My secret life: James Ellroy, author, 62

My parents were ... good-looking LA arrivistes. They were ill-suited for parenthood, so I'm not surprised that I turned out to be both as troubled and gifted as I am.

The house/flat I grew up in ... My parents divorced when I was quite young. My mother was a fastidious housekeeper; my dad was a slob. After my mother's celebrated – if over-reported – 1958 murder, I went to live with my dad and we had a beagle who was un-housebroken. Our place reeked of dog shit.

When I was a child I wanted to ... be a novelist.

If I could change one thing about myself ... I would have hair.

You wouldn't know it but I am very good at ... public speaking. I have a lot of clergymen ancestors; the pulpit calls to me.

You wouldn't know it but I'm no good at ... I have no facility whatsoever for foreign languages of any kind.

At night I dream of ... My girlfriend Erika's dad is the famous film critic Richard Schickel, and I'm oddly fond of this man, who is florid, 50lbs overweight, 77 years old, and chain-smokes. I keep waiting to have the heart-to-heart talk with him, where I tell him how much I love his daughter. He understands this implicitly, but he has no emotional language for it. So in my dreams, I'm always about to tell him and he goes like this [puts up his hand].

What I see when I look in the mirror ... I'm occasionally shocked at how old I look, and then I get a different angle on it and I realise I look good.

I wish I'd never worn ... I grew up very poor, adjoining a rich area called Hancock Park in LA, and people wore elegant, traditional clothes and thus I have spent a fortune on elegant, traditional clothing. I have worn some of the most absurd patchwork plaid trousers ever.

My favourite item of clothing ... I have three very fine flannel, chalk-striped suits. I was meant to wear a chalk-stripe suit, because I'm tall and thin.

I drive ... a shamelessly gas-guzzling, brand-new Cadillac CTS-V. It is profoundly powerful, very very fast and good looking. It drives like a bat out of hell.

My house is ... I don't have a house; I have a divorce pad. It's 10 blocks from the neighbourhood that I grew up adjoining. It's where I go when women divorce me. The walls are red; the only books on the shelves are books I wrote myself, except for Erika's memoir, which is flush up against one of my many busts of Beethoven.

A book that changed me ... Libra, by Don DeLillo. It's the story of the assassination of John F Kennedy, largely told through the eyes of Lee Harvey Oswald, and it is in every way the genesis of my novel American Tabloid.

My greatest regret ... I may sound sociopathic, but I don't regret. I try not to repeat the mistakes that I often make. I fail at this, and I have a propensity for misconduct, but I learn in the end. I believe the old saying: you don't regret what you did, you regret what you didn't do. So I'm pathologically decisive.

The last time I cried ... I watched Erika read LA Confidential, finish it, and cry – and when she started crying, I cried.

My five-year plan ... to see Erika's daughters get through high-school so that we can get the hell out of LA. And write my next two and a half novels.

What's the point? Transcendence.

My life in five words ... A hell of a ride.

A life in brief

James Ellroy was born in Los Angeles on 4 March, 1948. He is the author of the crime classics, LA Confidential and The Black Dahlia, both of which were made into Hollywood films, as well as a memoir, My Dark Places, about his mother's unsolved murder in 1958. He has been married twice, currently lives in Los Angeles, and has recently published another memoir, The Hilliker Curse: My Pursuit of Women

Comments