ANNIE TAYLOR author of THE TRUTH ABOUT HER on Influencers

Written by Annie Taylor

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall Who’s the Most Dangerous Influencer of All? Social Media, Narcissism and Crime in The Truth About Her.

I’ve been thinking about narcissism and narcissists a lot lately. As a consumer of both reality TV and true crime, and a user of social media it can be hard not to – they seem to be drawn to and proliferate within all three at pretty high rates. That’s not to say everyone on reality TV or every influencer is a narcissist, of course, but the idea of what happens when two such potent things – narcissism and social media – are brought together, and then when you add children into the mix, is what started me on the path to writing The Truth About Her.

When it comes to my own motives for writing crime fiction, I have always been most driven by the idea of collateral damage. The people, the places, the friends, families, and communities that are damaged and then left to pick up the pieces after a tragic or violent crime. In The Truth About Her, that collateral damage is two-fold, as we watch the spider-web effect of a young child’s disappearance play out in the lives of his family and the wider community, as well as the effect of his mother Vanessa’s job as an influencer and her narcissistic tendencies has on her children.

The idea of using your children to boost your brand and grow your follower count didn’t spring from nowhere – in 2020, a wannabe Instagram ‘momfluencer’ posted a video that went viral, claiming that two people in a carpark in California had just attempted to kidnap her children. Her follower count grew rapidly from this claim, her fame heading towards dizzying heights amid the faked chaos, until it crash-landed in infamy and her lie was exposed. 

The fact that the accused couple were Latino added a racial dynamic that cannot be ignored. Not only did the Instagrammer know that using her children could create a firestorm of likes and followers, but she also weaponised her whiteness against an innocent couple who were simply going about their day. She has since been found guilty of filing a false kidnapping report and could serve up to six months in custody, but the legacy of her actions will live on – with her children, the couple she accused, her community, and of course, on the internet. 

I was already working on The Truth About Her when this story broke, a fact that still sends shivers down my spine. Having created a character like Vanessa from bits and pieces and a wild ‘what if?’ scenario, I couldn’t believe that someone would actually go as far as to do what Vanessa is accused of in the book. Truth and fiction collided and, as often happens, the truth was even wilder – although, luckily, no children were harmed in the California case. The same cannot be said of the Shannon Matthews case. 

As most readers probably know, Shannon Matthews went missing in early 2008 and her kidnapping prompted a wide-ranging missing persons-hunt that included up to 200 police officers searching for her at one time, as well as constant attention from the British press. But everything was not quite as it seemed, and Shannon had been ‘kidnapped’ by her own mother and kept hidden by an uncle of her stepfather in a bid to claim reward money. I was at university when Shannon was going through her ordeal. I’d never listened to a true crime podcast (because I’m not sure they’d even been invented yet?), nor even entertained the idea of becoming a thriller writer, but the case stayed with me – as I’m sure it did many people – and ended up being one of the main inspirations behind The Truth About Her

As a prolific consumer of true crime, it’s impossible not to be inspired by the real life events I’m constantly listening to, reading about, or watching play out in a documentary. While I never intend to base fiction on facts, or fictionalise real life people and crimes, I do like to pose questions like, ‘what if this, but that?’. So, while Shannon Matthews may have been the jumping off point, I ended up somewhere quite different. What if a child has gone missing, but his mother is a popular influencer? What if an influencer has become popular for parenting tips, but is far, far from perfect herself? And, going back to collateral damage, what might the impact of all this be? Who might be drawn in by all this attention and where could that lead? One of the main issues I wanted to explore was how does all this exposure affect the children of influencers? Posed and photographed just-so, Vanessa’s children are used as props by their mother, seen as an extension of herself as well as her brand, rather than as fully-formed people with thoughts and feelings of their own. And so, the question ultimately becomes, what happens when they start to think for themselves?




Michael Joseph, Pbk Original £8.99

20 July, 2023

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