Year of Indie Debuts: Glass Houses by Jackie Buxton

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:

And you can keep up to date with Jackie’s news on her blog and on her website.


Author Interview: Jackie Buxton on Tea and Chemo

A big welcome to Jackie Buxton today, who’s been talking very frankly to me about her memoir, Tea and Chemo, which was recently published by Urbane Publications, and life after a cancer diagnosis.

This tale of Jackie’s treatment for breast cancer is a great read and all of the royalties are being donated to the three breast cancer charities that helped her, and many other women like her, during treatment. So please buy a copy! You can get one here direct from the publisher, or here through Amazon.

Jackie, despite the subject matter, your memoir about undergoing treatment for breast cancer is funny, uplifting and inspiring yet you talk in it about ‘The Fear’ that grips you sometimes. How do you keep yourself focused on the positives when the fear shows up?

I’m so pleased you saw all that in Tea & Chemo, Amanda. I wanted the book to be informative but positive so it’s wonderful to hear it described in this way. It seems to me that The Fear affects all cancer patients to a greater or lesser degree after treatment. It’s a sort of disbelief that the body which was caught napping when cancer called the first time, won’t get caught out again.

When you’re having active treatment, you’re invincible. Those operations to cut away the cancer are major surgery. If chemo makes you feel that bad, pah! pity those cancer cells. And then there’s radiotherapy, don’t be fooled by the pain free element and speed of implementation, that’s a big dose of radiation in your body. And then it all stops and suddenly, you, the ex-cancer patient, can feel very small and insipid in the fight to keep cancer from calling again.

Also, once active treatment finishes, aside from check-ups and ongoing medication, you are sent away to live your life – but with the voice of the medical profession constantly tapping in your ear: Be vigilant! Check for new lumps and bumps and get aches and pains checked out. So, as an ex-patient, on the one hand you’re trying to be rational and finally push the cancer thing to the back of your mind, on the other, you know that you are the first line of defence in spotting a new cancer forming or secondaries growing. It’s hard not to over-analyse and to let The Fear become all-consuming.

So, how do I cope with The Fear? That’s a great question! I think I batter it into submission with a hefty dose of logic, distraction and action. There are some questions to which nobody knows the answers, such as whether the cancer will come back, if secondaries are silently forming and for me, without any history of breast cancer in my family, whether my genetic make-up is nonetheless of the cancer forming kind and worse, have I developed a dodgy gene which I will pass on to my children?

The best I can do when these questions rear their awful heads, is to preach to myself what the brilliant medical profession has taught me. Cancer is the result of a perfect storm – all of the body’s defence systems have to be found wanting at the same time for a ‘bad cell’ to become cancerous, mutate and conquer. And I remind myself that for now, and that’s all we can deal with, I am one of the lucky ones because my treatment aim was cure without secondaries and other complications.

This generally works.

Otherwise, manic busy-ness is wonderful for distracting me. It’s really hard to dwell on the unknown when having fun with friends and family, when children need to be picked up simultaneously from opposite ends of Yorkshire, the spreadsheets don’t tally, a class starts in twenty minutes and my next deadline is one hundred pages and a week away. I am certainly someone who is happiest and most carefree when they are busy.

Sometimes The Fear might need addressing and so I take action forthwith. I used to be a little slap happy with my health. I’d have a headache for a few days before being bothered to walk to the medical box to find a couple of paracetamol, would deprive myself of sleep to meet a deadline and would make an appointment for my children to see the doctor when the request had barely left their lips whereas weeks would go by before I picked up the phone for myself.

Now I’m different. If there’s any chance of a sluggish, pit of the stomach sort of fear staying around, then I drop what I’m doing and get on and book an appointment with my long suffering GP practice. I am lucky because all the doctors there, without exception, are very, very understanding of the fact that when you’ve had cancer, every head ache means it’s gone to the brain. Every stomach ache means it’s made its way into your ovaries. Stiff legs and achy joints you say? No matter that you’ve just run twenty miles, swum the channel and ridden a bike (upside down) this can only be a sign of one thing: bone mets (secondary breast cancer in the bones). I joke but it feels seriously real at the time.

And you know, time helps. It’s two years on from diagnosis and I now recognise that I can get a cold, like anyone else, and it’s just a cold.

You said you wrote this book as you’d wanted to find one like it when you were diagnosed – what do you hope it will bring to other women who have to undergo treatment for breast cancer?

When I was diagnosed with cancer in December 2013, I found that there was a wealth of really well-written information about a cancer diagnosis and its treatments. However, I struggled to find much about how it would feel; what it was really like to go through treatment for cancer – emotionally, as well as physically. I also never read anywhere that it might be OK, bearable, even almost pleasant.

The morning spent in hospital being administered my chemo, for example, was thoroughly pleasant. It didn’t hurt, the nursing staff as well as being fantastically efficient and reassuring were also really good fun and while I was unable to go to work put on the washing, cook dinner… I read books, chatted, drank tea and ate sandwiches which other people had made for me. It would be churlish of me to pretend that the time wasn’t fun and hugely relaxing – and that was something I didn’t find written down anywhere.

I hope Tea & Chemo emphasises the lighter side of cancer and its treatments. I hope my experience and learning along the cancer road will help inform people further back in the process than me, but also leave them with the lasting impression that, if we’re lucky, the experience isn’t all bad.

If there was one thing you could go back and tell yourself in the week before your diagnosis what would it be?

Please can I have two?

  • You’re going to be one of the lucky ones: your treatment aim is cure.
  • You will survive the artery bleed after the mastectomy operation.

Ummm, three? Don’t try to keep your freelance work going during treatment. Enjoy the time when you feel well, and indulge yourself when you don’t! You’ll be back working full time soon enough.

Aside from your memoir, you also have your debut novel coming out in June 2016 – can you tell us a bit about that?

Glass Houses is about two women who make stupid mistakes and the massive ramifications not just for their lives but for those close to them. It’s about people in glass houses not throwing stones. It’s also about how if we smash up our lives, however hard we try to stick them back together again, they will never look the same as they did before. And maybe, just maybe this might not be such a bad thing.

Glass Houses is contemporary fiction so it’s a very different read to Tea & Chemo but I hope that there’s a similarity in that it tackles dark themes with a light touch.


Thanks so much for your time and honesty, Jackie. I look forward to reading your novel. Glass Houses will be published by Urbane Publications on June 9th 2016 and is available to pre-order from Amazon.