Barbara Elsborg is a 60-year-old former schools inspector, but now she writes books that would surprise you. Jayne Dawson meets her.
If you passed Barbara Elsborg in the street you might imagine her to be a teacher, a lecturer – maybe even a vicar’s wife.
With her tall slim figure, short hair and spectacles Barbara looks a sensible, sympathetic, 60-year-old. You could easily see her in charge of a stall at the local fete.
And she is all of these things, but she is also much more besides.
In fact, Barbara spends most of her time at her computer in the study of her lovely Guiseley home, and what she is typing would surprise you.
For Barbara, who used to be a schools inspector, is now a writer of erotic romance and her books are, frankly, rampant with graphic sexual content.
You name it, Barbara writes it, and she is not embarrassed to say so – though her husband, son and daughter are both proud of her and bemused by her in equal measure.
Barbara takes her work so seriously that, once, having got her characters into a literal tangle, she asked her son and his girlfriend if they could just allow her to move their arms and legs about, to see what was and wasn’t anatomically possible. As you would expect, they were not all that pleased.
“Some writers keep Barbie dolls for the purpose,” she says.
Barbara is serious about her job and it pays her serious money. Her books are published mainly in America as e-books by the biggest publisher of the kind. Some months, a cheque for $10,000 dollars will come through her letterbox. So far she has had 100,000 downloads.
“I make a decent living,” she says.
And within minutes of finishing one book, Barbara says she will have ideas for another.
Yet her career is relatively new. Her first book was accepted only in 2007 but since then she has had more than 30 published and now averages about three a year.
“They accepted the first book I sent to them. I told them I had other romantic stories and they said that if I added sex to them they would sell, and so I did.”
Not everyone would find it so easy. Indeed, writers find it notoriously difficult to write about sex, so much so that there is even an annual Bad Sex In Fiction Award, in recognition of most novelists’ dire efforts. But Barbara says she has no such difficulty, though she is quick to point out that her ideas do not come from her own experience – and also that the idea of asking her husband for advice makes her toes curl.
In fact, she says, the internet comes in most useful.
“My ideas don’t come from my own life, I am heterosexual and in a long, faithful marriage. I Google a lot of things. Some days I can do it, and some days I can’t. My ideas will come from all over – a song, a television programme. But I absolutely adore writing them. The books have to have explicit sex in them but mine do also have a proper plot.”
But Barbara says very few of her friends have read her books.
“They can’t get their heads around it, it is a bit of a conversations stopper when I tell people what I do.”
As for the most famous erotic fiction of them all, 50 Shades of Grey, Barbara is grateful to author EL James for giving the genre a higher profile but thinks her books are actually “a bit boring.”
Barbara writes almost every day and has a strict routine, working from 8am to 5pm, including weekends.
Husband Anton, 62, a retired CEO of an engineering company, gets on with the shopping and household jobs.
“Each book is about 100,000 words. I think of a title and I think of the characters’ names and that is it. I plan nothing else in advance. I know it will end happily ever after but the rest just happens as I write.
“The house has to be quiet, I don’t like any noise in the background.”
The plots in Barbara’s books vary and include fantasy characters, from fairies to vampires to werewolves, but one thing is certain: there must be sexual tension and there must be lots of sex.
“I am told my dialogue is good, but it is the sex that sells them. There is no formula to say how many scenes we should include, but I did once have a complaint from a reader that I had included too many.”
All of which is in great contrast to her earlier career. Barbara has worked as a national insurance inspector, an export manager and for Ofsted as a schools’ inspector.
“I was a lay inspector going into infant and junior schools. I was very involved in my own children’s education and was a school governor so I had the right background.”
Her children are Greg, 30, who lives in Texas, America, and works for a supply company, and daughter Natalie, 32, who lives in London and works as an intellectual property lawyer.
She said: “My children are supportive in their own way. Greg, for instance, will help me with technical aspects of my website, but doesn’t want to know anything more than that.”
As for how she got into writing, Barbara blames her height - she is five feet ten inches tall.
“I was teased as a girl because I was tall so I retreated into myself and wrote stories. I carried on writing romantic comedies, though they were never accepted for publication. I stopped when I had children but took it up again a few years ago and wrote my first erotic romance.”
“It is pure escapism and very selfish. At a time when I should be doing other things, I am spending more time than most people working. But I just adore it.”