neither he nor Peta, standing in the doorway on the opposite side, can enter. Robert, the tramp, makes faces against the glass. They talk, they admire each other’s fancy boots. But when Robert sees her camera he backs away in horror, dropping his bottle onto the cement, and runs off down the garden – and falls over the fence into the lane below. When Peta gets there, he has completely vanished.
For months she seeks him out, in the derelict sites and on the roads, using the little that she learnt about him; she wants to show him the photographs, and finds that he was not quite as he seemed.
An exhibition of her photographs opens but she has withdrawn the photos of Robert at the window: she felt it was wrong to exhibit him.
Later, running for a train, she stamps on someone’s toe: it is Robert, well-dressed, and he recognises stiletto-heeled ‘fancy boots’. But Peta cannot stop, the train is leaving. All she can do is press her face against the glass ...
THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS STORY
When I was very young, several ‘gentlemen of the road’ occasionally called at our house in Cornwall to get a cup of tea; one sometimes stayed in a ‘cave’ nearby and – this was a few years post-war - they all had stories to tell about their earlier lives.
Many years later when I and my family lived in Glasgow, a drunken, cheerful tramp climbed into our back garden. He tried the door of the conservatory but it was locked, and he eventually staggered through the garden and out at the back. If we had talked, and I had discovered his personal ‘story’, would I have written about it, would I have ‘used’ him? I’m ashamed that, as a writer, I probably would – although I could have disguised him with words.
But what if I had been a photographer, and stolen his image and made it public? And what if he had then re-entered the ‘normal’ world?
There is a conflict here between the desire to find out about someone, and to recreate them – perhaps too recognisably - according to an artistic idea, and the ethics of doing so. This worries and intrigues me (and, when I look back on these words, in October 2011, I realise that my dilemma has remained unresolved -- see my story-telling during my 'Bright Ideas' Visiting Fellowship).
I already knew the fictional tramp in my story would wear riggers’ boots, and it was immediately clear to me that Peta, too, would wear ‘fancy boots’ – and this would be the link.