Excerpt from Black Swan Green by David Mitchell, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Black Swan Green

by David Mitchell

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2006, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2007, 304 pages

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"Concussion's if you hit your head. Unless your brain's up your arse." What a line. Pity nobody who matters was around to hear it.

 

The lake in the woods was epic. Tiny bubbles were trapped in the ice like in Fox's Glacier Mints. Neal Brose had proper Olympic ice skates he hired out for 5p a go, though Pete Redmarley was allowed to use them for free so other kids'd see him speed-skating around and want a go too. Just staying up on the ice is hard enough. I fell over loads before I got the knack of sliding in my trainers. Ross Wilcox turned up with his cousin Gary Drake and Dawn Madden. All three're pretty good skaters. Drake and Wilcox're taller than me too now. (They'd cut the fingers off of their gloves to show the scars they'd got playing Scabby Queen. Mum'd murder me.) Squelch sat on the humpy island in the middle of the lake where the ducks normally live, shouting, "Arse over tit! Arse over tit!" at whoever fell over. Squelch's funny in the head 'cause he was born too early, so nobody ever thumps him one. Not hard, anyway. Grant Burch rode his servant Philip Phelps's Raleigh Chopper actually on the ice. He kept his balance for a few seconds, but when he pulled a wheelie the bike went flying. After it landed it looked like Uri Geller'd tortured it to death. Phelps grinned sickly. Bet he was wondering what he'd tell his dad. Then Pete Redmarley and Grant Burch decided the frozen lake'd be perfect for British Bulldogs. Nick Yew said, "Okay, I'm on for that," so it was decided. I hate British Bulldogs. When Miss Throckmorton banned it at our primary school after Lee Biggs lost three teeth playing it, I was dead relieved. But this morning any kid who denied loving British Bulldogs'd've looked a total ponce. Specially kids from up Kingfisher Meadows like me.

About twenty or twenty-five of us boys, plus Dawn Madden, stood in a bunch to be picked like slaves in a slave market. Grant Burch and Nick Yew were joint captains of one team. Pete Redmarley and Gilbert Swinyard were the captains of the other. Ross Wilcox and Gary Drake both got picked before me by Pete Redmarley, but I got picked by Grant Burch on the sixth pass, which wasn't embarrassingly late. Moron and Squelch were the last two left. Grant Burch and Pete Redmarley joked, "No, you can have 'em both, we want to win!" and Moron and Squelch had to laugh like they thought it was funny too. Maybe Squelch really did. (Moron didn't. When everyone looked away, he had the same face as that time after we all told him we were playing Hide-and-Seek and sent him off to hide. It took an hour for him to work out nobody was looking for him.) Nick Yew won the toss so us lot were the Runners first and Pete Redmarley's team were the Bulldogs. Unimportant kids' coats were put at either end of the lake as goalmouths to reach through and to defend. Girls, apart from Dawn Madden, and the littl'uns were cleared off the ice. Redmarley's Bulldogs formed a pack in the middle and us Runners slid to our starting goal. My heart was drumming now. Bulldogs and Runners crouched like sprinters. The captains led the chant. "British Bulldogs! One two three!"

Screaming like kamikazes, we charged. I slipped over (accidentally on purpose) just before the front wave of Runners smashed into the Bulldogs. This'd tie up most of the hardest Bulldogs in fights with our front Runners. (Bulldogs have to pin down both shoulders of Runners onto the ice for long enough to shout "British Bulldogs one two three.") With luck, my strategy'd clear some spaces to dodge through and on to our home goalposts. My plan worked pretty well at first. The Tookey brothers and Gary Drake all crashed into Nick Yew. A flying leg kicked my shin but I got past them without coming a cropper. But then Ross Wilcox came homing in on me. I tried to wriggle past but Wilcox got a firm grip on my wrist and tried to pull me down. But instead of trying to struggle free I got a firmer grip on his wrist and flung him off me, straight into Ant Little and Darren Croome. Ace in the face or what? Games and sports aren't about taking part or even about winning. Games and sports're really about humiliating your enemies. Lee Biggs tried a poxy rugby tackle on me but I shook him free no sweat. He's too worried about the teeth he's got left to be a decent Bulldog. I was the fourth Runner home. Grant Burch shouted, "Nice work Jacey-boy!" Nick Yew'd fought free of the Tookeys and Gary Drake and got home too. About a third of the Runners got captured and turned into Bulldogs for the next pass. I hate that about British Bulldogs. It forces you to be a traitor.

Excerpted from Black Swan Green by David Mitchell Copyright © 2006 by David Mitchell. Excerpted by permission of Random House, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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