James Ellroy would go back to speak to his mum if he could

The crime writer’s obsession with LA’s dark underbelly stemmed from the brutal death of Gena Ophelia when he was 10

James Ellroy has admitted that he can’t recall his mother’s voice in a revealing Letter to My Younger Self in this week’s Big Issue magazine.

The celebrated crime author, who penned The Black Dahlia novel that was later adapted for the big screen by Brian De Palma, revealed that the unsolved rape and murder of Gena Ophelia in 1958 was not the only reason he “went off the rails”.

But losing his mother at the age of 10 has meant that the 71-year-old’s memories of her have faded, even if that time of his life played a key role in defining his future career.

“I think it’s often specious to point to a single traumatising event, such as my mother’s death and say that’s when the die was cast. ‘That’s when he went off the rails’,” Ellroy told The Big Issue.

“I was no prize before my mother was killed. I was full of shit. I don’t think I was particularly intelligent – I’ve never scored well on intelligence tests. I think imagination and the will to create are more important than intelligence. I think I write well because I loved to read, and that was always my chief means of escape.”


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Now, Ellroy is an older man, he admitted that he would be intrigued to hear Gena’s voice once again.

He added: “I would be very, very interested to hear her voice. I wonder… you know, people recorded their voices on a record in a booth back then. I wonder if my mother ever did that and if she did, and I heard it, would I recognise her voice? I don’t know.”

James Ellroy’s new novel This Storm  is out on May 30 (Cornerstone, £20)

Read more from James Ellroy in this week’s edition of The Big Issue, available now from vendors and The Big Issue Shop.