June 2013


Helen Chandler’s debut novel, Two for Joy, was released this month. She read English at Oxford University, before working as a general manager in various healthcare organisations. Helen lives in East London with her husband and daughter. (Interview by Jade Craddock)

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  1. 1. Can you tell us about Two for Joy.

    Two for Joy tells the story of Toby and Julia, platonic friends from university, who discover aged 30 that they are, and probably always have been, madly in love, and made for each other. Unfortunately for their happy-ever-after, Toby is contacted by his ex-girlfriend who has discovered that she’s pregnant, and he feels that he has no option but to stand by her. Julia is devastated, and turns to her best friend, Rose, for support, but Rose is facing her own problems – lonely and isolated as a stay-at-home mum, and with a husband who seems increasingly distant and withdrawn.

  2. 2. I liked the idea of a “baby triangle” instead of the usual love triangle, where did you get the inspiration for this?

    I literally dreamt it! That’s the only explanation I have. I woke up one morning, with the idea for the whole of Toby, Julia and Ruby’s story complete in my head, and they just kept on buzzing round there until I wrote them down.

  3. 3. Did you reject any other ideas for novels before you settled on writing this particular story?

    Not really. Over the years I’ve had a couple of ideas for novels, but they’ve never got any further than a few scribbled pages in the back of a notebook, except for the nine chapters of a crime novel I completed in my early teens!

  4. 4. What was the most difficult part of writing this novel?

    Probably finding time to do it. Either that, or having the confidence to give draft chapters to people to read. I always more than half expected them to come back and tell me it was rubbish.

  5. 5. What did it feel like to first hold a copy of your book in your hands? Who was the first person you gave a copy to?

    Amazing! It’s completely surreal to see my ultra-familiar words printed in a real live book. I would have given the first copy to my parents, as it’s dedicated to them, but my mum has already ordered two copies (one Waterstones and one Amazon), so another copy seems slightly superfluous!

  6. 6. Are you happy to be part of the chick lit genre?

    Yes, very happy. It’s my favourite kind of reading – I studied English at university, so I’ve read more than my fair share of classic literature, but mainly what I read myself for pure pleasure are novels from the chick-lit genre. I think that people who are dismissive of chick lit generally haven’t read very much of it – some of the queens of the genre, such as Jane Green and Marian Keyes deal with really hard-hitting issues such as cancer, depression, divorce – the kind of things that many women face or worry about in their day-to-day lives, it’s just that they do so in a warm, engaging and accessible way. One of the primary purposes of literature is to entertain, and sales figures for chick lit show that books in this genre do just that for millions of people. I think that’s great, and I’m proud to be part of it.

  7. 7. What do you hope to bring to the genre?

    A couple of hundred thousand extra sales! Seriously, I haven’t given it much thought. I’ve sat down and written what I want to write, the kind of thing which I’d like to read, and which hopefully lots of other people will also like to read, but I haven’t really thought about it in terms of what I bring to the genre. I would love, I suppose, to be one of those authors whose fans start to get excited months in advance when they see that there’s a new novel coming out.

  8. 8. How has your life changed since becoming an author?

    Well, I’m trying to be less technophobic as I really want to be able to engage with readers via social media such as Twitter, Facebook and my blog. It’s quite a steep learning curve though! Otherwise, my life hasn’t changed that much – I am still trying to balance writing with looking after my 4-year-old daughter, Anna, doing the shopping, cooking, housework and all the other normal things. Oh, and I bought myself a better computer!

  9. 9. I read that your mother-in-law is your agent, how has that been for the both of you?

    Well, it’s been fine for me! You’ll have to ask her how she’s found it… I’ve found it great, because I’m working with someone I already know well, and can absolutely trust, which with so many other unknowns is very helpful. We’ve always got on really well, and we’re just careful now to try and separate our professional relationship from the personal one.

  10. 10. Many people dream of being an author and you’ve just made the leap, what advice do you have?

    Write what you want to write, not what you think you ought to write. One of the reasons I didn’t start writing earlier was that I felt I had to be more literary than I was. Once I decided to just write in my own natural voice I felt much more enthusiastic, and found it a lot easier. The other thing I’d say is that you just have to do it – don’t procrastinate, don’t think you need to enrol on a course or join a group (even though these things might be helpful), the main thing you need to do is allocate a time to write and stick to it.

  11. 11. What one thing that you’ve learnt along the way do you wish you’d known before your started writing?

    I wish I’d known sometimes characters do their own thing, and the plot that you had in your head has to be adapted to suit them. I would be mid-chapter and thinking, heavens, I didn’t know s/he was going to say that, how do I get out of this one? But I think I’m getting used to it a bit more now, and can go with the flow.

  12. 12. As a new writer do you feel welcomed and accepted into the industry?

    My publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, have certainly made me feel very welcome, particularly my lovely editor, and her colleagues in the publicity department. They’ve also been very patient with my combination of ignorance and blind enthusiasm! I don’t feel I’ve come across the industry more widely yet – I’m still waiting for all the invitations to glamorous awards ceremonies to roll in…

  13. 13. Do you think there are any particular experiences that make it easier/more conducive to be an author?

    I think it was helpful to me that I waited until I was thirty before I started writing. That meant I’d had quite a lot of life experiences – falling in and out of love, bereavement, pregnancy and motherhood, moving job, house and city, managing a team of people at work, etc.– which, although not all of them contributed directly to Two for Joy, all helped me to gain a greater understanding of what makes people tick, which is crucial to the kind of fiction I write. It might not be the same for everyone, but I feel I couldn’t have written as effectively if I’d started 10 years earlier.

  14. 14. What books inspired you to be an author?

    Chick lit! It’s hard to narrow it down. I am an absolutely avid and compulsive reader, and am never comfortable without a book close at hand, and so I think it has been a gradual build up over the years of thinking that I enjoy reading so much, wouldn’t it be great to write as well. Authors in my genre I particularly admire are (in no particular order) Elizabeth Noble, Jane Green, Lisa Jewell, Katie Fforde, Allison Pearson, Adele Parks, Erica James, Jennifer Weiner, Milly Johnson, and I suppose I’ve had lots of moments of wishing I could write something as good as they do.

  15. 15. Are you working on anything at the moment?

    Yes, I’m about half way through my second novel, which is provisionally called To Have and to Hold, and follows the stories of three very different couples whose relationships are in various degrees of crisis. I’m also really enjoying writing my blog, A Life More Ordinary, at

  16. 16. And finally, the title of the novel is Two for Joy - what are your two joys in life?

    Ooh, good question! And tricky! My family are definitely joy one, especially my lovely husband, Thomas, and gorgeous daughter, Anna. And then for joy two, it would probably have to be reading. Food and cooking comes a very, very close third. But reading makes me sound less greedy, so I’ll go with that.

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