Book Excerpt: 'Slam' By Nick Hornby

So things were ticking along quite nicely. In fact, I'd say that good stuff had been happening pretty solidly for about six months.

• For example: Mum got rid of Steve, her rubbish boyfriend.

• For example: Mrs. Gillett, my Art and Design teacher, took me to one side after a lesson and asked whether I'd thought of doing art at college.

• For example: I'd learned two new skating tricks, suddenly, after weeks of making an idiot of myself in public. (I'm guessing that not all of you are skaters, so I should say something straightaway, just so there are no terrible misunderstandings. Skating = skateboard-ing. We never say skateboarding, usually, so this is the only time I'll use the word in this whole story. And if you keep thinking of me messing around on ice, then it's your own stupid fault.) All that, and I'd met Alicia too.

I was going to say that maybe you should know something about me before I go off on one about my mum and Alicia and all that. If you knew something about me, you might actually care about some of those things. But then, looking at what I just wrote, you know quite a lot already, or at least you could have guessed a lot of it. You could have guessed that my mum and dad don't live together, for a start, unless you thought that my dad was the sort of person who wouldn't mind his wife having boyfriends. Well, he's not. You could have guessed that I skate, and you could have guessed that my best subject at school was Art and Design, unless you thought I might be the sort of person who's always being taken to one side and told to apply for college by all the teachers in every subject. You know, and the teachers actually fight over me. "No, Sam! Forget art! Do physics!" "Forget physics! It would be a tragedy for the human race if you gave up French!" And then they all start punching each other.

Yeah, well. That sort of thing really, really doesn't happen to me. I can promise you, I have never, ever caused a fight between teachers.

And you don't need to be Sherlock Holmes or whatever to work out that Alicia was a girl who meant something to me. I'm glad there are things you don't know and can't guess, weird things, things that have only ever happened to me in the whole history of the world, as far as I know. If you were able to guess it all from that first little paragraph, I'd start to worry that I wasn't an incredibly complicated and interesting person, ha ha.

This was a couple of years ago, this time when things were ticking along OK, when I was fifteen, nearly sixteen. And I don't want to sound pathetic, and I really don't want you to feel sorry for me, but this feeling that my life was OK was new to me. I'd never had the feeling before, and I haven't really had it since. I don't mean to say that I'd been unhappy. It was more that there had always been something wrong before, somewhere--something to worry about. (And, as you'll see, there's been a fair bit to worry about since, but we'll get to that.) For instance, my parents were getting divorced, and they were fighting. Or they'd finished getting divorced, but they were still fighting anyway, because they carried on fighting long after they got divorced. Or maths wasn't going very well--I hate maths--or I wanted to go out with someone who didn't want to go out with me. . . . All of this had just sort of cleared up, suddenly, without me noticing, really, the way the weather does sometimes. And that summer, there seemed to be more money around. My mum was working, and my dad wasn't as angry with her, which meant he was giving us what he ought to have been giving us all the time. So, you know. That helped.

If I'm going to tell this story properly, without trying to hide anything, then there's something I should own up to, because it's important. Here's the thing. I know it sounds stupid, and I'm not this sort of person usually, honest. I mean, I don't believe in, you know, ghosts or reincarnation or any weird stuff at all. But this, it was just something that started happening, and . . . Anyway. I'll just say it, and you can think what you want.

I talk to Tony Hawk, and Tony Hawk talks back.

Some of you, probably the same people who thought I spend my time twirling around on ice skates, won't have heard of Tony Hawk. Well, I'll tell you, but I have to say that you should know already. Not knowing Tony Hawk is like not knowing Robbie Williams, or maybe even Tony Blair. It's worse than that, if you think about it. Because there are loads of politicians, and loads of singers, hundreds of TV programs. George Bush is probably even more famous than Tony Blair, and Britney Spears or Kylie are as famous as Robbie Williams. But there's only one skater, really, and his name's Tony Hawk. Well, there's not only one. But he's definitely the Big One. He's the J. K. Rowling of skaters, the Big Mac, the iPod, the Xbox. The only excuse I'll accept for not knowing TH is that you're not interested in skating.