‘People think that what I do is easy. I can assure you it’s not! I work very hard and put in a great deal of preparation, which is why everything looks so effortless.’
Instagram influencers and lifestyle bloggers were in the news recently for all the wrong reasons when many sought to escape the UK lockdown by heading to Dubai for ‘work’. Presenting a minutely manicured perfection, they sell us a dream that surely even their reality can never truly live up to. This is the gap that new author Ruth Leigh explores to hilarious and poignant effect in The Diary of Isabella M. Smugge.
Isabella Smugge (as in ‘Br-uge-s’, naturally!), is a full-time Instagram influencer, consummate show-off and endearingly self-unaware. With a palatial home, charming husband and three well-mannered children, she is living the Country Life dream. Her motto is to ‘work out what you want and then grab it with both hands.’ Newly arrived in Suffolk, Isabella is ready to bring a dash of London glamour to the school gate and gain a whole new set of followers – though getting past the instant coffee, terrible hair and own-brand sausage rolls may be a challenge! But as her Latvian au pair’s behaviour becomes increasingly bizarre and a national gossip columnist nurses a grudge, Isabella finds herself in need of true friends and begins to wonder if her life really is as picture-perfect as she thought…
‘The crux of the book,’ comments Ruth, ‘is that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. As we are drawn ever further into Isabella’s carefully curated world, we realise that all is not as it seems as Isabella’s life starts to crumble at the edges, while profound questions of friendship, parenting and the impact of social media are sharply, comically and sensitively addressed.
At a time when numerous glossy books from social media influencers and bloggers are filling the shelves – but many households have been struggling with the aggravated chaos of home-schooling and lockdown living – The Diary of Isabella M. Smugge offers the humorous escape and the potent antidote to false perfection that we all need.
‘Funny, smart, insightful. A Bridget Jones’s Diary for the Age of Influencers. Recommended as a much-needed tonic, with a gin on the side!’ Paul Kerensa, comedian, BBC comedy writer and author
‘Sharp, contemporary and funny. Leigh’s unique and cutting social commentary reminds me of Austen but with added Instagram, selfies and hashtags.’ Fran Hill, author of Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?
- Publisher: Instant Apostle
- Available in ebook and paperback (19 February 2021)
- 256 pages
A huge welcome to the blog to Ruth Leigh, following an introduction by Rhoda Hardie. I’m delighted to share a guest post from Ruth. When I was first reading this, certain points of the post resonated with me. Many times I’ve been that reader sitting in bed until the early hours when I’ve had a book that I haven’t been able to put down and much of Instagram is still a mystery to me!
Over to you Ruth.
You’ve Ruined My Life (and other things a writer loves to hear)
Yesterday, I logged into my writer’s email account and ran my eye over the inbox. Someone wanted to tell me how to self-publish audiobooks. My PR lady had good news about a book blogger. One of my freelance clients had sent me two properties to write up.
But the subject heading which really caught my eye was this one.
I was delighted. Let me tell you why.
For the last thirteen years, I’ve been a writer for hire. Want an inspiring six hundred words on a charity changing lives? Ask me. Series of blogs on affordable attractions in London? Hello! Engaging content about spring fashion and how to shop sustainably? I’m your man.
However, during lock down, I lost most of my freelance work, wrote a jokey piece about a pretentious influencer called Isabella M Smugge (as in Bruges) and landed myself a book deal. The diary of Isabella M Smugge was published on 19th February this year and the sequel, the Trials of Isabella M Smugge is due to come out in December.
Feedback was fairly immediate. A common complaint was that my book was causing sleep deprivation. “I only meant to read one chapter and I was still up at midnight because I couldn’t stop. I’m knackered!” ran one email. Another reader and mother of three posted, “Leaving the kids to fend for themselves while I read Isabella.”
Fiction writing was new to me and every comment, every like, every book purchase fed my soul. I thought I’d written a fairly unlikeable character, but everyone seemed to love her. She’s a show-off, brags about her perfect life, weaponises her children and beautiful home to feed the marketing monster and speaks in hashtags. But beneath the polished exterior lurks a sad little girl who just wants to be loved.
I’d always written encouraging, uplifting, inspiring content and interviewed hundreds of amazing people over my career. Being able to write truly horrible characters (Isabella’s snobbish mother and her venal agent Mimi Stanhope) was an absolute joy.
So back to that email.
It was from one of my freelance clients to whom I’d recently send the book. This was her response.
Good Morning Ruth
Just want to let you know that you have ruined my life – well my routine! I am reading your book and I cannot put it down. I started it on Monday night and switched off the light at 3am. I love love love it.
Oh, my goodness- I see so much of so many people I know (and maybe even myself) in your book.
I was delighted. I’d often asked myself the question, “What is writing for?” and if the answer was ruining people’s routines, keeping them up well past their bedtimes and encouraging them to keep turning the pages when they really should be cooking the tea, then I was obviously doing something right.
I loved writing stories but stopped when I left primary school. Life came rushing in, with all its demands and hurdles, and it wasn’t until I was staring a lock down summer in the face that my heroine and her life began to form in my mind.
It was a different kind of discipline altogether. I had to drive the narrative along, create interesting and relatable characters, make ‘em laugh, make ‘em cry. By the end of September, I’d written Isabella’s first year in the country, complete with awkward interactions in the playground, a fight with a fellow parent over some value sausage rolls, some painful realisations and a whole heap of hashtags.
My heroine is extremely good at what she does. She writes great content, posts amazing images and never misses an opportunity to share her brand. That’s so not me. A recent exchange with my middle child went like this:
Me: “Can you show me how to work Instagram? I need to share a story.”
Him (with a patient sigh). “Look. You just push this button here.”
Me: “Which one? I don’t understand.”
Him: “The one that says share story. It’s not hard, mother.”
I can do Facebook, am getting to grips with Twitter and understand some bits of Instagram. But it’s not my natural milieu and writing a character who lives her every waking moment on the socials was a challenge.
However, I say #challengeaccepted #amwriting #lovewritingfiction #issysmuggesays #rollonbooktwo
Here’s to ruining a few more lives!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ruth Leigh is a freelance writer and novelist, and is married with three children, one husband and assorted livestock. She blogs at Big Words and Made Up Stories and for More Than Writers and Authors Electric, and is a recovering over-achiever. Her website can be found at www.ruthleighwrites.co.uk. She lives in Suffolk.