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Author Talk: November 2007

SLAM is a novel about a sixteen-year-old called Sam, who gets his girlfriend Alicia pregnant. Sam’s a skater, and spends a lot of his time talking to a poster of Tony Hawk --- Tony Hawk talks back, in lines from his own autobiography.

At various points in the book, Hawk transports Sam into his own future. I spoke to Sam recently to compare notes about our teenage years.


SAM: Wow.

NICK: What?

SAM: You’re really old.

NICK: Thanks.

SAM: Sorry. I don’t mean you’re like an old man with a stick and everything. But you’re older than I thought you would be. How does someone as old as you write about a teenager? I mean, how did you know what I’d wear and all that?

NICK: I didn’t really think about what you’d wear. I let you dress yourself. That way I wouldn’t get it wrong.

SAM: Oh. OK.

NICK: And I let you choose your own music, and so on. That wasn’t the sort of thing I was interested in anyway. I was interested in what it would be like, making a girl pregnant when you’re sixteen. In fact you were fifteen, when Alicia conceived. I can remember being your age. And I know how I would have felt if my girlfriend had got pregnant then.

SAM: So I’m just a version of you?

NICK: No. Of course not. Your whole family history is different from mine, and your family history is one of the things that make you who you are. For instance, your mum had you when she was a teenager, and that’s affected your whole life. But I can imagine how it felt for you.

SAM: Did they have sex back then?

NICK: No. Sex was invented in 2003, accidentally, by a guy directing a hip-hop video… Of course we had sex then, you idiot.

SAM: But it must have been different, the whole dating thing.

NICK: Some things were different. There was no Facebook, no text messaging, no emails. But you can go on inventing more and more ways of communicating, and it still isn’t going to make a lot of difference. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to go to a physical place with an actual girl, and start talking to her. 

SAM: Do you think people have more sex than they used to?

NICK: I think more young people have sex than they used to. I get the impression that people lose their virginity younger, and at eighteen they’ve had more sexual partners than we had had when we were that age. I can’t remember seeing too many sixteen-year-olds pushing buggies around, and nobody I was at school with became a father.

SAM: What’s changed?

NICK: I’m not sure. I’m wondering whether girls have discovered that sex isn’t just fun for boys. When I was your age, it was taken for granted that it was the desire of boys to have sex, and the desire of girls to stop them. Maybe that resistance has gone. Look at you and Alicia --- it was her idea more than yours. (I do accept, however, that there’s a possibility it was only me that the girls were fighting off.) Other than that: we spent our time listening to loud music, trying to get served in bars, spending money on clothes, obsessing about sports, mostly soccer. I think you’d have understood us. We weren’t so different.

SAM: You didn’t seem to disapprove very much of me and Alicia having a baby.

NICK: I don’t think it’s my job to approve or disapprove. I think it’s my job to try and make your world real, and to try and explain what it’s like to be you. 

SAM: So do you disapprove?

NICK: I think that’s a weird word. I don’t think that having a kid when you’re sixteen is the best idea, and I don’t think you do, either. I didn’t need to say, you know. “Oh, this is so bad”. All I had to do was show how your life was affected by it. And from where I was standing, just off the side of the page, none of it looked like fun.

SAM: Why did you keep projecting me into the future?

NICK: That wasn’t me. That was Tony Hawk.

SAM: But you must have told him to do it.

NICK: I think you’ll find that nobody tells Tony Hawk what to do. I suggested it, put it that way.

SAM: Why?

NICK: Because the future always looks more scary than it actually turns out to be. I wanted to show you that you could cope. Plus I have to say that it provided me with the opportunity to make jokes at your expense.

SAM: Thanks.

NICK: How are you doing now, anyway?

SAM: Better now that you’re not meddling in my life.

NICK: I’m glad to hear it. Look after yourself.