The Madness of the Criterion Collection

I’ve never owned a Blu-Ray player. I had amassed a towering DVD collection from the late 90s to about 5 years ago which got so large and cumbersome I moved it into storage. In the end streaming services took over and large swathes of it were sold off. I like streaming but I’ve always missed my physical movie library.

My film nerd friends out there will know the words, Criterion Collection. They are a company that, in their words, dedicate themselves to gathering the greatest films from around the world and publishing them in editions of the highest technical quality, with supplemental features that enhance the appreciation of the art of film.

They don’t release the films that made the most money, or got the best reviews, they release the films that they think deserve to be presented in the best possible quality.

The Criterion Collection breeds madness. There are videos on YouTube of people standing in their Criterion Closets (walk-in wardrobes racked floor to ceiling with expensive Blu-Rays) swooning over their own obscure knowledge of movies you’ve never heard of. “The visual poetry of Jean Cocteau’s, Orpheus is… etc etc etc”. And in the next breath they’ll be equally excited about their Criterion release of Robocop. And rightly so.

It is a cult.

I am now a member of that cult.

For it is my birthday today and Rachel has given me my very first Blu-Ray player! And… My very first Criterion Blu-Ray!

Destry Rides Again is James Stewart’s first foray into the Western genre… etc etc etc

David’s Inferno

I’ve redesigned Dante’s Inferno just for David Chapman.

Some backstory first. I experience a severe type of misophonia when I hear the sound of a fork scratching on a plate. It’s normal for people to hate that sound. My reaction to it is a physical one. (I think it stems from watching Nightmare On Elm Street when I was six and the months of nightmares that followed).

It makes eating in restaurants a battle of survival. Not for me, but for the other diners. A battle they don’t know they are a part of. I hear a SCHREEE and it’s all I can do to not stab them in the forehead with my fork.

All of my family are aware of this. Any time we get together for a meal, and somebody accidentally makes that helll-spawned sound, the whole table stops what they’re doing and look at me. I’ll be gripping my cutlery tightly, my eye twitching. Sometimes threats of death will lurch from my mouth in a way that is beyond my control.

Somebody usually asks, tentatively, “Are you okay?”

A question I can’t reply to because I’m grinding my teeth so hard I can feel them break in my mouth.

This is more than a dislike of the sound. It is an adrenaline fueled panic that triggers the fight or flight response. It’s primal. If I ever go to prison for murder that will be my reason.

My brother knows this well.

Before I had even sipped my coffee this morning I noticed a message from him. It was a video. I clicked on it. A fork was pushed along a plate and my phone was on full volume. SCHREEEEEEEE!!

I dropped my phone and started shaking.

He is a total and utter c**t.

When Virgil guides him through hell, just as he did with Dante so many centuries ago, he will get to the bottom and find that it doesn’t go deep enough.

As such I have redesigned the Inferno to include a new layer just for him.

His Name Was Shane

I’ve been going back and reading the classics of the western genre. The cornerstones of gunslinging pulp.

(The following contains spoilers. So if you just want my reaction, I loved it. I recommend you read it).

Shane by Jack Schaefer was first published in three parts in Argosy magazine in 1946. Pulp to the core. It came out as a novel in 1949 and has never been out of print. Literature with a capital W.

It’s a small book that takes its time. A slow burn. Told from the viewpoint of a boy, Bob Starrett, who watches this mythic rider come into town. The man on the horse stops at his farm house and asks for water for him and his horse. His name is Shane. The boy becomes infatuated with him. His father, Joe Starrett, offers the stranger a bed for the night and he ends up staying for much longer.

They spend time on the land. Shane helps Joe remove a tree stump. It takes a long time and Schaefer keeps with it. Showing each swing of the axe.

Shane doesn’t talk about his past and much speculation is made of him.

Soon that past, or knowledge of who he is, catches up to him. A man flees town upon merely setting eyes on Shane.

Bob and his parents are being run out of town by a rancher who needs their land back. They are homesteaders who staked their land on Luke Fletcher’s ranch. Land Fletcher had never claimed himself.

Shane stands up and defends his new home.

At first I wasn’t sure about the book. You’re spending time with these characters without a lot happening. But the writing won me over. There is something about the farm and the people that pulls you in. I liked spending time with Shane, and Bob, and Joe.

It rewards you for your patience with a great final act.

I would read it again. If you love westerns and haven’t read this one yet it’s well worth it.

The Wild West Is Coming Back…

Who loves westerns? Everybody? Great. Come and join the Elwood Flynn group. I will be releasing four westerns next year and if you want an early insight into the world of Robin Castle, as he travels a path of vengeance and violence, this is the place to be. Get in early.

I will be releasing a short story soon. A taster of what is to come.

All my stories come with Elwood Flynn’s Solemn Promise – This book will contain scenes of extreme violence and themes of loss and vengeance.

Be warned. Be thrilled.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2868086283473638/?ref=share

BRZRKR

Keanu Reeves has written a comic. BRZRKR. It is fucking nuts. I enjoyed it immensly. The most batshit violence I’ve seen in a comic in a while.

At first I thought there wasn’t going to be much of a story but in the end there was and it was told with subtlety. By the time it was done I had a big grin on my face. I was intrigued and hooked.

And great news, Netflix has picked it up for a live action film, starring Keanu, and an anime series.

Get it while it’s hot and support your local comic book shop. I recommend Frog Bros in Boscombe. That’s where I get mine.

Hallucinations and The Last House on Needless Street

Very interesting interview with Catriona Ward (author of The Last House on Needless Street – a book that will dominate 2021) on the Bestseller Experiment Podcast. The thing that interested me most was that she gets hypnagogic hallucinations… me too.


And now I’m going to publicly talk about something that few people know about me. Don’t be afraid. I’m still me.

They used to teriffy me until I read a book about hallucinations by Oliver Sacks and learned all about hypnagogic (hallucinating while falling asleep) and hypnapompic (while waking up) hallucinations. Now when they happen I just watch. I take in the amazing detail and marvel at the weirdness of the mind.

Sometimes, and most usually, it’s birds nesting in the curtains, or vines covering the ceiling and walls with bugs, indistinguishable from the real thing, crawling all over. Sometimes they are far more terrifying. Things watching you. Still things with still eyes.

A small blackened creature, it’s face lit by the moonlight, watching me from the edge of my office chair (back when my desk was next to my bed).

Once, there were studio lights on the ceiling.

Once, a bookshelf I didn’t own was shifting across the floor.

Once, a thing made of rubber bands crawled up my duvet towards me.

I would jump up, turn on the lights, and they would vanish.

I stopped turning on the light when I began to understand what they were. Now I watch them.

Anyway, now you all think I’m completely mad, I will tell you this; my horror writing is all the richer for it.

Hypnogogia has been connected to narcolepsy and schizophrenia but it has also been connected to alcohol. When I was at my worst with the visions, I was drinking heavily. Now I don’t and the exciting nightly terrors have almost gone completely.

I’ve only had to wake Rachel a few times in the last year to ask if she can see the grey man hanging onto the ceiling, watching us with its upside down head, or if she can see the metallic moths wiggling out of the vents.

Great episode. Good to know, as a writer, I’m not alone with my escaping imagination.



EP311: Catriona Ward — Nerve Shredder

Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street is out now –
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Last-House-Needless-Street-masterpiece/dp/1788166167/ref=mp_s_a_1_1?dchild=1&keywords=catriona+ward&qid=1617175082&sprefix=Catri&sr=8-1

Invincible

Invincible on Amazon Prime was a surprising watch. Based on the comic of the same name, written by Robert Kirkman (The Walking Dead), the first episode is your standard superhero origin story. Sort of…

Me and Rachel were enjoying it. There was nothing new there but it was entertaining. The first 50 minutes follow the expected tropes.

But then, with ten minutes to go, something insane happens. We watched with our mouths open and eyes wide. It was glorious. It changed everything. The show went from good to great. I won’t spoil anything here but go watch it now, if you haven’t already.

I might go back and rewatch that ending.

5am Writing Blues

Getting up at 5am to write stopped being fun this week. It was hard. The words came out like stone toothpaste.

Next week will be different. I will get up with that same verve that I started with. The excitement of being amongst gunslingers while the house slept.

This week was difficult because the story stopped being a western. It was always meant to start in New York and wind its way west. I’m halfway through and can’t find my way out of the city. Gritting a 6’9″ pissed off lawman and a percheron horse halfway across a country is harder than it sounds, especially when you’re trying to maintain a certain level of pulp action.

I should have picked a city closer the the lawless frontier.

This is Robin Castle’s origin story. He’s a marshal in New York. Something terrible happens to his family and the guy who did it flees. Castle gives up his badge and the rule of the law to take after him.

He finds himself in a dry unforgiving land with vengeance in his heart and a gun on his hip.

Sounded simple when I came up with it.

Author Interview with Elwood Flynn

It is no secret that Elwood Flynn and I are the same person, which makes interviewing him slightly tricky. I write literary horror and he writes pulp westerns. He is my penname, but our styles are different. I wanted to sit down and talk with him about his process.

I met him on set of his first novel, Hell’s Ridge. A small frontier town near the Colorado River. It was 1875. I found him in a dark corner of the saloon. He had a typewriter on the table with a page loaded. He had stopped mid-sentence. Loose tobacco littered a short stack of typed pages.

He was fishing a tooth out of his whiskey. I took the seat opposite him. He didn’t look up or acknowledge me. He let out a sigh. His shoulders sagged. He stared at the elusive molar.

I knew his temperament. I waited for him to initiate the conversation. I looked around at my surroundings. I felt out of place in my t-shirt. A piano played by the bar. I thought maybe I’d go and get a drink. Then Elwood came to a decision. He put the glass to his lips and drank, tooth and all. He put his fingers back to the keys on the typewriter and noticed me.

“What do you want?”

“It’s time we talked.”

INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT

ELWOOD: No.

ANDREW: It won’t take long.

ELWOOD. No.

He started to type.

I waited.

ANDREW: What are you writing?

ELWOOD: You know what I’m writing.

I decided to get a drink. When I came back he was smoking a badly rolled cigarette.

ELWOOD: I don’t like your books.

ANDREW: Why not?

ELWOOD: You try too hard.

ANDREW: What do you mean?

ELWOOD: You write “literary” horror. That’s how you describe it.

ANDREW: Yes.

ELWOOD: Do you know how pretentious it is that you feel the need to include the word “literary”? Carpenters don’t describe a table as being “wooderary”.

ANDREW: We write in different styles. I write long form horror that adheres to literary convention, you write pulp fiction. I spend hours labouring over the language, ensuring there’s no repetition or-

ELWOOD: Repetition? If your “literary sensibilities” are shaken because you had to read the word “gun” twice on the same page you don’t deserve to be entertained by me. I don’t care if you read it three times. All I care about is the story, which, if I’ve done it right, will be dragging you along by the hair so fast you won’t have time to count the words.

ANDREW: So you don’t care about good writing?

He ignored the question.

ELWOOD: You want long descriptive passages? Tough luck. Use your imagination. All you need to know is Robin Castle has a gun and a bad guy is about to die. And I do care about the writing. I just have different opinions about it to you.

ANDREW: Robin Castle is a great character, how did you come up with-

ELWOOD: Don’t brown-nose me. I’ve read that horror book you wrote, Jack’s Game, is that what it was called? You know you don’t need to describe the curtains, right?

ANDREW: I’m sure I didn’t describe the curtains.

ELWOOD: Nobody ever read a Jack Reacher book and said, “Do you remember the curtains in that one scene? They were great curtains.”

ANDREW: I don’t describe curtains in my books.

ELWOOD: You’re stopping me from writing.

ANDREW: Can I ask one more question?
He didn’t answer.

ANDREW: Is this where you normally write.

ELWOOD: No. I normally get up at 5am. I write for two hours. And then I go to work.

ANDREW: I write in the evenings, when I get the chance.

ELWOOD: You’re lazy.

ANDREW: I’m you. I guess I’m just grumpier in the mornings. That might explain your attitude.

He pulled a gun on me. It was an old six-shooter.

ELWOOD: I will shoot you if you keep speaking.

ANDREW: This is ridiculous. We’re the same person. I just thought it would be good to get inside your head a bit. Try and understand how you think. Why you write the way you do? What made you decide to pair the language down? To write novellas instead of proper boo-

ELWOOD: Proper books? There’s no such thing as a proper book. Long novels are just indulgent. All I did was get rid of all the boring bits. Rip the curtains down. It’s all about movement and dialogue.

ANDREW: I’m not trying to offend you.

Elwood pulled the hammer back.

ANDREW: You can’t kill me.

He pulled the trigger. I felt the bullet smash through my ribcage and lodge in my lung.

He fired again.

Everything went dark.

END OF INTERVIEW

Join the Elwood Flynn Facebook group for news about his upcoming series of Westerns starring Robin Castle, the 6’9″ lawman turned feared bounty hunter.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/2868086283473638/?ref=share