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Beverley Callard’s called it “the book you’ll never forget”, while Sally Lindsay declared she couldn’t put it down. Claire King described it as “absolutely filthy” and even refined Dynasty legend Stephanie Beacham couldn’t get enough, calling it “fabulously wicked”.
Ruthless Women is a page-turning bonkbuster so gloriously sexy, funny and gripping, it’s sending the showbiz elite wild.
So it’s no surprise it’s author, Melanie Blake, has been thrust into the spotlight herself. She’s the most talked about new writer in decades – and after meeting her and reading the book, it’s soon obvious why.
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The highly anticipated novel features a cast of deliciously devilish, highly sexed characters, all fighting to survive the re-boot of Falcon Bay , a fictional soap opera – once the biggest in the world – but now in peril of cancellation due to falling ratings.
With ageing actresses desperate to cling onto their crowns and ruthless male executives intent on booting them out for younger women, it’s a true battle of the sexes. Throw into the mix a savvy agent desperately trying to keep her warring clients under control, and it’s clear why Melanie’s so familiar with her subject.
“Yes, it’s fiction, but I have truly experienced every single scene in that book first hand,” she laughs.
That’s because Melanie is one of the UK’s top showbiz agents, now representing a slew of TV icons.
“I’ve lived and breathed it all,” she tells us. “Tragedy, bankruptcy, attempted suicides, criminal dealings… as an agent you see all
that drama all the time!”
She may look after some of UK soaps’ top talent, but, just like the plot of a novel, Melanie reached the top the hard way. She started as an extra in EastEnders , before climbing the showbiz ladder in six-inch heels to become one of the most powerful women in the industry.
But writing has always been her dream and now, at the age of 44, she’s enjoying a second career in the spotlight usually saved for her leading ladies.
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Fresh from the success of her best selling debut novel Thunder Girls , Mel wrote Ruthless Women during lockdown, an unexpected upside to the pandemic. And she’s hoping her titillating tale will help get a knackered nation back into the bedroom! Here, the author extraordinaire tells us all about it…
Melanie, Ruthless Women is about as sexy as it gets. It’s been labelled ‘everything 50 Shades should have been’…
Isn’t that fabulous?! The reason for that is because 50 Shades is told from a man’s perspective, despite being written by a woman. In my book, no female is taken advantage of sexually by a man. If some bloke tried to tie up one of my female characters, they’d be more likely to tie him up – then laugh and go and sh*g his mate! All the ladies are in control of their own sex lives – and that is very much my experience. All the sex scenes in that book are real. I watched with my very own eyes as one household name, who’s still on screen now, went at it with her chauffeur in the limo before a TV awards ceremony!
Oh absolutely! And I put that scene in the book! Some actresses are so highly sexed in real life because many have access to specialist doctors who put them on particular blends of HRT that contain testosterone, which leaves them with the libido of a 25-year-old. And that’s why the characters in the book are so sexually adventurous. And in my experience, that’s what many soap actresses can be like.
So you had a lot of source material towork with…
Twenty years’ worth! Remember soap stars are basically locked in factories all year round, they work God-knows-what hours, then four times a year they get to go to an award ceremony and it all goes on! Even I’ve had some incredible sexual encounters over the years with household names. Obviously a lady never kisses and tells, but they know who they are! Imagine growing up watching a hot guy on TV, then years later, when you’re at the same level as them, you end up sleeping with them! I am unapologetic about that. Men do it all the time and are labelled a stud, yet we all know what they call a woman who is sexually confident, don’t we?! It’s sexism, to put it mildly. I think one of the reasons people find the book so bingeworthy is because the characters’ lives are so exciting. And the inspiration behind them, soap actresses, are super-human women.
How so? Aside from their crazy sex drives…
They have to juggle family life, juggle the drama, juggle the backstabbing world of television – which, let me tell you, is dog-eat-dog – they have to turn up for work, churn out more scenes in one week than an Oscar winner could do in their entire life – and look good doing it. They survive that every week for 50 weeks a year. Plus they lose all anonymity. These women are in our living rooms six nights a week, so the public feel they own them! I was talking to Gillian Taylforth the other day, she said the best thing about the pandemic is she can go shopping in Tesco without being recognised, thanks to the face mask. It’s the first time in her entire life she can do that!
You’ve been a renowned showbiz agent for decades – surely the characters are based on real people. Who’s who?
I couldn’t possibly say, or I’d get sued! [Laughs] No character is based on
an actual person, but they are amalgamation of everything and everyone I’ve seen in 20 years of this industry. They say write about what you know… and I’ve known a lot of b*tches and bad men.
Do you think you've always had an affinity to soap actresses?
As an extra on a soap, you’re considered to be a lowest rung of the ladder, but it was excellent training to see what life on set was like. After all, no one’s watching what the extra is looking at! I remember one day where I was supposed to be just standing by the bar in the Queen Vic, suddenly Jessie Wallace and Barbara Windsor went at it off camera! It was a well documented, real-life bust-up at the time – and believe me when I say it was worse than anything you’d see on the telly. When I was working as an extra on Corrie I used to go drinking with the late Lynne Perrie, who played Ivy Tilsley. Now she was wild. I’ve never experienced anything quite like the nights out I had with her!
But how does one go from being an extra on set to managing the cast?
I always had an opinion and I wasn’t afraid to share it. So I befriended the actresses I wasin close proximity with and told them what I felt they could be doing outside of the show. At first they were shocked at someone so young being so up front, but they saw something
in me – my passion for them getting the recognition they deserved. Most actresses in soaps over the age of 40 were getting left out of the press back then and I told them I could do something about it. It was a very risky move – as an extra, I wasn’t supposed to talk to the talent, but I was a huge champion of older women and I had to tell them what I thought!
So what happened then?
I struck up a friendship with Claire King from Emmerdale , and she was the first one to take a chance on me. By this point I’d ditched extra work and started managing music acts. Claire suggested my next step should be a soap agent and publicist. I was still living in a little bedsit at the time, and although I was starting to make money, things were tight. Not really knowing what I was doing, I went to the corner shop and bought all the magazines I could find, cold-called the editors and within 24 hours I’d secured three magazine covers for Claire and a fashion endorsement. Within weeks I opened my first agency, which would see me represent actresses such as Beverley Callard, Patsy Kensit, Gaynor Faye and Sherrie Hewson to name just a few.
Impressive! And now it’s your turn to be on the cover of magazines!
I know, it feels surreal! But I don’t care about fame, I’ve seen enough of its dark side to not want to chase it myself, but I understand it’s
all part of the deal. I just want people to love reading Ruthless Women as much as I enjoyed writing it. During these miserable times if I can help people escape the drudgery of lockdown for a few days, I’d be so happy. I’ve put my heart and soul into it and I’m so glad it’s been so well received. If I’m remembered for nothing else, I’d be happy if they put ‘Here Lies The Author of Ruthless Women’ on my headstone!
We know people will love it – we certainly did!
Thank you. It’s an escapist read that will leave you seeing soaps in a whole new light. You’ll never look at your favourite show in the same way again! Because as shocking as the book is, that’s what life on a soap is like. Critics have called it the Devil Wears Prada of the soap industry! I’m opening the studio doors to show that life behind the scenes on a cosy soap is everything but. It’s every woman for herself!
Ruthless Women is published by Head Of Zeus books on 18 February, priced at £12.99… get it half price here
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