Argylle is a spy action comedy movie starring Bryce Dallas Howard, Henry Cavill, Dua Lipa, Samuel L. Jackson, and more in a star-studded ensemble cast. It’s produced and directed by Matthew Vaughn. The film is based on book four of the Argylle series by Elly Conway, and the author plays a central role in this meta-fictional story.
While book adaptations are extremely common, Argylle has raised some eyebrows, because the first book of the series had not yet been released when the movie went into production (it came out January 9th) — never mind the fourth book in the series.
So how did a debut author get a $200 million movie deal before the book had a chance to build a fanbase? Conway has very little presence online, most of it after the movie was announced, which has spurred speculation that this is a pen name.
Theories have been flying about who really wrote this book, with conspiracies taking hold on TikTok especially. They range from celebrities to scandals to cynical cash grabs — or a mix of all of the above. Here are five of the current theories, ranked from least to most likely.
Elly Conway is Taylor Swift
What made speculation about Argylle really take off was the claim that Elly Conway is Taylor Swift. This isn’t the first time the fandom claimed she wrote a book: Argylle is at minimum the third book fans credited to her. What started this rumor was the trailer for the movie, which includes a Scottish Fold cat in a backpack with a bubble window — the same breed of cat and kind of carrier Taylor Swift showed in her documentary, Miss Americana.
It doesn’t help that the trailer has text that says, “Once you know the secret, don’t let the cat out of the bag,” and Taylor Swift’s fans are always anticipating clues from her. They also pointed to the main character’s red hair, like Taylor Swift’s red wig that shows up in some music videos, and the cardigan the character is wearing — a reference to the song “Cardigan,” perhaps??
Despite these clues, this theory is now firmly in the least likely category, because the director flat-out denied it. It turns out there is a link between Taylor Swift and the cat in the trailer, though: it’s Matthew Vaughn’s daughter’s cat. His daughter is a Swiftie and wanted this breed of cat because of its connection to Taylor Swift. (Side note, Scottish Folds are the result of a genetic mutation associated with serious health problems and pain, so do your research before getting one yourself!)
Elly Conway is J. K. Rowling
Another big name being linked to Elly Conway, especially on TikTok, is J. K. Rowling.
Why Rowling? Well, the director has mentioned her in interviews to explain the metafictional aspect of the movie, saying it’s like if a wizard showed up at Rowling’s house and told her magic was real. The idea is that because Rowling’s name is associated with her hateful rhetoric against trans people — which she has doubled down on so consistently that being anti-trans is arguably a bigger part of her brand than Harry Potter is at this point — distancing her from the book would be better for the brand. She’s also written under a pseudonym before, as Robert Galbraith.
I find this unlikely on several levels. For one, Rowling is a strange choice to tap to write a spy thriller. Also, if the author was supposed to be a secret, why would Vaughn mention her by name in interviews? But perhaps most importantly, as much as I would like Rowling’s transphobia to mean her brand is no longer profitable, I’m not convinced that’s true. If it was, we wouldn’t be getting another adaptation of her previous series, which she’ll be involved with. I think the publisher of the books and producers of the movie would want to capitalize on her name. But I’ve made myself sad, so let’s move on.
Elly Conway is AI
If you get deep into the weeds, looking through Reddit comments and Amazon reviews of the book, you might stumble on a different theory: Argylle was written by AI. The theory goes that the movie was thought of first, and the book is a sort of tie-in material that was generated by artificial intelligence, maybe from the script. This would be the most prominent AI-written novel published so far, which could be a marketing tactic when it’s revealed.
I think this is pretty far-fetched. AI has come a long way, but as far as I’m aware, it’s still not capable of writing a coherent whole novel. Also, the movie and the book are pretty different: the book doesn’t have any metafictional elements, and that’s the main focus of the plot of the movie. Besides, if you want a novel written but don’t want to do it yourself — especially if you have the kind of money a movie studio has — there’s already a strategy for that: hire a ghostwriter.
Elly Conway is an Actor or Director from Argylle
Like the AI theory, this one assumes that the book was imagined after or in tandem with the movie. In this version, though, a star or the director — or several people involved in the movie — wrote the book in order to pitch the book and movie at the same time. I first heard about this theory on the Book Riot Podcast, and Rebecca and Jeff mentioned Dua Lipa as a possibility for the author, given her known bookishness.
Some evidence that director Matthew Vaughn was involved in the publication of the book is that the novel is copyrighted by “Marv Quinn Holding Limited” and Vaughn’s production company he is a part of is “Marv Studios.”
This seems plausible to me. It would certainly explain how an unknown author could cash in on a movie deal before the book was even published. I still don’t understand how this fits with the movie being based on the fourth book in the series, but this seems the most likely so far, and maybe that’s just being thrown out by Vaughn as a red herring.
Elly Conway is Tammy Cohen
Constance Grady at Vox has a great write up of the Elly Conway situation, and her article led me to Sophia Nguyen’s at the Washington Post, which seems to be the closest we have to a definitive answer. In the novel’s acknowledgements, Conway thanks British astronomer Robert Massey for explaining star charts to her. When Nguyen called up Massey, he said he hadn’t talked to an Elly Conway — but he had helped Tammy Cohen with a spy thriller published by Penguin Random House.
Tammy Cohen is a British author of spy thrillers — and as Grady points out, though Conway is supposedly from New York, the book is full of Britishisms. Her agent is also married to Stanley Tucci, who has been in a movie Vaughn directed. As I mentioned in the AI theory, ghostwriters are already an option, and Cohen seems like the kind of writer who might be hired for that role.
Because the movie is metafictional, having the fictional main character of the film be the author of the book is fitting. As Grady put it, “What we are dealing with here appears to be at worst a good old-fashioned movie tie-in novel with a clever marketing plan, and at best a fun metafictional game in the spirit of The Princess Bride.”
What do you think? Is Elly Conway a celebrity in disguise? A transphobic author trying to whitewash her image? A robot? A cash grab from a movie studio? Or something else entirely?