Elmore Leonard: 'To have a clear head in the morning was a new feeling for me'


The biggest thrill of my life was selling my first novelette It was a Western for Argosy magazine in 1951, called "Trail of the Apaches". I'd done a lot of research about the Apache Indians in the 1880s and they seemed like ruthless individuals out to raise hell, which fascinated me. I got paid $1,000 for it and I thought, wow, I'm going to quit my job in advertising, which I hated.

The westerns on American TV in the 1960s were based on stuff that never happened There were 32 Westerns on in 1960, but they all had the same ending of two guys meeting in the street and shooting at each other. It was done over and over, and it was so dumb; it never even took place. I decided to switch over to writing about crime.

I stopped drinking in 1977 after a friend said to me, 'I think you ought to come to an AA meeting' It used to take me a while to get up each morning, then I'd always have a beer before I did anything, and then I tried to hold off till noon. After I stopped, I found I could get up in the morning and feel like writing; to have a clear head in the morning was new for me.

Most of the film adaptations of my books were not any good I wanted to write movies and I wanted to see my books made into good movies, but for some reason they'd just be lame. When I saw the adaptation of The Big Bounce in 1969, I said, this is the second-worst movie I ever saw. Then they re-made it [in 2004] and I thought, why are they doing that? Now it's the worst. At first that sort of thing frustrated me, but I've since learnt to live with it.

White Supremacists are always against something, but they're not a problem They only exist in little pockets down in the South; it's a couple hundred thousand people maybe, compared with 300 million Americans. They look like what they are: ex-convicts with ugly tattoos.

If it sounds like writing, rewrite it I don't want my books to sound like I'm the one who's talking or somehow there behind the scenes. So I always reread what I wrote the day before; it has to sound like these people are feeling and thinking these things, so I'll take words out if it looks like the character is talking too much; after 60 years I've gotten pretty adept at it.

Some of my fondest memories come from hanging out with the Detroit police department The Detroit News asked me to do a piece on the homicide section there, so I spent three weeks with them before I wrote a word. I'd follow these cheerful, friendly guys to the scene of murders and I was surprised by their deadpan humour.

Very few things irritate me, though some commercials on tv manage to There's this guy who owns a construction company selling storm windows, and he comes on several times a day and I think, "Oh god, not you again." My show Justified has a couple of commercial breaks in the evening, but it's really good, so I put up with them.

I don't worry about mortality I'm 85 now, so one of these days my life will end and that will be it. I'm getting kind of tired anyway and my eyes have failed to the point it's hard to read a book.

George Clooney gave such a good performance in the adaptation of Out of Sight that I wrote a sequel to the original book with him in mind. He is so easygoing, he doesn't overdo anything, which is a problem with many of the characters in other film adaptations of my books. I watched him come up from TV and knew he'd be a success.

Elmore Leonard is an American novelist and screenwriter. Season two of 'Justified', based on a Leonard short story, airs at 10pm on Wednesdays on 5 USA. His latest book, 'Djibouti', is published by Weidenfeld & Nicolson, priced £18.99

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