My Willard 7m is one of the best handling boats in close quarters that I have ever helmed. This is due to a heavy diesel engine sitting in the middle of the boat. A heavy built boat with built in fenders is a great place to begin since it's very forgiving to a new boater.
And, if I have convinced you to go for a diesel, I am selling my 7m.
Either way, you can't go wrong as long as you start with a good solid boat .... and find the time to enjoy it.