Catherine Bennetto is unlikely ever to be short of things to write about.

She has packed more into her 39 years than most people do into a lifetime and she's drawing on those experiences - studying biomedical science, working in television, travelling and home-schooling her two sons in some exotic locations - to write sassy romantic comedy novels.

Her first, How Not To Fall In Love, Actually is out now and though it might remind many of Bridget Jones, especially Bridget Jones' Baby, the book was written and delivered to publishers Simon & Schuster long before that film hit the cinemas.

But Bennetto, born and raised in Auckland and now living in Queenstown, admits, at times, she watched the movie through her fingers wondering whether readers of her book might think she copied. "But I'd never seen the first two films and I'd finished the book long before the third came out ..."


Emma, the central character in How Not To Fall In Love, Actually is younger than Bridget and, refreshingly, does not fret about her weight - even when she discovers she's pregnant to the boyfriend she's just dumped, loses her job and spends days on the couch watching daytime TV and eating doughnuts.

Her observations of daily life are wryer than Bridget's, too. Take this, when Emma and sister Alex are out for a night on the town:e: "We don't have footpaths," Alex said, skipping out of the way of four leery young males who were kind-hearted enough to grab their crotches and shake them at her so she felt attractive and worthy."

Both characters work in TV but, for Bennetto, that's where real life nudges up against her fiction. From 2000-2003, she worked as a second assistant director on Shortland Street; unlike Emma, whose daily trudge to work is made reluctantly and ends when she tells her boss what she really thinks of her job, Bennetto loved her work.

"From my point of view, as a second AD (Assistant Director) you're the person who has to make sure everyone is where they need to be exactly when they need to be there and at a place like Shortland Street, where it's all down to the minute, you can come across as a bit of a taskmaster but I loved working in television and I miss it."

Bennetto's also has plenty of experience of the London life described in her novel. She left Shortland Street to travel with her husband Edd, and the two found themselves in the UK working on hit shows like The Bill, Coronation Street and, later, Death in Paradise, shot on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe.

Glamorous? Read her author profile and it certainly sounds it: "She can generally be found travelling the world and spends her time reading healthy cookbooks (not necessarily cooking from them) or at the beach ..."

When Edd landed a job that meant spending six months a year in South Africa, they packed up their UK home and two sons, and trekked across the world. The rest of the year was spent in places like Malaysia, Hungary, Australia and the Caribbean.

Sometimes Bennetto worked; other times she home-schooled the boys. Her experience would provide ample material for a book. She recalls the heat in Guadeloupe - 99 per cent humidity - and "encouraging" the boys to complete their schoolwork in return for a much-needed dip in a swimming pool.


"That was really hard. We were doing it in the Caribbean with limited resources - for everything, not just school materials - and that extreme heat, but I could teach them in new ways."

When the boys didn't like their prescribed reading books and exercises, Bennetto tried a new tack to get them learning their nouns, adjectives and verbs. She downloaded lyrics from songs they liked - by Queen and Guns N' Roses - and got them to circle the relevant words.

All the time, she was quietly adding to a pile of half-written stories she'd spent years jotting down. Since childhood she knew she'd one day write a book. In 2013 Bennetto gained a place on inaugural online novel writing course of literary and talent agency Curtis Brown Creative.

She threw herself into it, shaping her notes and anecdotes into the story that eventually became How Not To Fall In Love, Actually. It's been a longer process than she imagined, partly because she got to 60,000 words then decided to cut everything she didn't like or felt wasn't working.

"And I was left with about 25,000 words to add to."

Bennetto says she can understand why the book is being marketed to lovers of Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones or Lisa Owens, named by the Guardian newspaper as one of 2016's new faces of fiction, but like many women writing romantic comedies, she is not keen on the "chick lit" label, pointing out that it's rarely a tag male authors, like David Nicholls, are saddled with.

"It's comedy, comedy fiction. I think it's probably more like the [TV series] Catastrophe and it's certainly not 'girlie'."

Preparing to return to the UK for a book tour, Bennetto's second novel is already under way. It's about a young woman who spies her father at the airport; he's not meant to be there which marks the start of a surprising revelation.

Bennetto says though she's happy with the initial reception to How Not To Fall In Love, Actually, her one goal is to see a stranger reading the book.

"That will be when it feels real."

How Not To Fall In Love, Actually
by Catherine Bennetto
(Simon & Schuster, $35)