Read an extract from Melanie Blake's addictive page-turner The Thunder Girls 3 weeks ago

Read an extract from Melanie Blake's addictive page-turner The Thunder Girls

Filled with obsession, addiction, betrayal and revenge, The Thunder Girls charts the rise and fall of an 80’s girl band who attempt to reunite after three decades.

In those decades apart life was far from the dream they were living as members of The Thunder Girls. Breakdowns, bankruptcy, addiction and divorce have been a constant part of their lives. They’ve been to hell and back, and some are still there.

Can the past be laid to rest for a price, or is there more to this reunion than any of them could possibly know? Whilst they all hunger for a taste of success a second time around, someone is plotting their downfall in the deadliest way possible...

You can read an extract from Melanie Blake's The Thunder Girls below.


Prologue

November 1989

Carly Hughes stepped from the back of the limousine at the entrance to Shine Records. She was wearing a short kilt and leather jacket. Lacy tights with biker boots; big hair, kooky-looking shades and an oversized designer bag worth thousands.

Every inch the pop star.

Her driver, Dale, threw a protective arm around her as he steered her past thousands of screaming Thunder Girls fans, Carly stopping to scribble her name on the autograph books and tour programmes being thrust at her. Some of the fans were hysterical. A young girl clung to her, sobbing, burying her tear-streaked face in her idol’s new jacket.

Without taking his eyes off her, a handsome lad was snap- ping endless pictures on a battered Instamatic whilst staring at Carly intently. Dale let Carly know it was time to move. She detached herself from the crying girl and escaped into the building.

As they waited for the lift she inspected her jacket. ‘I think I’ve got snot on my sleeve. First time I’ve worn this, as well.’

Dale frowned and handed her a crisp white hanky. She dabbed at the damp leather.

‘I keep telling you not to be so touchy-feely,’ he said. ‘You don’t know where they’ve been.’

‘Harsh, Dale. They’re just kids—’

‘Bunking off school, most of them,’ he grumbled.

‘—hanging about in the cold for hours, hoping for a word.’

‘You’re way too trusting. They could pull a knife, anything.’

Dale was ex-military. Special Forces. Decorated for bravery. Secretly hoping someone would step out of line one day so he could show what he was made of.

‘They’re our fans, they’d never hurt us.’ Carly gave him a dazzling smile. ‘Anyway, that’s why you’re here.’

He shook his head. ‘That weird one taking pictures . . . I wouldn’t trust him as far as I could throw him – his eyes don’t look right.’

She giggled. ‘Don’t be mean. He’s the Mad Fan – goes everywhere we do, just likes to look at us and take his pics, bless him.’

‘Yeah, well that’s odd as well, the quiet ones are always the worst.’

On the fourth floor of Shine Records, Roxanne Lloyd was in the glass-fronted executive meeting room – the think-tank, as it was known. She examined her reflection in the glass. Mussed-up dark hair tumbling over her shoulders, leopard- print T-shirt. Killer heels she could hardly walk in. Debbie Harry meets Joan Jett.

She checked her Swatch watch.

A good five minutes had passed, no one had even both- ered to ask if she’d like a drink, and there wasn’t even so much as a bottle of water on the table. What she really wanted was a rum and ginger ale but she knew she shouldn’t have one.

Annoyed, she paced up and down. Number one in the charts and not even a bloody cup of tea on offer, this was outrageous, she thought to herself. Glancing at the corridor window she saw one of the junior A & R girls in the open- plan office gawping at her. Roxanne made a face. The girl went pink and looked away. Roxanne sighed. Where were the others? She felt like throwing a proper pop star strop just for the fun of it – flinging open the door and demanding someone be sacked for not bothering to even check on her while she waited.

Tempting, but, no, she would wait until the others arrived and kick off in numbers, that would really cause a reaction.

Restless, she perched on the table in the centre of the room. Piled her hair into a messy bun, the way she’d worn it for the Melody Maker cover shoot. As she gazed around the room it struck her the think-tank looked different. Bare. She could have sworn a picture of the girls on the red carpet at the Brits once took up most of the back wall. Weren’t there a couple of Thunder Girls gold discs on display as well last time she was there? And where was their Record of the Year award?

Carly stepped from the lift to see a familiar figure coming out of the loo. Anita Owen, in an off-the-shoulder dress and spiky heels, rummaging in her bag for something.

Carly bellowed at the top of her voice. ‘Hey, you – what do you think you’re doing?’

Anita shrieked and dropped her bag, sending her make-up, purse, perfume and keys onto the wooden floor, scattering in different directions.

Carly doubled up. ‘You should see your face!’

‘Silly cow! I nearly died!’ Anita scrabbled about, picking up her belongings, as Carly hunkered down next to her, retrieving a lipstick poking out from under a vintage juke- box, still laughing.

Roxanne saw them interacting down the corridor – Carly, always dazzling, and Anita, always making the biggest scene. Impatient as ever, Roxanne yanked open the door of the think-tank to join in the laughing and bickering. ‘Thank God! I’m about to die of boredom here. I was starting to think I’d got the wrong day.’

Carly hugged her. ‘Where’s Chrissie?’

‘No sign of her yet,’ Roxanne replied, plonking herself down on the edge of the table.

Anita placed her bag on the floor and rummaged around till she found a coconut lip balm. She started smothering it on with her fingers whilst mumbling, ‘That’s weird, she’s always here first, and I had her driver this morning. Gorgeous George.’

‘So, who’s driving Chrissie?’ Carly said.

‘Search me.’

Roxanne looked perplexed. ‘George always drives Chrissie – she usually won’t let anyone else have him – there must be a hot new driver on the team and she’s nabbed him first.’

‘Poor George! He must be gutted – he barely spoke to me,’ Anita said, flopping into a seat and fishing a compact from her pocket. She checked her reflection and frowned, slipping on a pair of shades. ‘Someone needs to have a word with Rick about dragging us in for these early meetings. How are you supposed to look your best at the crack of dawn?’

Carly laughed. ‘It’s midday!’

Anita peered at her over the top of the shades. ‘Exactly, and this is the music biz. We don’t operate on normal hours.’ Carly dug a magazine out of her bag. ‘Anyway, we’ve made it onto the cover of The Face. We are officially cool.’

Roxanne rolled her eyes. ‘Like we need that lot to tell us. None of those mags wanted anything to do with us when we started, now they can’t get enough.’

Carly gazed at the bare back wall. ‘What’s happened to our picture?’

Roxanne shrugged.

Anita grabbed the magazine. ‘Remember them doing that piece on manufactured bands being the death of the music industry? That snooty woman who said we had “zero credibility” and ripped us to shreds, saying we wouldn’t last five minutes.’

Carly shrugged. ‘She must have felt sick when the single went to number one in the midweek charts the same day her piece hit the stands. And now we are on their cover!’

They’d had a bumpy start but in the course of two crazy years the Thunder Girls had proved the critics wrong with a string of number one singles, triple-platinum albums, record-breaking tours and award-winning videos. Not to mention several impressive performances on live TV that proved the girls could actually sing. Silencing the critics once and for all. The icing on the cake was a Brit award.

Now, on the brink of the new decade, they were ready to go even bigger.

Anita studied the cover of The Face, her expression darkening.

‘What have they done to my nose?’ she asked. ‘That’s not my nose. Tell me that’s not my nose.’

Without looking, Roxanne said, ‘It’s definitely been tweaked.’

‘They’ve made it bloody smaller, the racists – why have they only altered my pic!’ Anita was indignant. ‘There’s nothing wrong with my nose, is there?’ she said, touching her nostrils.

Carly took the magazine from her. She really did look stunning in that photo. ‘No, it’s lovely as it is! I don’t know why they have done that but don’t let it spoil the moment, it’s still a great picture.’

‘A great picture of you,’ Anita said.

‘Of all of us,’ Carly told her.

Roxanne was now peering at the image. ‘Apart from the fact they’ve put Chrissie at the front and made the rest of us look like backing singers.’

Carly snatched the magazine back and stuffed it into her bag. ‘So, anyway . . . can’t wait to see what Rick’s got lined up for us next,’ she said, changing the subject. ‘Come on, Roxy, you must have some idea. He’s your boyfriend.’

Roxanne held up her hands. ‘I swear, he hasn’t said a word.’

‘Something amazing, I bet, knowing Rick,’ Carly said. ‘I reckon our darling manager is lining up a world tour. Stadiums. Course, we’ll need to knock out a new album first but that’s no big deal.’

Anita looked up and saw Jack Raven, head of Shine Records, coming their way, sporting his usual faded jeans and leather bomber over a David Bowie T-shirt. His PA, Susan Fox, in checked trousers and a sloppy jumper, trotted along beside him. Under one arm she carried an enormous diary. The sight of the two of them sent a ripple of excite- ment through the office.

‘Stand by your beds,’ Anita said.

Roxanne followed her gaze. ‘Wow, we must be doing even better than we thought if we’re getting an audience with the actual big boss.’

‘Must be something huge for him to show up.’ Anita whipped out her compact again and touched up her lippy.

Jack strode into the room. ‘Morning, girls.’ He locked eyes with Carly, holding his gaze on her for a moment longer than the others before looking down to check his watch. ‘Afternoon. Sorry to keep you waiting. Things are cray-zee, as you can imagine.’

‘We’ve been here ages,’ Roxanne said. ‘Hours. And no one’s been in to offer us a drink.’ She aimed a pointed look at Susan.

Carly gestured at the bare wall. ‘And what’s happened to our picture from the Brits?’

‘We’re having a bit of a change around,’ he replied. ‘We’ve got something else coming in here.’ He gave Susan a questioning look. ‘Remind me.’

She consulted the diary. ‘Kylie at Hyde Park Festival. With the crowd behind her. Everyone with their lighters in the air.’

Anita gasped. ‘Kylie!’

Carly interrupted. ‘What about our picture – what have you done with it?’

Jack ignored her. ‘Let’s take a seat and get started.’

Carly opened her mouth, but Anita spoke first. ‘Where’s Rick? We’re meant to be having a strategy meeting – the Thunder Girls in the Nineties. Whole new era. New festivals, concerts, Wembley Stadium!’

‘Wembley . . .’ Carly echoed dreamily.

‘Chrissie’s late but let’s start and we’ll fill her in when she finally gets here,’ Roxanne said.

‘I think you’ll find she’s not just late – she’s a no-show,’ Jack said with a strange smile that made him look even more odd than usual.

Carly glanced at the others. ‘Okay, we’ll do it without her and tell her what’s happening later.’

The girls sat at the conference table, across from Jack and Susan. There was an awkward pause.

Jack said, ‘Ah, this is difficult.’ He waited a moment. ‘Just wondering how best to put this so no one gets upset.’

The girls exchanged a look. ‘How best to put what, exactly?’ Roxanne asked. ‘Put what? What’s wrong with her – is she ill or something?’

‘Ill? No, nothing like that. The thing is . . .’ He sighed. ‘There’s been a slight change of plan in terms of . . . strategy. As you all know, Chrissie’s a bit special.’ The others bristled. ‘She’s always had that certain something. What my A & R guys call charisma. Stardust. An aura, if you like. Not that I need to tell you girls. You already know all about the magic of Chrissie. I mean, you’ve bathed in it.’

‘We’ve all got charisma,’ Roxanne told him, ‘which is why we’re the world’s number one girl band.’

Jack ignored her. ‘Suffice to say, it’s highly unusual for someone of Chrissie’s calibre to be in a band. We’d expect someone with that level of star quality to be an artist in their own right, not part of a line-up. Think Annie Lennox, Stevie Nicks . . .’

Anita’s jaw dropped. ‘Chrissie’s not in their league.’

Jack pressed on. ‘Which is why we’ve been looking at how we might re-brand . . . maximize potential.’ A puzzled look passed between the girls. ‘And, after a good deal of thought and one or two confidential planning meetings involving a handful of top people, we’ve worked out a way forward.’

Roxanne started to say something but he put up a hand to silence her.

‘We’re launching Chrissie as a solo artist.’

Anita stared at him. ‘What? What did you just say?’

Roxanne had a sudden sense of dread. ‘You’re not making sense,’ she said.

Jack gave her an icy smile. ‘Really? I thought I’d been clear. Which bit of “solo artist” don’t you understand?’

Carly shook her head and stared Jack dead in the eye. ‘I don’t believe it. She’d have told us if all this was going on –and she hasn’t said a word.’

Jack looked at Carly sympathetically. ‘That’s because I asked her not to. Sorry.’

Roxanne thought back to the last time they had all been together. Two nights ago at her place. Drinking, eating pizza. Anita making some crazy speech about the Thunder Girls and world domination. Carly getting emotional, saying they were like sisters and she loved them to bits. Saying wouldn’t it be awful being a solo artist, going it alone, not having your best friends with you? Chrissie had sat there and said nothing.

Roxanne turned on Jack. ‘This is bullshit! We’re a band. In it together. There’s no way Chrissie would walk out and drop us without a word. Not at the top of our game. We know her. She wouldn’t do it.’

‘You might not know her as well as you think.’ Jack made a face. ‘Look, I can see it’s awkward for you girls, a lot to take in, and I wish you’d had more time to process things. Roxy, I’d have thought you’d have had a heads-up from Rick – pillow talk, and all that.’

Carly and Anita stared at Roxanne, who was now a ghostly shade of white, as Jack continued. ‘Anyway, we can’t afford to twiddle our thumbs while you lick your wounds. It’s about timing. We have to launch Chrissie now, while the band’s at its peak. This is her moment.’

Carly stared at Jack, a dumbfounded look on her face.

Anita erupted. ‘It’s our moment, you prick!’

He spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness. ‘Believe me, girls, if I could think of something to soften the blow, I would.’

Carly jumped up. ‘Okay, here’s what you can do. You can tell her she is not going solo. You can also remind her it’s not all about her – she is one-quarter of a band, not bloody Belinda Carlisle, or whoever she thinks she is. Then you tell her to get her arse in here now and forget this selfish, self- obsessed idea about being the frigging star of the show and dropping the rest of us – her mates – in it.’ She held his gaze, defiant. ‘That would be a start.’

Jack shrugged. ‘Sorry – no can do.’

Carly stared at him again. For a moment everyone was silent, then she spoke.

‘Look, there’s obviously been a mix-up,’ she said, softly this time. ‘We need to talk to Rick. He’ll get this sorted.’

Jack looked away from her towards Susan and then back.

‘I was coming to that,’ he said. ‘Rick has done an amazing job with you girls. I didn’t think he had it in him. Before the Thunder Girls he’d never had a proper hit. Rick made it happen for you, and all credit to him.

‘Anyway, as I’m sure you’ll appreciate, Chrissie needs a steady hand. Someone who understands what you might call her foibles. She’s an artist, she’s sensitive, so we need the right person to guide her.’ He looked at the girls, as if to make sure they were following. ‘We can’t just palm her off on anyone. In my opinion, Rick – your old manager – is the right man for the job. So he’ll be taking the helm on this.’

Roxanne clutched her stomach, looking as if she was about to be sick. ‘No, you’re lying,’ she almost whispered. ‘He wouldn’t do this to me, to us.’

Jack smiled. ‘Scout’s honour, I’m not – he would and he has.’

An awkward silence filled the room, before Anita broke the spell. She could hardly contain herself. ‘He’s your fella – how could you not know?’

Roxanne shook her head. ‘I didn’t know, I swear.’

‘So what about us then?’ Anita turned on Jack. ‘How are we supposed to keep going as a three-piece when you’ve made Chrissie look like the lead?’

‘You won’t be a three-piece.’

‘So you’re bringing someone new in?’

‘It’s a bit more straightforward than that,’ Jack told her. ‘As of now, we’re not moving forward with the Thunder Girls—’

Anita gasped. ‘What are you talking about? We’re the big- gest girl band in the world.’

‘So you keep saying,’ Jack said with an eye-roll. ‘It’s the perfect time to stop. Quit while you’re ahead then. There’s nothing sadder than a band dragging things out to the bitter end.’

‘We’re nowhere near that point, Jack, and you know it!’ Anita shouted as Roxanne looked out of the window to see the whole office looking in at them.

‘It’s too late,’ Jack continued. ‘It’s been decided and if you check your contracts you’ll see Shine owns the Thunder Girls – the name, the rights, the lot. Course, you’re free to go solo . . . although we all know how that works out for the back-up.’ He rubbed his hands. ‘Right, there’s a press release ready to go out, soon as I give the word: “Thunder Girls are No-Go!” ’ He looked pleased. ‘I came up with that.’

Anita felt like punching him.

‘Your cars are waiting to take you home. Susan will show you out through the loading bay, in case our friends in the press have somehow got wind of any of this. We don’t want to be . . . insensitive.’ He looked at Roxanne, who was in tears, her face streaked with mascara. ‘You might want to clean yourself up before you go.’

Susan held the door open. In shock, they stumbled out. Jack caught hold of Carly before she left the room.

‘This is it,’ he said, lowering his voice. ‘This is our chance.’

She stared at him in disbelief. ‘Our chance for what?’

‘Now we can be together for real. A proper couple, a family. Put the past behind us, get married, the works.’

She gave him a searing look. ‘You think I’d want anything to do with you after what you’ve just done?’

Now it was Jack that looked shocked as he hung on to her.

‘But I did it all for you, Carly.’

She yanked her arm free. ‘You did it for me? Yeah, right. If the band’s over, so are we. I never want to see you again!’

Turning on her heel, she ran after the others.