Kevin Bridges (2022) The Black Dog.

The writing on the cover is a bit funny. Then I realised it was meant to be that way. White writing on black background. A san-serif trick for the short-sighted drunk. A black dog appears with a red collar. Declan’s dog, Horace. But there is also an allusion to the Churchill version of the Black Dog. Declan is the narrator. He’s the wee guy that wants to be a writer. We’ve all been there. Writers write stuff. But there is another narrator. James Cavani. He writes stuff too, but people read it. He also produces his own work and acts in films. In other words, Kevin Bridge’s ego and alter ego.  

Most everybody in Clydebank knows who Kevin Bridges is. He’s the success story everybody is proud of but also thinks he’s snide and getting too big for his boots. My mate Gordy, for example, works security. He held open a door for him, or it might have been Frankie Boyle—celebrities are all the same—and he didn’t say thanks. Prick.

Everybody has a story about meeting celebrities. I’d a square-go with Marti Pellow’s brother, and his mate Kojak, for example. And I’ve a nod-of-the-head knowledge of local gangsters, but not where the bodies are buried. Sometimes they nod back and remember my name. That’s the way I want to keep it. That’s the way Declan wants to keep it too.

The plot is easy. Simplicity is best. Declan packs shelves in the local supermarket. He wants to be a writer. He gets lippy with local gangsters. Cavani wants to return to that purity of purpose he had when he was younger. Declan reminds him of somebody. I’ll let you guess who saves whom.

Sure as fuck, you already know. First lines are crucial, we’re always told in creative writing courses. The novel starts with a snippet of Declan’s writing.

It’s Sharm El-Sheikh, Ryan, “Sha-rm El-Shake,” shake like a milk shake, not, “Sha-mal-Shook,”.’

She’s got her big grin on and lookin’ roon the livin’ room, makin’ sure they’re aw laughin’. EVERYCUNT.

I’ve removed all the gs in my writing when trying to convey dialect. Put in an apologetic apostrophe. Took it out. Put it in, again. You’ve got to be true to you, but also your characters. It’s not like SRA when you can look up the back of the worksheets for the right/write answers. Learn by doing.

If I was playing the big man, I’d point out most books have grammatical errors, such as ‘e-mail’ instead of email. Cavani, for example, is meant to do promotion work in London, but blanks it to come home. His wee sister, Siobhan, has overdosed again and is in hospital. He reckons that will cost him $100 000, the equivalent of £75 000. That’s on the low side of Truss economics. And it would be useful if pronouns replaced proper nouns to make the writing sharper.  

I remember when we went to Ireland and got two Irish punts for £1. A pint of Guinness for nothing. Cavani (and Bridges) know that the writer is trading in a kind of meme nostalgia that never happened.

But I don’t recognise the Clydebank I know from the pages, which is always a disappointment. Aye, I know Cider McIver that works up the golfie and is always sneaking off to go to the bookies. Doof Doof, Declan’s mate, also works for the council on the golf course, but I can’t picture it, although I can picture him.

Like most first novels, it’s overwritten. A bit like a comedian constantly reuttering the punchline and asking the audience if they got it. But what do I know? I’m like the Declan’s of the world. Read on.   

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