Welcome back to Jackie Buxton today, who visited the blog earlier this year on the launch of her memoir, Tea and Chemo, and is now here again to chat about her debut novel, Glass Houses, which came out in June 2016. It’s a modern day morality tale that opens with a car accident that one of the main characters, Tori, has apparently caused by texting while driving on the motorway.
Jackie, I found the exploration of blame and judgement, and what to me felt like a modern day witch hunt, fascinating. Can you tell us what made you want to explore this side of human nature?
I’ve always been interested in the human psyche, particularly when it comes to our foibles and hypocrisies. We jump a red light because we’re late, for example, but conveniently forget about this as we rant at the tale of somebody committing a similar traffic violation which has more serious consequences.
Years before I wrote the first words of Glass Houses, a couple of, ‘wrong place, wrong time’ articles in the news where press and public had demonised the perpetrator of a foolish but not malicious act, had really got my mind buzzing with the contradictions of human behaviour. I found myself asking: if there are no unfortunate repercussions from our ‘crime’, if we escape without incident, are we any less guilty than the person whose ‘crime’ does have consequences and whose life is thrust into a desperately dark place? In a caring, cohesive society, what should the appropriate punishment be for somebody who has done something stupid but not through malice or cold-blooded evil? And I couldn’t help thinking that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones…
The effects of the accident that the book opens with ripple out into many lives for a long time, yet the main character Tori, refuses to let it ruin her life. Where did the inspiration for Tori come from?
I guess the inspiration came from lots of different behaviours and personality traits I admire and from the role I needed Tori to perform in the story. I needed a feisty, strong but flawed character. I wanted the type of person who when they hit rock bottom, manages to find a strength to fight which they might not have known they had. I see this time and time again in my contemporaries, community and beyond: people who appear to ‘have no luck’ but emerge battered and bruised, but smiling and appreciative.
This impresses me much more than riches or rank ever could. Tori needed a big dollop of this. I wanted her to be an ordinary person who when pushed to the brink, could be quite inspiring – a little like any of us, I hope. In trying to forge a new life she has the very best of intentions but – hey – she’s never done this before and so her actions don’t always give her the outcome she anticipates. If people were to read the novel as I hope, thinking, ‘There but for the grace of god go I,’ then there was no place for a superhero. Tori had to be any one of us.
I also needed Tori to be middle-aged. I wanted her to be a positive representation of a woman in her fifties, a concept sometimes over-looked in fiction. It’s a bizarre notion, granted, as she’s committed such a selfish act but I hope that readers find her zeal, joie de vivre and tenacity impressive and her idealism and ethics at the very least, appealing.
Etta, who helps Tori at the scene of the accident, is your second narrator, and I think you handle the impact it has on her life really well and the morality questions it poses in her mind about her previous actions. Was it always going to be told from the two points of view or did one character come first?
Oh, that’s made my day, thank you!
And how funny you should ask about the points of view. Glass Houses was going to be one woman and one stupid mistake and that woman was Tori. It’s unimaginable to me now that Etta didn’t really exist in the early days when over the years, she’s become as real to me as a sister. She had a cameo appearance in the original first chapter but only as a ‘witness’. She was a ‘tool’ to help show Tori slumped over the steering wheel because Tori wasn’t in a position to describe herself and omniscient narration wouldn’t have been evocative enough, I felt.
Early readers were unanimous in asking questions about the witness who finally had a name: Etta. And as I answered them, Etta started to have feelings, opinions, a character and motivations and thus she developed a life, and a secret, of her own.
I don’t want to give anything away but I really didn’t anticipate the ending – did you know right from the start that this was how it would end? If not, when did you realise?
One of the aspects I’ve been most pleased (read: relieved) about has been people’s reaction to the ending. I’d have been so disappointed if people said they’d seen it coming 200 pages earlier. Instead it tends to prove a shock. Excellent!
And yes, it’s very difficult to talk about the ending without giving anything away. Suffice it to say, I had a very good idea of the beginning and the final scene, as well as a good picture of Tori Williams, before I wrote the first word of the story. Everything in between came as a result of working towards that final chapter.
The framework, the essential element of the ending, has therefore been there from the start. However, I can say that in the beginning, there were only two people involved in the final scene – it’s much busier now.
Thanks so much for having me on your blog, Amanda, and for asking great questions, as ever.
Thanks so much for coming on the blog again, Jackie! See you here again when the next book comes out.
You can get a copy of both Glass Houses and Tea and Chemo on Amazon and on the Urbane Publication website using the following links:
- Glass Houses on Amazon
- Glass Houses on Urbane Publications
- Tea and Chemo on Amazon
- Tea and Chemo on Urbane Publications