So I wrote a woman that people really, really hate.
If you haven’t met The Mummy Bloggers
’ Elle Campbell yet, it’s okay. If you spend any time on social media, you’ve come across her a few times, in various guises.
Elle’s natural habitat is Instagram. It’s a place where life stories are told in a series of carefully curated, perfectly composed square images, passed through a pleasing filter and then served right up to the rest of us with our clutter and our grubby corners and our aspirations.
The last time you went to a work event, a 21st or 40th birthday party, certainly a wedding, you probably weren’t aware that Instagram was dictating much of what you were looking at. The way those over-sized daisies were leaning just-so in that pea-green jam jar. That oversized Jenga game on the front lawn. Those giant illuminated initials that shouted from the back wall. All are tiny, Instagramable moments, designed to be shared and shown off, to spread the influence and create good will for the person, moment, event or issue you’re there to celebrate.
Elle Campbell, the character readers are enjoying hating in The Mummy Bloggers
has worked out how to game Instagram to build an empire. Over here in real life, many people have done that. They’re called Influencers, and they are selling you things every single day. But Elle, in the book, is primarily selling herself.
She came from nowhere, from a town you could blink and pass through without note, and she ran from nowhere, from a depressed widowed Dad who could barely keep himself together, never mind five wild kids. Elle ran to the city – that’s what you do – and she set about reinventing herself into a fitness goddess. Then a blogger. Now, the sky’s the limit. She’s married to the man who was the subject of her first blog, which was called Someone Else’s Husband. She has two tiny children who model kids’ fashion for her daily. Her kitchen is almost as famous as her sugar-free brownies (that really come out of a packet, sugar-included) and her abs-for-days gym selfies. Elle is ambitious, focussed and completely comfortable with sacrificing other people’s priorities for her own.
In short, if you’re not already working for an Elle, you will be soon.
Readers of The Mummy Bloggers
tell me of their ‘visceral’ dislike of her. They were rooting for her to fail, which, of course, is not an option for Elle. “If I met her, I’d punch her in the face,” one woman wrote to me last week. “I’ve never had such a negative reaction to a character before,” said another.
Which is strange, because the “real-life” Elles have hundreds of thousands of followers, armies of people who hang on their every post and picture.
But clearly, we like to watch – and read about, and Follow – people we can’t stand. To keep an eye on them, to make sure they’re staying in their corner, and to make us feel better about ourselves.
This is particularly pertinent if you are on social media, too. The fact you yelled at your sister-in-law to take down that picture of you with the chins pales into insignificance compared to the lengths Elle will go to to to protect her pristine social media record, and win a prestigious blogging award.
There are two other bloggers up for that award in The Mummy Bloggers
. Abi Black, who is living in the country and brewing her own kombucha and Leisel Adams, who’s frantically frazzled and never getting anything right – at work or home.
All of these women – sorry, characters – have their flaws and their faults, but in writing them I came to adore them. Even devious, narcissistic Elle. The stunts she pulls to try to win the awards are unforgivable. But her motivation is pure – she wants to be adored.
I said pure, not commendable.
Elle has no idea how to really love anyone, because no-one ever showed her. But the love she feels from her armies of followers – the hordes clicking LIKE, LOVE and LOL on everything she does – that’s what sustains her. The endless scroll, the mountains of emojis, the hashtags that tell her she’s an icon to thousands.
That’s how a villain for an Instagram age fills their bucket, one hate-follow at a time.
The Mummy Bloggers
is out now, via Allen & Unwin.