A night with James Ellroy, demon dog & foul owl – are you scared yet?

Last night Dave Briggs & I went to the Bloomsbury Theatre to see famous American author & self proclaimed genius James Ellroy – check us all out on the photo below.  I’m going to assume that if you’re reading this blog entry you’re already familiar with Ellroy (LA Confidential, American Tabloid, etc) and I’m therefore not going to go back over all the much hyped information that exists about him.  This blog is about some of what James Ellroy had to say last night.

A confession first – I’ve seen James Ellroy at a book reading event in London before and am a fan – I like him because he’s unusual as well as incredibly talented.  I think it was in 1996 when he was promoting “My Dark Places” – another book about his mother, speaking more or less completely in jive talk and very much in love with his pet bull terrier.  14 years on he was less “daddio” and even more off the wall than I remembered him to be.

There’s no doubt he’s an entertaining & engaging public speaker – he stands legs wide apart like a wild man rock guitarist playing at a lectern & he uses his distinctive low & booming voice like a musical instrument – he’s an easy man to listen to and he doesn’t disappoint in terms of the shock factor – ever.   He even told us last night – “laugh with greater fervour – it’s funny MFs” and he uttered the immortal deVito line from LA Confidential – Off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush – in “that” voice.

Also before we start – I was touched that Ellroy said he’d like more women to read his books.  He’s sometimes painted to be a pervert and a woman-hater.  I tend to think he’s a bit maligned on this score and instead read him to be a hopeless romantic caught up in a never ending loop of seeking THE ONE, finding her, discovering he was wrong and moving on to looking for the next ONE.  He rather weirdly claims to be able to remember with clarity features of women’s faces that he met or saw 50 years ago.  Dave & I weren’t sure that was credible – and he did then go on to freely admit that he “makes up shit convincingly & makes sure all the people he’s writing about are dead” – with one exception – Don Crutchfield, real life PI that Ellroy claims he paid $40k & promised not to depict as a “fag or a ponce” in “Blood’s a Rover”.

It was fascinating to hear from the author about the methodology he uses to write.  He starts with a detailed outline which he keeps beside him & this framework enables him to then control his story whilst permitting improvisation on scenes he is writing.  He spends a lot of time in the dark thinking about & planning his story and then writes in longhand at his desk, working in silence and with no music or distractions.  He reads his work out aloud to himself as he writes and rewrites.  If he ever gets fed up with writing crime fiction, I’ll offer him a job as a project manager any day (although I might worry about the effect that would have on his colleagues).

These are the soundbites from last night that we liked a lot:

·         LA is where I go when women divorce me; I can earn money there to pay my alimony and I know where stuff is

·         She had eyes of no shit non hazel green

·         My riposte to book critics worldwide has been “fuck you all”

·         Says he has a “benign form of megalomania rewriting history to his own specification”

·         I am a genius and George W Bush is not

·         Whatever I can conceive I can execute (I like that – a lot)

·         England = the moors, thatched cottages & baying hounds

·         Movies you want to see like LA Confidential; movies you want to flee like the Black Dahlia

I’ll be back to post more on this when I’ve had more chance to think & digest.  He’s in Belfast tonight & tomorrow night & folks – James Ellroy is unmissable – take your chance to go & see him whilst he’s over here.  Comments & questions welcome.



  1. Random.. and cool blog Mary.Glad to hear your not the only one who “makes up shit convincingly”… any sign of James’ business partner or has he just bought it along the way:)


  2. I think he’d fit right in here at Learning Pool – he sounds like the original proponent of JFDI. Imagine the conversations between him, Paul and Dave – the air would be blue in seconds. As Fr Dougal once advised don’t meet your heroes in case you’re disappointed – good to see that James didn’t.


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