A bikini, a banana lounge and a dating quiz 

Remember when you were 16? Okay, for some of us we really have to focus because we’re talking at least thirty years ago. And a lot of cheap white wine has flown under the bridge since then. But when I think of that precious age, that precious year, I always think of our summer holiday at Ocean Grove.

I was single, gangly and desperate for romance. Luckily, my sister and our two friends were also single, gangly and desperate for romance, so we’d all sit around in our army pants and Hang Ten t-shirts to discuss how we could purchase some Brandavino, whether a toe ring meant you were single or a lesbian, and who’d spotted the biggest spunk on the beach that day. It was way bluer than Puberty Blues.

We tried all sorts of ways to get the attention of the surfers, who had blonde streaky hair, perfect tans and a panel van in the car park. We attempted surfing. (I still have a scar on my left leg to prove it.) We walked past the Surf Life Saving Club at least eighty-seven times a day. We hung out at the fish ‘n’ chip shop eating potato cakes and pickled onions. We bought smoothies from the health food shop and drank them with our shades down low. And we went to the carnival every night because the guy who worked on the Octopus was the biggest spunk on the planet. But we had no luck.

Until one day when my sister bought a magazine, I think it was Dolly. We sat on our banana lounges, wearing our tiny, tiny bikinis and flicked through the pages discussing the windcheaters, the makeup and the very big hair-dos. And then we saw it. The Dating Quiz. We couldn’t get a pen from the four-berth caravan quick enough.

This was our Holy Grail. All we had to do was answer the questions and we’d discover who we were destined to date for the rest of our lives! Well, the summer at least.

We took to that quiz like our mum to her Mills & Boons, the surfers to the surf and the hippies to the health food shop. It was full of compelling questions like:

Would you prefer your date to show up at your door with:
1. A bouquet of roses
2. A Ferrari
3. An empty wallet

Even we could see where these questions were heading but we didn’t care. We were 16! We were excited! So, funnily enough, when we finished the quiz, three of us matched perfectly with the romantic guy while one of my friends matched the rich guy. (Needless to say she’s now married to a CEO of a large financial company and lives in London.)

The following night, while we were waiting in line for a ride on the Octopus, Danny, the 16-year-old dreamboat who opened and closed the gate with steely authority, asked me to meet him at the carousel when the carnival closed. Me! Danny was definitely the romantic type and organised a lovely first date. We met in the city and watched a movie that neither of us understood. We said good-bye awkwardly at Flinders Street Station and I never saw him again.

However, I did fill out many more dating quizzes. But nothing ever quite bet the thrill of that summer and our very first dating quiz.

Funny Crazy Romantic Moments 

For me, the perfect book is a combination of romance and comedy. Maybe that’s why my books offer a little bit of both! But what makes a really funny crazy romantic moment? Of course, there are the classic moments we all know about, such as Harry running to the New Year’s Eve Ball to talk with Sally, or the spitting competition between Jack and Rose, or when Sandy appears in her skin tight pants and Danny is gobsmacked.

But is that how it really happens? Do us mere mortals experience those funny crazy romantic moments? I think we do. Because while I was writing my second Destiny book, Spotlight on Love, I thought about the moments I know about…

Years ago, my friend Sally was on a first date with a guy called Tim. They went out for dinner then went back to her flat. Things were going well. They were sitting on the couch, listening to music. He happened to mention a Moby CD and she happened to have it. As he moved to the floor to look through the CD collection, she got up and bent over to pick it up. And that’s when she farted.

It took her days to recover from her mortification but recover she did. They’re still married so I guess Rob loved her dearly, farts and all.

My sister, Di, moved to Darwin to be with, Chuck, the new man in her life. He was part Steve Irwin part Harrison Ford - definitely worth the move to Darwin. She’d been there a week when they went out to The Cage, a giant nightclub surrounded by wire fencing. A few bundy & cokes later they headed home in Chuck’s beaten up ute. He parked on the front lawn and stumbled out of the car. My sister, who couldn’t get her door to open, began to slide across the bench seat. As she fumbled about, Chuck slammed the driver door shut. On my sister’s head.

She survived and they stayed together for many years, and even had their own theme song, ‘Chuck and Dianne’ sung to the great John Cougar hit, ‘Jack and Dianne’.

My moment is much simpler. In 2004, my new boyfriend thought he’d impress me with his pumpkin soup making ability. So while I chose the music and lowered the lights, he got started in the tiny kitchen. He boiled the pumpkin then he drained it. Let’s be clear, he drained it. He put the drained pumpkin in the blender and tried to blend it. It didn’t budge so he shoved my good wooden spoon in the blender then turned it on. And that’s when I walked in.

To this day I believe there are still bits of splintered wood and pumpkin in my hair. But we’re still together and living happily ever after. Only now, I make the pumpkin soup.

The Waiting Room 

When Rihanna sang her 2011 pop hit, ‘We Found Love’, I don’t think she had visions of an orthodontist waiting room, filled with brown vinyl chairs, ancient magazines and fake strawberries in plastic vases. Let’s face it, it’s about the most uninspiring romance destination ever. In fact, it’s about the most uninspiring destination full stop.

So bare with me, as I explain how sitting in an orthodontist waiting room with my three daughters taught me what the term ‘you could’ve cut the atmosphere with a knife’ really means.

There we were at 7.55am. Yawning. Shuffling. Wondering which café we’d go to post wire change for a coffee, hot chocs and muffins. My youngest daughter (7) was sitting next to me, playing Angry Birds on my iPhone. My eldest daughter (14) and middle daughter (12) were next, their eyes glued to their iPhones as they checked kik and Instagram, in case they missed something of vital importance at that hour of the morning.

A dark-haired teenage girl was on our left, slumped down in her seat, Doc Martens practically in the middle of the room. She was also cruising through Instagram. A father and daughter combo was on our right. She was around 13 and whining like a pro while he was answering her gruffly. Poor bunny, I thought.

I was flicking through a women’s mag struggling to read the small print because it was 7.55am, I was in need of a coffee and I didn’t have my glasses. In fact, I was deciding who was ‘worst dressed’ out of Lindsay, Britney and one of the Kardashians, when I felt it.

A charge that swept through the room. A shift in the air I was breathing. Like the oxygen had been sucked up by a very expensive Dyson.

The 13-year-old had stopped whining. The dark-haired teenager was now sitting up as straight as you like, one leg crossed over the other.

My daughters still had their faces in their phones but the two eldest now had a red glow on their cheeks, while my youngest was no longer catapulting birds across the screen; instead she was peeking over it at something, someone, on the other side of the room.

I followed her gaze. And I saw him.

He was part Robert Pattinson, part Josh Hutcherson, and he looked like he’d just rolled out of bed, into his chinos and rumpled t-shirt and into the waiting room.

He was looking intently at his phone, (possibly unaware of the five hearts he had set into overdrive), his fringe hanging over his forehead in a manner that was, clearly, to die for.

No one spoke. No one moved. But, and here’s the thing, everyone was aware of him. Everyone felt his presence. The atmosphere was so thick with lust I could have carved it up and served it on a plate with the fake strawberries.

Unlike Rihanna, and to the disappointment of the teenage girls, no one found love that morning, but I found a new inspiration destination for romance writing. Except, of course, it costs $1600 every time we visit!

The Sizzling Start 

When I was in the middle of writing, The Trouble with Lucy, my 12-year-old daughter came home and told me she’d been asked to read out her persuasive writing piece to the ‘whole entire class’. Her teacher, she told me, had been totally impressed with her sizzling start, which they’d been discussing the week before. She read it to me and, I had to agree, it had me on the edge of my seat.

“’Casey didn’t plan to lose her new sunglasses. But she didn’t plan to get eaten by a shark either.’”

She told me her first attempt was an epic fail so she rewrote it a couple of times until she knew it was, like, a winner.

It got to me to thinking about the opening of, The Trouble with Lucy. I reread it (for the 407th time) and realised it wasn’t really sizzling. Cooking, maybe, but not sizzling.

I flicked some of the books on my bookshelf and they all had winner openings. My favourites included, Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen (of course!), Bet Me – Jennifer Crusie, Bridget Jones’s Diary – Helen Fielding, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling and Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel.

I thought about all the elements that could help turn up the heat of my first few pages; great characters; interesting environment; engaging situation, snappy dialogue and, I decided, an instant attraction between the hero and heroine.

Then I sat down and rewrote my first few lines. Then I rewrote them. And then I rewrote them again. And then I read them to my daughter. When I finished, she nodded her head.

‘He sounds hot.’ Needless to say, she got extra pocket money that week.

I realised the start of a story is so important because it’s the moment when a reader or, more importantly, a publisher decides whether to commit on or not. The very first line needs to set the tone, entice the reader to read on and, (if it’s a humorous book), put a smile on the reader’s face. If it doesn’t it’s, like, an epic fail.

In case you’re wondering, this is the first line from my book, The Trouble with Lucy:

“Lucy looked in the side mirror as the farmer climbed out of the ute and walked towards them. She tried to look away but there was something about his cool, casual swagger and tall, slim build that kept her eyes Blu-Tacked to the mirror.”

A bikini, a banana loung and a dating quiz
Funny crazy romantic moments
The Waiting Room
The Sizzling Start