She’s the dating diva whose TED talks get millions of views. Hayley Quinn, a glossy magazine dating guru, has managed her namesake website for women and men, helping them to navigate the maze of meeting and making new relationships for 15 years.
Now she is launching her debut novel. The Last First Date – a guffaw-enducing but thought-provoking rom-com inspired by real life and her late grandmother’s wartime romance.
From the rural home in France she shares with her French husband and their two-and-a-half-year-old son and one-year-old daughter, Quinn, 36, tells P.S. it came about by chance and was written during her second pregnancy while her son napped.
She explains: “I was approached by the publisher because of my work in the world of romance and my insights on what the modern world of dating was really like. But I have to confess that in my spare time, I don’t read rom-coms. I am a fan of thrillers.”
Despite this apparent drawback, inspiration for the novel came to her more easily than she’d anticipated. “I know what it is like to be turning 30 and single and the fear around passing milestones and thinking that something is not going to happen,” she says.
“I have also had issues with anxiety. It is a big player in our dating lives and the spectre of it can get in the way of us forming relationships. So I wanted to give a nod to that. And I’ve seen a lot of dating profiles and people’s attempts to flirt in a message. I’ve written an awful lot of people’s texts so I had a lot of fun in writing both sides of that communication in the novel.”
But the basis for the book’s sub-plot came from beyond the grave. She explains: “My grandmother had a fantastic love story and left me her love letters when she died. Right up until that day, she had always spoken about Vernon, the man she loved before she met my grandfather. It was a typical, brief, wartime romance but she carried the memory of him for 70 years. I really wanted to breathe life into that story because it did not have a good ending. I wanted to immortalise their love story.”
Cue aptly named Helen Pines who, at 31, is pining for her ex as he announces his engagement. Determined not to give up on love, she signs up to a dating website and is matched with gorgeous Brody.
Their first date is dreamy but then the unthinkable happens. She receives an error message with all her contacts deleted. With only Brody’s name and job title to go on she is on a mission to find him. Says Quinn: “Everyone loves a good rom-com but sometimes the messaging is dubious, especially when it overlaps with our expectation of what love in the real world should be like. So, I was trying to create a narrative where the messages around love were realistic and healthier. We can’t walk through life thinking, ‘One day my prince will come’.
“Being single isn’t a waiting room for something better. It is a valid and incredible life stage in its own right. I wanted reclaiming singleness to come through as a theme in this novel.”
And Quinn’s first fling won’t be her last. She reveals: “I am hoping I can create a perfect marriage of rom-com and thriller for my new book. I’d love to take a step towards that.”
Hayley Quinn, The Last First Date, HQ, £8.99
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