Desert Queen: the many lives and loves of Daisy Bates

Desert Queen: the many lives and loves of Daisy Bates


Daisy Bates in not an easy biography subject. The woman built a web of lies around herself when she was younger, and later in life burned all her personal papers. Susanna de Vries has done a solid job researching, unraveling and telling the story of this fascinating woman. Desert Queen isn’t a great biography, but it’s highly readable and you can’t really go wrong with the subject matter.

Daisy Bates emigrated from Ireland to Australia in 1883. Aware that her prospects were dim, she lied about her family and background, in the hope of securing herself a favorable marriage. Instead, she briefly married Breaker Morant, followed by two bigamous marriages, and had her only child, Arnold. She became a journalist, and later an anthropologist, albeit an unrecognized one in academic circles.

It was her work with Australia’s indigenous people that set her apart from other women of her time. She lived in a tent in harsh conditions and spent years writing down their stories. She recorded hunting territories and boundaries, and these records are used today in land rights claims. She nursed and fed sick aboriginal people, using her time with them to gather information about their cultural practices and languages. Her work remains controversial. She self-funded all her work, often writing pieces about aboriginal cannibalism, knowing it would sell, but which ultimately harmed her anthropological reputation.

De Vries does a solid job at capturing both the fascinating and frustrating aspects of this complex character, but I had some problems with the book. I didn’t like how she regularly assumed to know how Daisy felt, despite there being no record of that moment. Also, she puts forward a couple of pretty outrageous theories as if they are fact. And the final part of the book, which tells of Daisy’s spiral into dementia might as well be fiction. Daisy was never diagnosed with dementia.

This aside, it’s an interesting tale about a fascinating woman. I do love my female traveller tales, and Daisy’s story is a good one, and Desert Queen a decent telling of it.

Great travel romance films

I wrote this blog for the Momentum Moonlight blog

Anyone who has read my novel Trouble Brewing will know that I like a bit of travel with my romance. In fact, there’s nothing more romantic than exploring a new place with a lover. Or romancing yourself and setting out on the road alone. And when you’re unable to travel, a good film will take you there. Here are a few films to travel with, without leaving home.


The journey of Celine and Jesse.
The journey of Celine and Jesse.

The “Before” movies (Before Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight)

For travel romance you simply can’t do better than this wonderful trilogy. In the first instalment, Before Sunrise, American Jessie meets French Celine on a train in Europe. They get off the train together and spend one romantic night together in Vienna. As they part, they promise to meet again in six months … but do they?

Fans of the film had to wait nine long years to find out. Before Sunset takes place in Paris, where the characters are older, more cynical, and still inexplicably drawn to each other. They spend one afternoon walking and talking the streets of Paris. As the credits roll, we‘re left wondering, “Do they stay together?”

Fast-forward another nine-years to the third instalment, Before Midnight. This time their relationship is played out against the spectacular backdrop of the Greek Peloponnese peninsula. This is travel romance at its most sublime: great acting, writing and directing, excellent chemistry between the stars … and each setting used to perfection.


Lost in Translation

I lived in Tokyo for years and this beautiful film captures the city perfectly. Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, an aging movie star who’s in Japan to shoot a whiskey commercial. (I was in a bunch of Japanese TV commercials and the scenes with Murray on set are hilarious and absolutely realistic.)

Scarlett Johansson plays Charlotte, the disillusioned wife of a self-absorbed photographer on assignment in Tokyo. Both Charlotte and Bob are holed up in the Hyatt (life sucks for them) and meet in the bar. They strike up an unusual friendship, which is explored with grace and restraint. Given another director at the helm and the film would’ve had them falling into bed together and me heading for a bucket. But director Sophia Coppola truly understands the unique connection two strangers can feel for each another in a strange land. Lost in Translation is like taking time out in Tokyo.


The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

I’m off to India in a month, so recently revisited the Marigold. It’s set in Jaipur (yep, going there) where a bunch of “older” Brits arrive to take up residence in a retiree hotel. They arrive to find the hotel looking nothing like it did in the brochure. Oh no! What happens next is movie filler… then most of them fall in love with India. The end.

Okay, so the plot is a little predictable, but it’s a stellar cast, with Judy Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy and Tom Wilkinson. I am always excited to see good roles for older actors, especially those with facial expressions and wrinkles. Throw in a colourful, crazy Rajasthani backdrop, and this is a definite travel romance, feel good film.


Cairo Time

Apparently I’m on of the very few people who enjoyed this lovely film. Reviews weren’t great, but Cairo Time did for me what good travel romance films are meant to do—it transported me to another place and made me yearn to be there.

Juliette, played by the awesome Patricia Clarkson, is an American magazine editor who arrives in Cairo to spend time with her husband, a diplomat. However he’s held up elsewhere and has organised for his former employee and friend, Tareq to show Juliette around. And it doesn’t take Juliette long to realise she doesn’t miss her husband, and instead enjoys his friend’s company a little too much.

There are shades of Lost in Translation here. The director takes her time. The characters don’t give into their desire. Instead the attraction is subtly played and the focus remains on the city it unfolds in, this time Cairo, which is beautifully shot. As the credits rolled, I was booking a ticket …


The Way

While not technically a romance, I believe a good travel romance film can be when the protagonist undergoes a personal transformation—when they romance themselves.

The Way is the story of a rather conservative father (Martin Sheen) who goes to France to collect the body of his free-spirited son who has been found dead on the French side of the Pyrenees of the El Camino de Santiago (The Way of St James). After the heart wrenching viewing of his son’s body, (Sheen’s real-life son Emilio Estevez, who directed the film, was in the body bag) he makes the uncharacteristically spontaneous decision to walk the Camino for his son, who didn’t make it far, and scatter his ashes along the way. He sets off, determined to complete the task as quickly as possible, but along ‘the way” meets a ragtag group of characters who help him slow down and enjoy the journey, and in the process truly honour his son, as well as himself.

It’s a wonderful film for travellers, and if you haven’t already walked the Camino then you’ll probably add it to your list. The Way is a beautiful reminder to treasure life and embrace the journey. As the movie poster logline reminds you, don’t choose your life … live it.


Honourable mentions:

Under the Tuscan Sun: Buying an Italian farmhouse and starting a new life? One can dream.

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels: Glamour, romance and scamming people on the French Riviera. This classic film makes it look fun.

Mama Mia: A gorgeous Greek island and ABBA songs. Does it get any better than this?

Casino Royale: The sexiest Bond in years zips from glamorous location to fabulous destination, including lots of places starting with M, like Madagascar, Miami and Montenegro.

A Room With a View: A young English woman spends time in Florence. Florence. Yes. Enough said.

Vicky Cristina Barcelona: There are all sorts of complicated relationships in this Woody Allen gem, but watching Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz on screen together with a Barcelona backdrop is simply sexy.

Midnight in Paris: Another Woody Allen travelogue, this time with Paris, past and present as the setting.

A 4 star review of Trouble Brewing


A new review on Goodreads led me to the book review site for Sallyfromoz, where reviews for both my books have been posted. Sally is also taking part in the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013, so supporting Aussie writers. Here’s the review. It’s made my day. 

TROUBLE BREWING is the second book in a series about the Shakespeare women and like the first one I had such fun reading it.  The first book, Forecast, was set in the USA; now author Jane Tara takes her readers over to England to meet the other women in the family.  As with the first book there are quite a few back-stories going on which did leave me wondering how any future books are going to play out as all of the Shakespeare women on both side of the Atlantic now seem to have complete stories.  But no matter TROUBLE BREWING has romance, anger, passion, sadness, babies, magic and even fairies – both good and bad – cool!  Life is not all magic and roses – and there are some things that magic can’t cure.  Like all people, real and fictional, when faced with loss and everything is beyond your abilities to change life falls apart; it is how you put your life together that counts.  All the characters go through a crisis in one form or another.  It is how they react, cope and still keep their sense of humour and the book light that demonstrates Jane Tara’s talent.  I really enjoyed the journey the book took me on, loved the characters and want more!

A 4 star review of Forecast


A new review on Goodreads led me to the book review site for Sallyfromoz, where reviews for both my books have been posted. Sally is also taking part in the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013, so supporting Aussie writers. Here’s the review. It’s made my day. 

I scored an review copy of Jane Tara’s second book, Trouble Brewing, from Momentum Books and decided I had better get my hands on the first in the series – FORECAST.  I am so glad I did – what a wonderful feel good romance it is.  The hero is a bad boy – a love them and leave them type of guy – but ready to find ‘the one’, he is a scientist and deals with what is known to predict what could be. Rowie (Rowan) is also looking for ‘the one’ but she is not scientific, the elements tell her what is going to happen, so you just know these two are destined for each other.  The fun part is finding out how Jane Tara is going to do it!  There are lots of back-stories that all help to propel the main plot forward – ghosts, magic, new loves, past love, conniving wenches and a battle with cancer.  Jane Tara captured the New Age world completely and was not afraid to include characters that think it is all bunkum. I also enjoyed the behind the scenes look at TV news and weather forecasting and how what you see may not be what is happening.  Science versus magic, man versus woman FORECAST is a jam-packed funny story full of great characters.  Looking forwards to reading the second in the series.

A lovely review for Trouble Brewing

Image from the FW&FD site
Image from the FW&FD site

A lovely review from Fangs, Wands & Fairy Dust, also posted on Goodreads.

How Do You Know You’ve Met the Love of Your LIfe?

I really had a good time reading this book.  It was funny, sexy and occasionally a bit sad.
This is the second book in the series and I didn’t realize that until I sat down to write the review.  I did think, at one point, that the author was dumping a lot of backstory, but I thought there was just a  lot of history she needed to relate.  But, TROUBLE BREWING totally stands on its own.

I love how one of the Shakespeare women said she was glad to be born in a time when witches were ignored and not burned at the stake.  Ugh.

I like the unique idea behind this book as the gorgeous Calypso mixes cocktails that magically cure people of emotional, psychological and sometimes physical issues. She come from a witchy family, and witchy books are my first love (since I was like 7).  Calypso is a free spirit except she’s running from the past.  If she outruns love then she can’t get hurt, right?  While Tara includes some plot that feels extraneous (but which may be tying up loose ends from FORECAST, the first book in the series) she does a great job making that emotional conflict real. And, I really felt for the guy that gets pushed away.   But as odd as Calypso’s love interest is it evolves naturally.

Calypso also believes she has had her great love, the love of her life.  She may be missing something though if she gets stuck in her own mythology. How do you know when you have met the love of your life?

Jane Tara’s voice is edgy and honest, modern and sexy.

Witch-Doctor  cure thyself!  If only people would take their own advice and talk about things. But then the entire romance book industry would fail because most plots rely on poor communication to get going.

I’m looking forward to the next book in the series; and I may even go back to find the first.  I can honestly recommend this as a great book to read this summer.

Note to Self Review

June 1 is a great day for new releases, not only because my book Trouble Brewing is FINALLY out, but also because my pal Alison Nancye’s first novel is out too. I was given an advance review copy a while ago. I’m always a little nervous about reading books written by friends. What if the book is shit? I’m fortunate to have some talented friends, and Alison is one of them. Her book, Note to Self reminds me of the Red Smith (or was it Hemingway?) quote: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” Reading Alison’s book I couldn’t help but think, she opened a vein. She put her heart and soul into this … and I’m hoping it goes really well for her. She deserves it. Here’s my review.

Note to Self is part novel, part self-development manual. It’s the story of Beth Mathews who has a major meltdown on a Sydney street, made all the more confusing when she hears a voice speaking to her. Unlike most people who hear that internal voice, and ignore it, Beth actually listens, and starts changing her life. She quits her job, buys a ticket to Peru, packs up her apartment, and takes off on an adventure.

Unlike many writers (including myself) today who go for “high concept” ideas, and throw all sorts of roadblocks at their characters, Alison Nancye takes her time with her debut novel. Her main character might buy a ticket to Peru quite early in the story, but it’s not until halfway through the book that Beth actually arrives in Lima. In the meantime the reader is taken step-by-step through Beth’s personal struggles, her sense of self (or lack of), and her plans to leave Australia. It is a very personal journey. There are no great dramas for the character on the way. Instead the major conflicts for this character, like so many of us in real life, are internal. Her struggles are familiar. Beth is real—she’s your colleague, your best friend, and often yourself.

Each chapter not only moves the story forward, but also peels back the layers of Beth. She either needs to confront some of her personal demons, or she faces a long-ignored issue, or she has a very real leap in her own personal or spiritual development. And then, at the end of each chapter is Beth’s note to self—the advice she gives to herself, based on what she’s learnt.

It’s a great idea for a book.

Beth arrives in Peru and like so many of us in a foreign country, is able to unleash another version of herself. This part of the book is simply lovely. It’s filled with interesting characters and a great romance, and the guy is seriously hot! Once again, the only thing that stands in Beth’s way of true happiness is her tendency towards self-sabotage. (Note to self… that’s true for us all.) I was really cheering for Beth as she realises this, faces it, and heals it.

Alison Nancye’s debut novel is fresh and compelling. It’s an intensely personal note, not only to self, but also to the reader. It reminds you to listen to your inner voice.

The reader is taken on a journey that is not only geographical, but also internal. This lovely book is full of wisdom and gentle wit. It would make a great gift.

Give this book to your girlfriends. Read it once, and then read it again. It’s the type of book where the lessons in it will reveal themselves when it’s time for you to learn them.

Romantic Times gave Forecast 41/2 stars:


RT Book Reviews said this when Forecast was first released.

A breezy, lighthearted romance by an author who knows her New Age and alternative philosophies, this one will put a smile on your face. Tara makes the paranormal normal and the happily-ever-afters seem like destiny. Wonderful characters and a well-crafted story arc make this a recipe for a beautiful weekend.

Rowie Shakespeare is the go-to person for a reliable weather forecast in her Greenwich Village neighborhood. Even the cops drop by to pick up her predictions, which are posted outside Second Site, the family’s new age store. Rowie grew up in the store, with her grandmother as manager and her mother as resident ethereal mystic, but she’d really like a life of her own.

Drew Henderson is the very scientific TV weatherman whose ratings are really high because he’s really hot. When he is injured covering a hurricane, the studio, in a panic for
a temporary replacement, decides to go with a gimmick — a psychic weatherwoman. Add to this potpourri some zany co-workers, friends, clients, agents and producers, and you have a perfect storm of a romance.

The Paris Wife review

The Paris Wife review


At the end of Hemingway’s A Movable Feast, he writes about his first wife, Hadley Richardson, “I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.” Powerful stuff, but until I read The Paris Wife I never really knew much about Hadley.

Part biography, part novel, The Paris Wife is the fictional retelling of the love story between Ernest Hemmingway and his first wife. Author Paula McLain does a wonderful job of bringing Hemingway and Hadley to life, along with a colourful cast of other characters such as Paris’s Lost Generation: Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald.

The story starts in Chicago, where Hadley and Hemingway met, and St Louis, where Hadley lived. They fall madly in love, marry, and move to Paris on Hadley’s inheritance money. Right from the start you question Hadley’s staying power—she’s 8-years older than Ernest and comes across as unfashionable and… sturdy. Perhaps appealing in St Louis, but you know she won’t stand a chance in Paris.

It’s here, in their run down apartment in the Latin Quarter that the book really picks up. Their social life, Hemingway’s work, Gertrude Stein’s salons, their extensive travels in Italy, Germany, Austria and Spain… it’s a classic Roadmance read merging picturesque locations with the very real struggles they had maintaining their marriage.

Hemingway was obviously a difficult man, with the depression that eventually killed him shadowing him even then. Hadley was his anchor. He was also charismatic, and wielded that charisma like a sword, regularly hurting Hadley with his flirtations with other women. I felt for her, but at times I really wished she’d grow some backbone and give him the serve he deserved. Especially when Pauline Pfeiffer arrived in their life.

I’d be interested to read more about Pauline. In The Paris Wife she comes across as the sneaky sophisticate who befriends Hadley, only to steal her husband. We all know that Pauline became Hemingway’s second wife, but I still hoped for another outcome… Despite her often frustrating passivity, I was team Hadley all the way. But of course Hemingway got the divorce he wanted, yet later in life regretted.

“I wish I had died before I loved anyone but her.”

After reading The Paris Wife, I understand why.