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Sixty Seconds with EL James

■ The author, 56, reveals how Fifty Shades changed her life and how she’s toned down the sex in her new book, The Mister

Tell us about your new book, The Mister…

It’s boy-meets-girl and shenanigans ensue but they are polar opposites. He inherits a huge amount of wealth and, of course, he’s gorgeous. It’s about what it’s like to have everything, to be born into privilege, but also what it’s like to have nothing.

Is there a bit of raunch in this story too?

Oh yes, we like a bit of raunch. But it’s a different kind of raunch as this is a far more conventional romance. When people fall in love you know what happens… there’s a lot of that kind of activity but neither of the characters is Christian Grey.

Do you feel a lot of pressure after the success of Fifty Shades Of Grey?

Very much so — it’s terrifying! I just hope that people will be rooting for the characters as much as they did in Fifty and have just a fraction of the love for them. I don’t think I’ll achieve the same again but I hope people will get lost in it.

Previous job: EL James worked for Vic and Bob

Fifty Shades sold more than 150 million copies worldwide. How did that feel?

It was a shock. The media focuses on the sex but all the notes and emails I get say it’s the love story that hooked them in. The age range of readers is from far too young to people in their nineties, which is lovely. We’re caught up in stressful times, whether it’s at college with loads of essays, trying to make ends meet or having kids, and it’s a complete fantasy that’s a real escape. I hope The Mister is too.

How did Fifty Shades change your life?

It’s changed phenomenally. I get to do exciting things like make movies and go to movie openings. I bought a house in LA but I’m still sometimes at home in Britain with supper on my lap. I don’t have to get up and go to work. I work in a different way. I do a lot more travelling and at the front of the plane, which is very nice.

Your foray into writing was inspired by a midlife crisis, wasn’t it?

Yes. When your children reach a certain age… my two sons were getting on with their own things and boys tend to stop speaking to you, especially their mother. I was sitting there thinking, what am I going to do? And I had this idea to write on website Fan Fiction and off I ran with it. It was an extraordinary time. I didn’t go out, I didn’t watch TV, I just sat and wrote and worked — in TV for Vic and Bob at the time — and it just got bigger. I thought, someone’s going to steal all my ideas so I’ll publish it, which I did in May 2011. That Christmas we got the first enquiry about the film rights. I thought a friend was having a joke!

Does your husband like it when you’re writing sex scenes?

[Laughs] I’m not quite sure what you’re getting at! He’s very good because he’ll read my books for me and say, ‘Oh yes, that’s fine. It’s doing what it’s supposed to do!’

Is it hard writing about sex?

There’s a joke to be made there but I won’t! It’s tricky to keep it fresh and not something you’ve seen before. There are certain tropes I like to avoid. It’s all about senses, geography and choreography. So when you write a sex scene you have to be aware of where a hand is, that everything’s coming off in the right order and that kind of stuff. It does get difficult and it’s interesting being in a male headspace and then a female one.

Do you think Brits are still quite prudish?

I think we cover everything with a large dollop of humour so it makes it easier to laugh at. We’re often covering our own insecurities with that. We are a little uptight about that sort of thing. The Fifty Shades movies have a PG 15 rating in Scandinavia, Germany and America rather than the 18 they have here. In France it’s 12. That says it all.

Shady: Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey

You do a lot of fan events. How do you handle those?

It’s slightly overwhelming having such amazing energy directed at you. People adore Fifty Shades and they’re usually accompanied by a story about what it means to them. Someone said the book saved her life because she was up reading late and her boiler caught fire so she could deal with it. A 71-year-old man wrote to thank me for reminding him what it’s like to fall in love. Such lovely stuff.

The criticism must be challenging, then?

Yes, and I just think of those people it’s helped. It’s fine to love or hate my books. I’m a middle-aged, overweight woman who has been incredibly successful when she didn’t even mean to be, so I think people get a bit upset about that. I find it funny when people have read all three books and hated all three. My husband calls them secret fans.

The Mister by EL James (Arrow Books) is out now in paperback, ebook and audio