The upcoming Apple TV+ film follows the misadventures of Ellie Conway, a reclusive writer of spy novels who accidentally gets mixed up in the criminal scheming she’s been busy writing about.
In highly meta fashion, Matthew Vaughn’s film is a self-referential take on a novel of the same name, which came out on January 9, and written by first time novelist Elly Conway.
Immediately, eagle-eyed spies noticed that something was afoot, from the inconsistencies in the way Conway’s name is spelled, to the slightly odd fact that she shares a name with a Neighbors character.
Then, there’s the small matter of Apple stumping up a reported $200 million to land the rights to a novel which didn’t even have an Amazon page until recently. For an unknown name in the fiction world, these numbers seem a little out of the ordinary. On top of that, there’s virtually no other information out there about Conway.
According to Penguin’s official author biography for Conway, she was born and raised in upstate New York and “wrote her first novel about Agent Argylle while working as a waitress in a late-night diner.” All signs pointed to a ghost writer, and bizarrely, some people became convinced that it was actually written by… Taylor Swift.
There are a couple of obvious, gaping holes in this theory: Swift is from Pennsylvania for starters, and also: she’s a busy person, how on earth would she have time to become a novelist?!
But ignore them for a second and let’s appraise the apparent evidence. In the film, Conway wears a lot of argyle sweaters. Swift has a penchant for argyle sweaters too (though famously she's the only woman in history to ever wear one, right?). The film’s trailer also features a Scottish Fold cat with its own special cat rucksack. Swift also owns this type of cat with its own special cat rucksack. (Again she is famously the only woman in history to own this type of cat.)
Let’s get onto the slightly more compelling evidence, then. Conway’s first Instagram post was on Swift’s birthday. Here’s Swift in a Conway Recordings hoodie! When did Elly Conway the Neighbors character first appear on the Aussie soap? You guessed it, Swift’s birthday! Adding to the dossier, the film’s talented feline actor Chip the Cat follows the popstar on the ‘gram.
At the very least, there’s surely a very clever Swiftie at the heart of all of this, even if it’s unlikely to be the singer.
Plus, we more or less know it isn’t. Vaughn has debunked the rumours. “There is a real book … and it’s a really good book,” he told Rolling Stone. “And there is an Elly Conway who wrote the book, but it’s not Taylor Swift. And I say that because I imagine Taylor Swift has a load of people trying to jump on her bandwagon left, right, and centre. I don’t want to be a part of that club. I did read the conspiracies and I was like, ‘Wow, they don’t leave a stone unturned!’ But it’s not Taylor Swift. She definitely didn’t write the book.”
So, who did? Well, Washington Post’s Sophia Nguyen has come closest to uncovering the truth, and reckons that Vaughn and the studio commissioned an author to ghost-write a novel under the pen-name Elly Conway to add yet another layer of meta-ness. Following a painstaking investigation, Nguyen was able to uncover just one lead after successfully hunting down someone called Robert Massey.
The deputy executive director of the Royal Astronomical Society is thanked in the novel’s dedication “for his patient explanation of star charts.” Massey confirmed that he had indeed been approached about the project by “a novelist writing a contracted spy thriller for Penguin Random House”, but told Nguyen that she introduced herself as Tammy Cohen.
Tammy Cohen, for what it’s worth, is a British crime and psychological thriller writer who has published 12 novels under three different names. Could Argylle be her work? And even if that’s the case, why all of the weird Swift speculation in the first place?
If you ask me, Elly Conway was always supposed to be a secret for fans to uncover, but then the Swift guesswork started happening by sheer chance thanks to the weird, obsessive ways of the internet.
And so, as you can understand, when the Swift rumours began, everyone involved simply decided to lean into it for a bit of extra publicity. And who can blame them? It’s definitely added to the intrigue no end.