Melanie Blake is one of the most empowering women we have ever spoken to, she champions women in the entertainment industry, especially older women who find themselves losing out on jobs and roles to those much younger than them.
Having moved from her home town of Manchester in her teens, desperate to escape her father who had joined a church which had strict rules, to London using the money she had managed to save working various part-time jobs, she became a camera assistant at the BBC, working on Top of the Pops. The role changed her life and opened doors for her.
She met Steps singer Claire Richards who was performing there. Claire Richards became one of her first clients as a manager. Melanie then opened her own agency Urban Associates building up the client base and securing it as one of the UK’s leading talent agencies, representing some of the UK’s best-loved talent.
Now Melanie is turning her hand to releasing a book and a play, The Thunder Girls. We had a chat with her about writing both.
1) Which came first when creating The Thunder Girls, the idea for the novel or the idea for the play?
I started The Thunder Girls Novel twenty years ago so definitely the book. I originally was offered big money for the rights to it but it was on the condition, by men!, that I change the female leading ladies ages from 50’s to 30’s because publishers felt no one was interested in middle-aged women, I was only in my 20’s at the time and I was skint, living in a bedsit and really needed the money but I knew they were wrong so I didn’t accept the deal. It says a lot about the industry that its taken two decades for there to be the support and interest in a tale about four 50-year-old women and the sales of the book and the sell-out stage show prove I was right to wait. The bottom line is The Thunder Girls story is an epic read that most people can’t put down and have read in two nights – so that’s all the proof I needed to know I knew what I was doing all along.
They are absolutely nothing alike. The Thunder Girls novel is an epic blockbuster set over thirty years which takes you past and present through the women previous and current relationships plus its got explosive storylines that wouldn’t be possible on stage, in a movie or a tv show absolutely but a stage definitely not.
The theatre show was a totally different beast. We knew we could not pack 30 years of action into one show so we picked one chapter, The Reunion Dinner From Hell, which is about halfway into the novel. This gave us a chance to set an entire show around one night and tell a story in one go. We workshopped the script with the cast several times until it was so fine-tuned it actually even blew me away! I can honestly say anyone who is lucky enough to see The Thunder Girls live, I saw lucky because of being sold out, is in the absolute night of their lives.
3) How long did it take you to write Thunder Girls?
I wrote the first draft, 100,000 words in a month, then twenty years re-writing it!
4)Bringing the show back to your home city of Manchester is obviously a deeply personal move for you. The show has sold out at the Lowry theatre, did it take you by surprise the demand for it, when the book hasn’t been released yet?
I should say I was surprised because that sounds right – but I honestly wasn’t – the actresses explained the shows premise so well during the PR you could literally see the tickets selling by the second. I was surprised to later find out that it is incredibly rare of a new work to sell out as fast as we did so at that point yes I was very emotional, it was proof that during all those years of being told no and to change the ages I was right to stay true to my vision.
5) You’ve written four very strong and empowering characters with the Thunder Girls, who do you think in the entertainment industry does a good job at empowering others?
Absolutely not. The entertainment industry attacks most women over fifty, that is why this project was so hard to get off the ground. There is inherent ageism and definite a class issue. My characters in the book are working class made good, like myself, so are the actresses in the show and we are all from regional roots- we all are proud of our heritage and all have unique accents and voices – when most people from outside of the ‘bubble’ make it the first thing they do is start talking like they live in Buckingham Palace – I mean have you heard Geri Halliwell recently? there’s certainly no trace of the old Watford girl we all loved so much.
6) You’ve done so much in your career, from TV production to journalism and artist management, etc? What is it about the entertainment industry you love?
It’s the fact that you can reach an audience, I never forgot the buzz of having a front page story, whether it was about a client or a feature I had written, and thinking wow millions of people in the UK are going to be reading about that in the morning and that buzz never left me. Now I reach an even wider audience as the book will be published globally so to imagine people all over the world reading my work and perhaps being influenced by it the way I have been by other people who went before me is mind blowing.
7) What has been the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Honestly, none, I had to make it all up as I went along. If I had listened to anyone who had told me over and over again that my ideas were wrong, that my work was wrong, that my attitude was wrong, I’d never ever had got anywhere. I have however given some great advice to others that I just discovered myself and that – go with your gut and keep fighting till you get what you want. We live in a world now where you don’t need big companies to back your ideas, if you want to write you can blog, if you want to present you can vlog, you can self-publish, you can crowdfund – its way easier now than when I started out two decades ago – I was the exception to the rule becoming successful in media the way that I did, nowadays, if you have a good idea and are willing to put the effort in there is no reason not to succeed.
8) If you could sit down with your younger self knowing everything you know now, what would you tell them?
You were right! And I am proud of you for fighting the way you did. I am sad you never had a happy childhood or an easy start in life but it will all be worth it – the best is yet to come and when it does you will know it was all worthwhile.
9)What advice would you give young people who are looking for a career in either journalism, PR Artist management, etc?
Get out there and do it. There is no excuse not to get what you want now. I look at all the people breaking through online themselves sometimes just from blogging in there bedroom and then next minute you know they are in Vogue! The main advice would be – don’t talk about it – actually get on with it.
10) We know you are working on your second novel, and plan to add more Thunder Girl shows, and that it could become a film… but what else do you have planned?
My next novel is out next year and is even more outrageous than The Thunder Girls, its set on a soap opera, which was where I spent half of my twenty-year career, as an agent to some of the most famous soap stars in the country so I certainly know what I’m writing about. I’m also currently involved with the international development of The Thunder Girls film and tv rights and then in 2020 Thunder, The Live Play will be touring the country so its all go. On top of this, I will be working on book three and also running my management company. I’ll also be spending some time in LA working on a project I have in development there. I’m 40 now, I feel like I want to pack as much in as I can over the next couple of years then possibly try for a family at 43, I’ve already done some fertility treatment and have eggs in storage ready for IVF so the cherry on top of all this would be to have a family by 45 – but right now I’m pretty happy with my lot, I just hope that everyone loves reading The Thunder Girls as much as I loved writing it – I fought hard to get these ladies out there for the readers so I love seeing the fantastic reviews its been getting and I can’t wait to see the audiences faces at the live show – they are in for one bumpy night!
You pre-order The Thunder Girls here.