Blockbuster author Melanie Blake reveals how her amazing career started flyering at the Edinburgh Fringe
Ground-breaking publicist, Top of the Pops' camera assistant and soap extra, best-selling author Melanie Blake had a colourful career before turning to writing with the publication of her 2019 blockbuster debut novel, The Thunder Girls.
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Now, as she prepares for her second hit novel, Restless Women, to be released in paperback on July 8, the 44-year-old reveals she is fast heading towards the delivery deadline for its sequel, Guilty Women. Thankfully, that doesn't stop her taking time out to recall that it was here, in Edinburgh flyering at the Fringe aged just 18, that she took the first steps of her amazing journey, one that would lead her to represent some of the biggest names on television.
"It was 1995,” she recalls, “comedy was really big and I was there for Jenny Eclair, she won the Perrier Award with Prozac & Tantrums that year, but I ended up flyering for different shows every day. I loved it because I'm passionate about performances, I could never flyer for anything I knew wasn't good but luckily I got the bigger shows that people raved about."
For a Stockport girl with severe dyslexia, no qualifications in the midst of escaping a childhood of poverty and religious extremism, her time in Edinburgh left a lasting impression.
"We shared three girls to a room, I wasn't used to that because I only had a brother. It was great, I loved the craziness of the Fringe. The landladies and landlords were so kind to us because we were young and poor. They'd charge £15 a day and give us massive dinners. I'd sit there thinking, 'They can't be making any money.' Basically, they were looking after us.
"But what I took away from Edinburgh was this; meeting so many actors with such passion for their craft that they came to the Fringe to lose money just to show how much they cared about what they loved, showed me how committed they were and how respected they should be."
A year later, at 19, Blake was working as an extra on Coronation Street, EastEnders, Hollyoaks, Brookside and Emmerdale, where the next chapter of her career quickly took shape.
She explains, "I was never starstruck because, when you grow up watching television like I did – I was ignored by my family because a. they were never in, and b. my dad was a nutter who never really wanted to talk to us – you feel like you already know the actors and actresses. When I started to mix with those actresses on the studio floor, I noticed that the lovely Beverley Callard, Claire King, your Michelle Collinses, Stephanie Beechams and Sherrie Hewsons just weren't being treated in the same way as the younger ones.
"I could see it and, because I wasn't important, nobody was watching as I sidled up to them on set to say how amazing their scenes were and how surprised I was that they weren't on the front covers of any magazines.
"Claire King, said, 'We don't get front covers any more, they think we're too old.'
At the time, the Emmerdale actress was up for a Best Actress soap award. When that didn't secure her a front cover, Blake decided something was very wrong and, after talks with King who played Kim Tate in long-running countryside soap, and Claire Richards of pop band Steps, she accepted the challenge when they both invited her to be their publicity agent.
Going to her corner shop the next day, Blake bought a copy of every magazine she could find, called the editors and offered them a “Claire King special on life at 40”.
By the end of that first day, the fledgling publicist had secured three front covers and fashion endorsements for both King and Richards. Urban Associates was born. Earlier this year, some 17 years on, having turned over more than £30 million, Blake closed the agency to concentrate on her writing.
"One of my biggest successes ever was Colleen Nolan and The Nolans," she says. "Everybody told me in 2009 that they were past it but everything Colleen touched turned to gold."
Her time as a celebrity agent and publicist to the stars now finds Blake widely credited as having changed the way the industry views actresses over the age of 40.
Proudly, she says, "I built my entire career on representing older women. When I started representing actresses at 21, they were all in their 40s, 50s, and older. Back then, an actress fell off a cliff when they reached 40, they don't now."
Indeed as she approaches 45 herself, today it's Blake who needs an agent... or three.
She laughs, "It's weird, suddenly everybody wants me and I've got three agents, five lawyers and two international specialists. It is bizarre."
It was during lockdown that the author remembered she'd already penned the synopsis of a second novel, Ruthless Women, which was published in hardback in February.
"I wrote for 17 hours a day for seven weeks and that was it, it existed. With no idea if it was any good, it went to auction and has now sold more than 100,000 copies in the UK alone and been translated into five languages."
A gripping revenge thriller set on the set of the fictional Jersey soap Falcon Bay, Ruthless Women draws on Blake's 20 years working in television and centres on a group of strong older women who have captured the hearts of readers nationwide. It has helped cement her tag as the next 'Jackie Collins', a comparison she is learning to live with, if somewhat reluctantly.
"When that comparison was first made after the publication of Thunder Girls, I would say, 'Absolutely, I am not'. Then the Jackie Collins' Foundation asked me to write the forward for her book Drop Dead Beautiful, which is being re-released this year. So, I'm starting to think that, although I'll never be her, she might just be happy for me to carry that mantle, in that I am a woman who succeeded against all the odds to be the lady boss while helping other women. So yes, I'll take it."
It's another group of strong, older women that bringsBlake to Edinburgh next year when the stage version of The Thunder Girls finally makes it to the Capital after being delayed by the pandemic. Starring Colleen Nolan, Beverley Callard and ex-EastEnder Carol Harrison, The Thunder Girls tells the story of a girl band that reunites over dinner 30 years on from their acrimonious split to discuss a reunion tour.
Blake reveals, "It was really sad that we didn't get to Edinburgh last year. We'd sold out, the show had taken a million at the box office. So now we'll be there in April 2022 with the same cast, although it's not been officially announced yet."
Ruthless Women is released in paperback on July 8