Thursday 19 September 2019

Filter This - exclusive extract

Sophie White's first novel, 'Filter This', follows wannabe Ali Jones as she stumbles headlong into the shiny world of the Instagram influencers. Ali soon learns that often the filter is hiding a lot more than some dodgy tan, and when she inadvertently leads people to believe she's sporting a baby bump, and immediately gains thousands of followers, she goes along with it and is soon lying on a mega scale. Here's a an exclusive extract - the start of Ali's Instagram journey

'Filter This' author Sophie White. Photo: Kip Carroll
'Filter This' author Sophie White. Photo: Kip Carroll

'Oh my gaaawd, you guys! The big day has finally arrived. I have been dreaming about this moment since I was a little girl ..."

Ali closed the front door behind her and ventured further into the hall. The peppy voice, which was coming from the kitchen, didn't match their dingy house. It definitely didn't sound like someone who'd be hanging out with Liv, Ali's best friend and housemate. Dumping her bag by the hall table and chucking her coat on the stand, Ali peered into the kitchen.

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"First things first, I've got to take you all on a tour of the vendors without whom this magical and momentous day would not be possible."

Liv was feverishly taking notes at the kitchen table in the cramped room, her phone propped against the fruit bowl in front of her.

"The Aperol Fizz bar has been generously provided by the Cocktail Boys - because we all know mama needs her pep to par-tay." The woman on the screen gave a slightly randy wink to the camera and slapped her own ass.

"What are we watching?" Ali pulled up a chair to join her friend. "The disintegration of society," Liv muttered. "AKA Instagram."

"Ah, is this essay research?"

"Yep. I'm thinking there's actually so much more to be said, though, it may even be enough for a research master's."

"Oh my god, gals!" Liv was interrupted by the intensely blonde, intensely polished woman in the phone. "Would you look at this flower arch made by my fave pal @EmmasPetals - isn't it ah-mazing? There's a discount code for all my followers at the moment. Just use 'MamasMiniMadams' at checkout for 5 per cent off all orders. And don't forget to follow Emma - she is just so inspiring."

"Whoa!" Ali laughed. "Just to clarify, Emma's a florist, right? Like, she hasn't found a way to eradicate thrush or anything?"

"They all talk like that." Liv grinned. "Everything is 'amazing' on there. Or 'empowering'."

As if on cue, @MamasMiniMadams was back. "The amazing team from @EmpowerGrooming gave me my intimate grooming for this incredible occasion. They're all about empowering women to feel our best and most hair-free on our big days."

Ali mugged. "I do feel empowered when I shave my pits. Love how she hasn't even mentioned the lucky groom yet."

"Oh no, this isn't her wedding day," Liv corrected. "It's one of the mini madams' first holy communions."

"Shut up!" Ali laughed.

"Seriously." Liv picked up the phone to tap back a few Stories. "Look, here's the little bride of Christ here. In custom Vera Wang, no less."

"Jesus!" Ali whistled at the sight of the little girl mincing up a red carpet leading to a festooned marquee. "This shindig is mega. It's like My Super Sweet Sixteen only with more rose gold and selfie sticks."

"And sponcon," Liv added. "Every scrap of this thing is being paid for by brands. It is one long exercise in pluggery."

Ali held the phone closer, peering at @MamasMiniMadams's highly choreographed entrance to the party at the top of a sweeping staircase, her white dress managing to be both gigantic and highly revealing. It looked like a fairy tale. She looks like she's moving through a dream sequence, thought Ali.

"Why is she so blurred?" Ali glanced at Liv.

"Oh, she's filtered to fuck." Liv shrugged. "How was work?"

"Grand, the usual madness. Every scene ran long and Stephan made one of the extras cry. I'd better change - I'm heading up to my dad." Ali returned the phone and headed to her room.

*******

Ali sat on a bench at the edge of the car park of the hospice where her dad lived. She had to go in. She'd been fannying around on her phone for ages, staving off the inevitable. It was so hard to go in there these days. He didn't know her anymore and answering his confused questions was unbearable.

"And, tell me, have you worked here long?" he asked her the week before. "I have a little girl who looks a little like you."

I'm that little girl, Ali wanted to scream, but she'd long given up correcting him. It was futile.

A WhatsApp from Liv dropped in, providing welcome distraction.

Thought you'd like an update on the Super Sweet Communion Extravaganza. The Carter Twins are now doing a set.

Attached was a screen-recording of the Instagram account from earlier.

Ali shielded the late-afternoon sun from her phone screen.

@MamasMiniMadams was wearing a different dress from earlier - Do people do outfit changes at holy communions? - and was being fed champagne by a Carter twin while the crowd whooped and hollered.

Wow, that escalated.

"Here's my mum and dad!" @MamasMiniMadams indicated an attractive couple in their sixties slow-dancing among the chaos of the kids, all high off their tits on giant doughnuts, and their tipsy, well-heeled parents.

Everyone looks so polished. Ali glanced down at her own grungy tee and faded jeans. And not just the people - their whole world gleamed. The clip ended on the Carter Twins being urged to 'Take it off' by a rowdy crowd. The Aperol Fizz had evidently gone to their heads.

Absentmindedly, Ali checked Instagram on the app store.

"Like, capture and share moments ..." announced the app description. "Express yourself by sharing your day, the highlights and everything in between."

Highlights are pretty thin on the ground for me, Ali thought ruefully as she hit the Download button. A few taps and she'd set up a new account - @Ali_Jones. She hit the camera icon in the top left corner of the app and glanced around the car park, checking she was alone, before holding the phone up to her face. It was like a mirror. She could see her tired eyes and the beginnings of a spot on her chin.

Behind her the hospital sign read 'Alzheimer's & Dementia Clinic'. She swallowed - Insta-grim more like.

She messed with the little buttons on the bottom of the screen. One gave her kitten ears and heavy eyeliner. Another bathed her in a celestial glow.

The next button set off a beautiful wreath of pink flowers blooming about her head. Her blotchy skin was transformed. She still looked like herself, but as seen through a prism of perfection.

The filter showed blooms at the edge of the frame, obscuring the hospital sign just past her right shoulder. She turned her head this way and that but neither her flowers nor her new-found perfection slipped even for a second.

She snapped the picture. It looked good.

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