Elsley took up a career in theatrical writing, and then pursued television writing after parting from Enfield. For three years, Elsley was artistic director of Pocket Theatre Cumbria, which was based at Kendal's Brewery Arts Centre. At that time he was also writing episodes for TV series Casualty and London's Burning. These, and his short film Govan Ghost Story (1989), opened up other opportunities for other television writing. Elsley's big break came when he was commissioned by the BBC to adapt Iain Banks's novel The Crow Road for television.
On 18 March 2010, Elsey announced via the Skins blog that the final episode of series 4 was his last as a writer for the UK series, although Elsley did return to write the opening episode for series 6 in 2012. He executive produced Skins U.S. in 2011 and whilst still both versions of Skins with its partners, is now turning to other projects.