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YouTube star Melanie Murphy says 'I definitely think I had an addiction to porn'

Melanie's YouTube videos have had over 70 million views
YouTuber and author Melanie Murphy. Photo by Lucy Nuzum

YouTuber and author Melanie Murphy. Photo by Lucy Nuzum

Kirsty Blake Knox

When Melanie Murphy began her YouTube channel in 2013, it was a means to boost her confidence and help with public speaking.

She was at DCU studying education and training, and thought of it as a hobby. A bit of fun. But by the time she graduated, she was making more from YouTube than she would on the dole. She had also built a considerable audience, so she decided to keep going.

Her lifestyle videos deal with a wide range of subjects; from 'how to make a vision board that actually works' and home renovation plans to more serious stuff like living with depression, eating disorders and being bisexual.

"[At first] people were looking at me like I had 10 heads. Saying 'What are you doing? What are you posting? Who even cares about this stuff?'" she says. "At that time, not many people were doing YouTube as a career."

Now, Murphy has 850,000 followers across her social media channels and her YouTube videos have been watched close to 70 million times. She is one of Ireland's most successful vloggers.

She explored the strange on/offline world in her first non-fiction book Fully Functioning Human (Almost) but, she says, that handbook was really a stepping stone to her true goal: writing fiction. "It has been a dream of mine since my nana used to take me to the library," she says. "Every time I see a book of mine on the shelves in Eason's, I just die."

Murphy's first novel, If Only, was a bestseller. Her second, Glass Houses, draws inspiration from one of her favourite childhood books; Frances Hodgson Burnett's masterpiece The Secret Garden.

That book centres on a young orphan Mary, whose journey towards self-knowledge begins with an unlocked door and an overgrown garden. In Murphy's book, an abandoned and smashed up glass house brings together a motley crew including two sparring sisters, Rosie and Jenna.

The complexities of sister/mother/daughter relationships are at the heart of the story, but that was not always the intention.

In fact, maternal relationships and babies were topics Melanie had intended to avoid when she began planning the book in 2019. Then the pandemic hit, and she had her first child. As a result of being pregnant and then nursing a baby, the subject of motherhood seemed to seep on to the pages.

"With small kids, it is so hard to get in the zone. I almost gave up [writing] so many times because I was so tired with exhaustion," she says.

"Going from no kids to one kid is a shock to the system. I think that's why I ended up writing about motherhood; I was constantly thinking about my son being in the other room and me not spending time with him. And I needed this to be worth it and for it to explore what I was thinking.

"I was having a lot of conversations with friends about children; not wanting to have children, or feeling pressure to have them… so it became a theme."

An understanding of the labour of love that is part of motherhood also came to the fore. "[When] I had my first child, I was realising how much my own mother went through for me when I was younger. In a way, I feel like I didn't see my mother until I had my son."

The spiky relationship between the two sisters took on an added significance during the writing process when Melanie fell out with her own sister; fellow YouTube star Jessie B.

Melanie Murphy's sister and fellow YouTube star Jessie B. Photo from @jessica__brennan on Instagram

Melanie Murphy's sister and fellow YouTube star Jessie B. Photo from @jessica__brennan on Instagram

The two had been close, often recording collaboration vlogs about make-up, romantic relationships and decluttering wardrobes, but shortly after the birth of Melanie's son, they ran into a disagreement.

The pair have since made up and are back to making vlogs but it was a destabilising experience. "[We] fell out really badly… it was awful. It was in the middle of [me writing about] these siblings keeping so much from each other… and judging [and] not opening up to each other.

"That was a case of life informing art and it was hard - and I so badly wanted to make up and I would be crying writing it sometimes."

Therapy is a key player in this book; nearly all the characters are either living with mental health issues, or dealing with personal trauma. They end up taking part in a form of immersive nature therapy.

Glass Houses by Melanie Murphy

Glass Houses by Melanie Murphy

A lot of the subjects Murphy touches upon are very heavy; suicide, multiple sclerosis, self-harm, addiction, image-based abuse, online harassment and anorexia. Rosie, the high-achieving sister, sleeps around and watches porn to distract herself from the emotional turmoil in her life.

Murphy was keen to explore the saturation of porn in today's society from a female perspective.

"I feel like our sexual self is such a huge part of our life - not everyone's life, but for a lot of people it is," she says. "That is something I have experience of… not that I had a sex addiction, but I definitely think I had an addiction to porn, so I was trying to tie that into her storyline. When everything starts to get too much, she buries her head in that. It is not often portrayed… if there is anything to do with sex, it's written from a man's perspective."

Cancel culture is also touched on. As someone who makes her bread and butter from online communities, Melanie has witnessed first-hand how quickly people can be cancelled.

Some of her close friends have gone through this and she has witnessed the psychological pain an online pile-on can inflict. While she accepts that 'call-out culture' is important, she says 'cancel culture' is entirely different. She describes it as "let's all come together and pile-on and say the worst things about this person and not view them as human..."

"[Twitter] is not a place for real conversation or discourse… I have multiple friends who have gone through pile-ons. It's just become an everyday sport for people. It's become entertainment… No-one thinks about how desperately that can affect you."

The subjects dealt with in Glass Houses are big and serious. But Murphy's writing has a lightness of touch, and real heart, and this prevents the book from becoming turgid. It absolutely zips along.

She thinks the pandemic, the falling-out with her sister, and becoming a first-time mother in the vacuum of a lockdown, helped make the novel what it is. "It was such a weird time and a lot of that weirdness came into the book," she laughs.

'Glass Houses', published by Hachette Books Ireland, is out now


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