Thursday, 7 October 2010


I took myself off to the Bloomsbury Theatre in London last night to listen to James Ellroy reading extracts from his latest memoir - The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women. After the reading, which lasted twenty minutes or so there was a discussion on all things Ellroy followed by a Q&A session on his canon of literary masterpieces.

He is a larger than life character and was totally at home on the theatre stage. I really cannot do the man justice in this piece but sufficient to say I was astounded to see the theatre packed with so many fans. “Peepers, prowlers, pederasts, panty-sniffers, punks and pimps,” as Ellroy would say. When Ellroy took to the stage his command of the English language and sheer personality had the audience, including me, enthralled.

The whole thing must have lasted an hour and fifteen minutes but time flew by. The man is a superb orator and entertained with his trademark and wicked: Humour, slang, patois and creative profanity. He is controversial, complex and, in my opinion, a wordsmith bordering on genius. Ellroy was not as hesitant as me on this point; nailing his colours firmly to the mast by declaring himself a literary genius and comparing himself to Ludwig van Beethoven. Few in the audience had any issues with this.

I gleaned a few remarkable things about the great man: Ellroy does not own a computer. Ellroy does not use the Internet. Ellroy researches his literary projects using the printed word and interviews. Ellroy writes in long hand. Ellroy completes a detailed outline - 400 plus pages written in long hand – before he starts a novel. Ellroy does not deviate from the outline during the writing of the novel. Ellroy rarely watches films and television. Ellroy never reads contemporary books by other authors. Ellroy can spend hours in a darkened room just thinking about his writing.

I cannot call myself a fanatical Ellroy reader because I have not read a huge amount of his work; I am going to put that right though.

Many years ago I read Dick Contino's Blues: And Other Stories. Recently I read The Black Dahlia. I bought this book a long time ago but put off reading it because I had read that Ellroy’s writing style was difficult to read; although his unique staccato prose developed from White Jazz onwards. When I did get around to reading The Black Dahlia I swallowed it; hook, line and sinker. Captured not just by the blistering story and the skilful use of words but how the fiction was set so authentically in 1940/50’s Los Angeles and weaved around real life events. The rest of the L.A. Quartet is on my TBR shelf and I will promote The Big Nowhere to the next book on the rank without further ado.

A hat-tip to James Ellroy – The Demon Dog of Hardboiled Noir!


  1. Excellent write up, Al, on a man I've heard so much about, yet am ashamed to say I've not read him. But this is about to change. Amazon here I come...

    Cheers for your insights, bud.

  2. Great write up, Al. Loved to have been there. Ellroy's "Underworld" trilogy is amazing. It's dense and difficult, but you can't stop reading it.

  3. Thanks for popping over gents and commenting.


  4. Griffy, this review is excellently written. I suggest you drop a line to Ellroy or his agent via e-mail and send the link. Publicity is always of interest to them, and you've done a beautiful job here.


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