Monday 17 June 2019

'Representation of eating disorders, mental illness and the LGBTQ community was important to me' - YouTube star Melanie Murphy on first fiction novel

Melanie Murphy. Photo: Emily Quinn
Melanie Murphy. Photo: Emily Quinn

Áine Kenny

Irish YouTuber Melanie Murphy has just published her first fiction novel, drawing on the themes she has explored in her flinchingly honest videos.

The Skerries native is famous for tackling tough topics including eating disorders, mental health, and sexuality on her YouTube channel, which has almost 600,000 subscribers. 

However, despite having gained confidence over her six years online, and having previously penned a bioography, Fully Functioning Human, she admits it was daunting writing a novel.

“I have imposter syndrome now that I am getting a fiction novel published,” she tells Independent.ie

If Only, published by Hachette Books Ireland this week, focuses on a 30-year-old woman called Erin. 

“I didn’t want her to be a pushover. She is at a crossroads in her life. She was about to marry a man she had been with for ages, but she broke off the engagement because it wasn’t right. I’ve been there myself – staying in a bad relationship is not worth it. I should have left.”

“She has a degree in journalism but she’s not using it, she’s a waitress in a café in London.”

Melanie reveals that the book also has a magic realism element.

“Her granny gives her an heirloom that allows her to glimpse what her life would have been like, had she made different choices. It’s something I’ve always thought about.”

“The first thing she thinks is ‘what if I was skinner, what if I stuck to my diet?’. She has all this control around food. This isn’t healthy… I wanted to get this message through in a non-patronising way.

“I think things like mental health and body image really came out in the book. I have experience being overweight, underweight, and I had orthorexia. I didn’t know how to stop, and it’s taken me a long time to realise body image is separate from what you actually look like.”

She adds, “I delve into real issues women face. Erin has Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome.  She wonders if she will ever be able to have a family. She also lost her mam at a young age.”

Books written by YouTubers have had their fair share of controversy. English YouTuber Zoella came under fire when it was revealed that her bestselling novel, Girl Online, was ghost-written. Melanie recognises that some YouTube authors receive help with writing, but says she would “rather have a book that’s completely mine.”

“I’ve shared the whole writing process with my viewers. I didn’t want anyone to think I hadn’t written it… this isn’t my first book; I wrote a high fantasy novel when I was 19. I also published a nonfiction book called Fully Functioning Human (Almost).”

YouTube, she claims, helped with writing, “Making videos has been practice for my storytelling and editing.”

The vlogger also credits YouTube with helping her overcome an eating disorder. “People are inspired by others. I would never have gotten help if I hadn’t seen another YouTuber talking about her eating disorder. I thought I was alone.

“Sometimes I open up more on YouTube than I do in real life. There are just things you wouldn’t talk about down in the pub.  It's very cathartic, it's like therapy, you can bare everything. Other people see it and respond.” 

Melanie says that having LGBTQ representation in the book was also important, as she is bisexual. “I’d love to live in a world where a bisexual man isn’t labeled as gay, and a bisexual woman isn’t ‘straight and looking for attention’," she says.

“In the book there’s two bi characters, but there’s not a big song and dance about it. One is a woman who was married to a man and had children, but her second marriage is to a woman. That representation is important to me.” 

Melanie says that before she writes a book with a LGBTQ main character, she needs to do wider reading and research. “I don’t want to write a character who is defined by their sexuality. It needs to be a bigger story.” 

“Representation meant a lot to me. My audience is very diverse. I didn’t want this to be a stereotypical book, there’s a million of them out there.” 

Ultimately for Melanie, this is a novel about acceptance. “Erin’s journey is about accepting her life for what it actually is, and not what she wants it to be," she says.

If Only is out now.

Read more: Laying it Bare: Irish YouTube star Melanie Murphy on everything from her bisexuality to her acne

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