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The Accidental Elopement

The Accidental Elopement

I battle with deadlines. The only way I can finish anything is to set a deadline in stone – with no way out – so that’s why I’ve got in the habit of setting up a pre-order three months out on Amazon. If I miss my deadline, my punishment is to be locked out of doing a preorder for a year. Harsh, but it works for me.

When I finished writing Book 3 in the Scandalous Miss Brightwell series – Devil’s Run – I’d already written half of its sequel The Accidental Elopement in my head.

I was sure I’d easily finish the last half in no time, so at half way through, I confidently put the book up for pre-order thinking that three months would be plenty of time to get it written, professionally edited, and uploaded with days to spare.

Of course, it wasn’t that easy. By two-thirds of the way through I realised that original blurb was now completely overridden by the unexpected developments in the new story. I had no idea Katherine and Jack’s real story would take place seven years after the initial action. But it did, and today, with the help of my two fantastic critique partners, Lexi Greene and Nina, I’ve refined the blurb and got to the essence of the romance.

Jack and Katherine were lively children and I thought Katherine would become the reckless debutante her mother – Fanny Brightwell from Book 1 – was. Instead, she turned out to be like Jack. Both are honourable adults and each has learned what’s important in life: love – but not at the expense of integrity, which is what makes acting on their love for each other impossible.

With the blurb refined, I’ll now find it much easier to race to the heartfelt ending Katherine and Jack deserve so that it is, in fact, ready to make its debut on February 23. Yay!

So, here it is – the latest blurb for The Accidental Elopement.

I hope you like it.

Releases Feb 23, 2018

A seven-year secret. A tragic misunderstanding. Can love outwit fate in this twisted tale of misadventure and thwarted dreams?

Earl Quamby’s niece, Katherine, and Jack, a foundling home lad adopted by a local family, have been loyal friends for as long as they can remember.

As Jack is about to leave England to make his fortune and Katherine is being courted by two eligible suitors, they unexpectedly realise their friendship has blossomed into passionate love. A love, they are warned, that has no future.

Despite a brave attempt to defy the forces keeping them apart, tragedy results and the pair is separated.

When chance throws them together seven years later, Katherine, newly widowed, is being pressured into a marriage not of her choosing to avoid scandal and Jack feels he must honour his pledge to the worthy Odette whom he met in India and whose father is dying.

Katherine knows that revealing a long-held secret may win Jack to her but she also knows conflicting obligations from past and present may tear him apart.

Can master matchmakers, Fanny, Antoinette and Bertram Brightwell, outwit fate in its latest attempt to keep these star-crossed lovers apart and deliver them the happiness they deserve?

This is Book 4 in the Scandalous Miss Brightwell series but it can be read as a stand-alone.

And if that’s piqued your interest, you can pre-order it here:


All other retailers here.

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Stuck in snow at the top of the Sani Pass

I’ve just returned to Melbourne after taking dad home to the Clare Valley and, as is usual, dad and I whiled away some time doing some dictation for his memoirs.

As this story was pivotal to my existence here today, in a broad sort of way, I thought it would be fun to post this memory with some pictures of the Sani Pass in winter.


In August 1965 on a Sunday afternoon, Gail and I were on our way home to Mokhotlong after spending a few days in Himeville with friends. To get home, we had to get up the Sani Pass with many sharp bends and some gradients as sharp as 1:3. After successfully reaching the top we crossed the Sani Flats at a height of 10,500 ft and then we were set to get over the Kotisapholo Mountain Range with the road rising to 10,000 feet. (Note that Mt Kosciuszko, at 7,310 ft above sea level, is the highest mount in Australia.)

Once over Kotisapholo the track was all downhill to Mokhotlong and a nice warm house – but this last bit would entail another 2 ½ hours driving to cover 35 miles.

On our last steep slope up the Kotisapholo, the Land Rover was unable to get traction. The wheels simply spun and there we were on a Sunday afternoon stuck at a height of about 11,000 feet and with Beverley, a 4-month-old baby, on Gail’s lap well shrouded in blankets.

We had about two hours of daylight left and it was not a pleasant predicament to find ourselves in. In fact, it was highly irresponsible on my part to have undertaken the trip in the circumstances as they were and which I should easily have predicted as foreseeable.

What I ultimately did was to walk up the frozen strip of road with a 4-gallon jerry can of petrol, pour the petrol into one track of the road and then put a match to it. The petrol trickled down a good length of the track and the flame followed it down. The burning petrol did its job by melting the snow in that track. Then, by taking a high speed run at the track, we got enough traction on the melted side of the track to get ourselves up and over.

The overnight temperature, if stuck where we were, would have gone down to minus ten degrees.

It was a big relief and a lesson to me well learned that I was now a father with a gorgeous wife, a gorgeous baby and they had to be looked after appropriately. The gung-ho bachelor days were over.

Dad’s settled into his cottage amidst the trees in South Australia and I’m back writing Diamond Mountain and another story set in Botswana and South Australia in 1989. In this one, my main couple is forced to leave Australia due to the Australian Pilot’s Dispute, weeks before my hero is due to get his 737 endorsement, and they find themselves in the midst of Maun society and a mystery dating back to 1969 – a hunting accident in the Kalahari in which the wrong person has been convicted and the motive of the real culprit who’s still at large is unexpected.

This story is about a third of the way towards completion while Diamond Mountain is on track for a May release.

Meanwhile, the weather here is Melbourne is warm and January, so far, has been lovely. I hope you’re all enjoying the summer holidays if you live in the southern hemisphere.

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Aviation in Lesotho in the early 1960s

Me in the flight simulator

Yesterday, I climbed into the flight simulator in my husband’s office, put on the Virtual Reality goggles, and magically, I was in a Cessna 170, dodging 10,000 feet high mountain peaks around Letseng-la-Terae in Lesotho – or Letseng Diamond Mine as it is today – a key location in my novel Diamond Mountain.

With the help of my dad, whose stories of the 19 years he worked in Lesotho underpin Diamond Mountain, and Eivind, my husband, who was a bush pilot when I met him while I was managing a luxury safari lodge in Botswana, I’m striving for as much accuracy as I can for my 1960s, Lesotho-set novel of illegal diamond buying, medicine murder, impossible choices and romance.

Of course, there are no mountains in Botswana but Eivind was a flight instructor in Calgary, Canada for several years, so he understands the perils and excitement of mountain flying in the Candian Rockies and the relationship between thermals, clouds and mountain ranges. He helps me get into the mind of my hero, and into the cockpit of the planes my hero flies.

Mum on the Maseru airfield

Mum on the Maseru airfield

Here, back in Melbourne, I stare through the window at the imposing nineteenth-century Gothic lunatic asylum across the road before lowering myself into the seat of the flight simulator where, with the flick of a switch, I can be in any of the small planes the hero of my book flies that made up Basutair’s fleet in the 60s: the Piper Tri-pacer, the Cessna 170 and the twin-engine Dornier.

Flight Sim – Research, work or just good fun?

As of yesterday, Eivind’s fabulous flight simulator is now equipped with a motion base to really throw you around for a fully immersible experience.

Flight simulator

I got caught up doing loop the loops in an Xtra before the serious business of flying the Cessna 170.

A control column was the first piece of equipment he acquired in order to build the strength in his wrist needed to regain his pilot’s medical and return to flying after his ankle and wrist were shattered in a motorbike accident in the Victorian Alps three years ago. Since then, he’s built a complete flight simulator and the consequences of this “therapeutic” office equipment have seen him regain sufficient strength and dexterity to get his medical back six months ago and helped him through his Airbus A330 endorsement when he’d had no practical flying for three years.

For me, a writer who doesn’t fly but who needs to research the problems and exhilaration experienced by a mountain pilot hero navigating dangerous terrain and impossible temptation, it’s a dream come true.

Dad’s aviation stories set my novel in motion

It was dad’s twin stories of a pilot playing a trick on a dad and of another inexperienced pilot who had to make a forced landing in a mealie (maize) field in the Orange Free State when flying mum who was seven months pregnant with me, that kicks off my plot in Diamond Mountain.

As dad tells the story of his experience: “In 1958, I was flying out of Mokhotlong to Maseru where I was to catch a plane to London on overseas leave. We were flying between the jagged peaks of the Maluti Mountains when the engine of the plane stopped. It was a single engine plane and there we were, drifting over jagged peaks with no hope of a suitable place to make an emergency landing. The pilot looked at me and asked, “What do we do now?” I said, “You’re the bloody pilot, you tell me.” He looked blank and perplexed then said with a laugh, “Oh, I forgot to switch over to the other fuel tank.”

I well remember my early concerns over any change in the sound of the engine – or it stopping altogether – before I got used to flying small planes in the Okavango, so this is where I started my novel.

Stuart Price, the English former evacuee who’s returned to Africa to build his twin time so he can fly for South African Airways but is stuck for four years flying single-engine Cessnas and Tri-pacers, pulls this stunt on Philippa, the District Commissioner’s daughter, to put an end to her increasingly personal questions. As a result of this and bad weather when they drop below the cloud blanket, they end up ditching in a mealie field where they’re rescued by the son of an Afrikaans farmer and put up in the guest rondavel, the kindly farmer’s wife believing Philippa’s fabrication that they’re newlyweds.

As I wanted to describe the logistics of cutting the fuel or adjusting or ‘leaning’ the mixture as required by the high altitude, Eivind set up the cockpit of the Cessna 170 on screen and I put on the VR goggles so I could see exactly how far I’d have to bend or lean to make writing that scene accurate.

Air Travel in early 1960s Lesotho

Mum on the Mokhotlong airfield.

Mum on the Mokhotlong airfield.

But back to the reality of air travel in Lesotho in the early 1960s. When dad first worked in Lesotho in 1958, Basutair operated three Trip-pacers which could carry three passengers plus luggage. The flight from the capital, Maseru, to dad’s home in Mokhotlong was about an hour’s flying, including over the Maluti Mountains with peaks up to 10,000 feet.

There was no road alternative as the road from Mokhotlong to Maseru had not yet been constructed, so the only alternative to flying was going on horseback which took a minimum of five days.

The Mokhotlong airstrip, which was 650m, was at the bottom of dad’s garden and dad’s chicken coop was the fuselage of a DC2, a reminder of aviation exploits gone wrong in earlier years.

Gate to Mokhotlong airfield

The gate at the bottom of our garden in Lesotho to Mokhotlong Airfield in 1963.

When I was a baby and mum and dad needed supplies like anthracite to light the stove and fires, and paraffin and mealiemeal and flour, the fastest route across the border into South Africa was the treacherous Sani Pass with its 1:3 gradient, hairpin bends that sometimes required three reverses to negotiate and 1000ft sheer drops.

In 1963, the year Diamond Mountain begins, Basutair had a Cessna 170 and two Tri-Pacers. Around that time it also had a twin-engine pre-WWII bi-plane, the six-seat Rapide Dornier. Drakensberg Air also flew the Dornier from Ladysmith in Natal to Mokhotlong, mostly taking mine recruits to the gold mines in Johannesburg.

The Rapide Dornier in Lesotho

The Rapide Dornier in Lesotho

The Dornier was, as dad was fond of telling us, a great little plane “as long as the worms in the woodwork held hands” so it didn’t fall apart mid-flight – not his joke but that of mountain aviator Don Nash whose various exploits inspire some of the incidents in Diamond Mountain. However, Dick Southward was the pioneer who got Basutair operational, and Dad’s memoirs contain many stories of the aviation exploits of Dick, a keen fly fisherman, Don and others during the 50s and 60s.

Available in May 2018

Available in May 2018

Next week’s blog will be about the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Lesotho and the country’s medical facilities in the 1960s.

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Diamond Mountain – An Update with a focus on WWII Evacuees

Diamond Mountain - WWII evacuees

Mum in Lesotho, 1961, beside a Cessna 170 (a taildragger)

During WWII, my mother’s parents took three evacuees from London’s East End into their home in Pretoria. I remember meeting the middle one, Michael when I was 15 during a family trip to South Africa, Botswana and Lesotho, in 1980.

Micky, as he was called, struck me as a rather lost soul, drawn back to the country where he’d lived for four years during the war years. By contrast, his determined elder sister, Jean, whom my granny and grandpa had paid for to go to a smart private boarding school, did well after she returned to England and, I remember mum saying proudly, rode horses with Princess Anne in later years.

So many of the childhood stories mum told us about her life featured the evacuees as she was nine when they arrived and fourteen when they went home. I always remember mum telling me that Granny and Grandpa had expected only one child but were unable to say no when presented with three because apparently – according to the children’s mother – they couldn’t bear to be separated. My mum used to say she found that hard to believe since the three little cockneys fought constantly, which was one reason Jean’s begging paid off and she went to boarding school.

Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB)

Now that my mother is gone, I can’t ask her why she and grandpa found themselves with three evacuees instead of one because, of course, the children’s mother would not have accompanied them from England. Through researching the subject, and reading accounts of evacuees from England to South Africa, it seems likely the children came out through the Children’s Overseas Reception Board (CORB) set up by the government to evacuate children abroad. (CORB began in June 1940 when the Battle of Britain was raging and was cancelled three months later after the City of Benares was torpedoed with the loss of 71 evacuees travelling to Canada.) In the first-hand account of British evacuee, Roy Uwins, he recalls arriving in Durban and being “lined up on the station platform with our labels prominently displayed, while our prospective hosts walked up and down making their selections.” If this is what happened in the case of my mother’s family, I can imagine my kind-hearted grandpa, in particular, being persuaded to take three children instead of one, and granny agreeing because she adored grandpa and although she was the tougher and stricter of the two, she would have acceded to grandpa in such an instance.

Using Real Life Family Dynamics for Fiction

As a writer, I was interested in how family dynamics would be affected by the arrival of three rambunctious, badly behaved children into the quiet, comfortable household of a Pretoria lawyer, his wife and two children – my nine-year-old mother and her eleven-year-old brother. With regard to the book I’m writing, Diamond Mountain, I was particularly interested in the effect on the evacuees themselves. The evacuees in my mother’s household were aged 7, 9 and 12 when they arrived. Mum recalls how unsettling it was, initially, to live with children who used their fists to settle an argument but granny was a kind but firm disciplinarian and she instilled her own standards on the unruly children, teaching them manners and the right cutlery to use, amongst other things. (This was according to the recollections of both my mum and her evacuee brother, Mickey, whom I met.) In Diamond Mountain, I’ve used this set-up as a sort of ‘Pretty Woman’ scenario where my pilot hero, Stuart, and his sister, are dropped into a typical middle-class upbringing that’s a world apart from their slum home and drunken parents. The five years in this environment gives them stability and, when they return to their dysfunctional East End home, they’re suddenly misfits due to the ‘nice’ way they now speak, their manners and their ambition.

When  Diamond Mountain begins, Stuart is a pilot flying in the mountains of Lesotho. His five years as an evacuee with the Franklin family in Pretoria have made a huge impression and he’s again left the country of his birth to escape the shadow of his conman father’s illegal activities.

Aviation and Basutair

I imagined Stuart as a cross between lost Michael and determined Jean, mum’s two evacuee siblings. Stuart is determined to escape everything to do with his impoverished East End upbringing and fly a jet for South African Airways, but when he makes his first appearance in Diamond Mountain, he’s lonely and frustrated by four years of flying single-engine Piper Tripacers and Cessna 170s in the mountains of Lesotho in 1961, when my story is set. The promised progression onto the twin-engine Dornier has delayed his plans of building the necessary twin-engine time for getting a cadetship at an airline like South African Airways or BOAC. Again, in a nod to real life, I based the planes Stuart flies on the small fleet that Basutair flew, right down to the colourway and registrations that I could see from photographs of mum and dad.

Diamond Mountain - WWII evacuees

Diamond Mountain

Next week, I’ll focus more on the aviation theme and the unusual help my husband has given me to progress the plot through his real-life aviation experiences as a bush pilot in Botswana, which is where I met him.

So, in the meantime, have a very merry Christmas!

And you can read the first chapter here.

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Returning to the Top of the Sani Pass

Diamond mountainIn 2010, dad and I made our first return trip in 37 years up the Sani Pass, the northwestern gateway into Lesotho.

It was a serendipitous opportunity for both of us as my husband, Eivind, was flying the Boeing 777 for Virgin which had recently started direct Melbourne to Johannesburg flights, so we were able to go staff travel. I was halfway through writing my novel, Diamond Mountain, set in 1960s Mokhotlong, and Dad, then 79, was excited at the opportunity to the return to the country where he’d worked as a District Commissioner and as Secretary to Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan for most of his career.

Unfortunately, dad got sick the day we were due to leave so Eivind had to fly out without us – as per his Virgin schedule – returning from Jo’burg on the flight we arrived on.

I was sorry not to introduce Eivind to one of the legendary mountain passes of the world, which I’d bumped over hundreds of times as a baby and small child in the back of a Landrover in all weathers when mum and dad lived in Mokhotlong. Dad often recalled their trips to the lowlands to visit mum’s parents in Hilton, or to Underberg to stock up on supplies during the early 60s, when I’d be wedged in the back of the landrover in my carrycot surrounded by big bags of flour, mealie-meal and anthracite, He said that when they’d open up the back of the Landrover after they’d reached the summit, he and mum would be greeted by my gummy smile and two blue eyes in a completely soot-covered face.

Despite the disappointment of not being able to show my husband the country where I’d spent my early years, it was fabulous to be travelling with dad, and my sister, Tanika, and her husband Patrick. And I was looking forward to seeing Lesotho through adult eyes. The last time I’d visited had been in 1980 when I was 15 years old.

Just before we’d left Australia, my gadget-mad husband had given me a cool writing App so that I could continue writing Diamond Mountain on my iPad as I’d chosen not to take my computer.

(This is where the story gets really sad.) At the bottom of the Sani Pass, Diamond Mountain was at 60,000 words and the story was rocking along, getting into the motivations for why an honourable, albeit larrikin, bush pilot would get involved in Illegal Diamond Buying when he’d left the country of his birth to disassociate himself from his father’s criminal connections.

When I got to the top of the Sani Pass, Diamond Mountain was at 30,000 words. I couldn’t understand it. I searched everywhere for those missing 30,000 words and it took a while before I accepted the truth. For every bump up the Sani Pass, a word was bumped off the length of my manuscript. Unbeknownst to me, during those few hours travelling up the mountain pass towards Mokhotlong, the continual jolting within that sensitive writing App was deleting my words, one by one, wiping them away like drops of sweat.

I was just a little gutted to lose half my book and months of work but it was wonderful to be back in Lesotho and I was soon charged with renewed enthusiasm, though if I’d allowedsentiment to get in the way, my book would have been called Mountain of Tears. However, as I took in the stark beauty that surrounded me, I knew the rewritten work would be even better.

We reached the top of the Sani Pass a bit ragged after stalling the vehicle on one particularly hairy turn, and were astonished by the incredible view and a bit breathless in the thin mountain air. While Tanika and I quickly acclimatised, dad, who’d spent 20 years of his life at that altitude during his younger days, could barely function. We had to work hard to persuade him to stay overnight, as planned, rather than forging on towards Mokhotlong.

Seven years after that fateful visit, Diamond Mountain is nearly done  – after multiple revisions – and I’m looking for a couple more beta readers before I send it to my editor once more.

As for its release date, that’ll be on my birthday, May 6, 2018. Once I submit that date to Amazon three months out, it’s locked in stone and I’ll have to upload the text file or suffer the penalties: lose all my preorders and be banned from doing Amazon preorders for a year.

So, over the following few months there’ll be more background and updates to Diamond Mountain on Facebook, and here, including character analyses of the pilots and others who are based on real-life amalgamations remembered from both mum and dad’s many colourful stories.

Next Thursday’s blog is about the WWII evacuees that my mother’s family took into their home in Pretoria, as it’s her reminiscences of these three cockney children that influenced the creation of the hero of my book, Stuart Price.

Until then, happy reading and, to all of you enjoying lungfuls of air at 10,000 feet, “Tsamayang hantle.”

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Lesotho – Transition to Independence – Part III

LesothoFrom his home in South Australia’s Clare Valley, Spencer (Ted) Nettelton, former Secretary to Lesotho’s first Prime Minister, Leabua Jonathan, reflects on the country’s transition to Independence, in 1966, as he answers questions put to him by Mahahabe Selebalo, currently pursuing a Masters in History at the National University of Lesotho.

What is your opinion of Jonathan’s use of the Police Mobile Unit (PMU)?

Jonathan staged his coup in January 1970 and by then I’d been out of Lesotho for about 8 months so I was not directly on the scene. Jonathan felt strongly enough to arrest all the opposition politicians when he knew that he had lost the election, and he must have taken into account the fact that there could have been a big backlash with violence staged by mainly the BCP. Jonathan would also have known that he had the complete loyalty of the Police Mobile Unit, commanded by Freddy Roach, who were indeed a formidable and highly trained group of men. I believe those likely to have caused trouble would have feared them and thought twice before attempting to interfere.

I believe that Chief Jonathan’s coup was constitutionally reprehensible and it went against all the values which he expressed to me over quite a number of years. However, reflecting upon this, many years later, I could not help finding myself harbouring a rather contentious view that in the longer-term Jonathan’s coup was actually in the best interests of Lesotho. If Ntso Mokhehle had become PM of Lesotho at that stage the reaction of South Africa to a very openly and fairly militant anti-white PM of Lesotho could have led to all sorts of unpalatable consequences.

Also, the 1960s were a time when both Russia and China were pouring money into Africa. The BCP was being supported by Russian funds and the Marematlou was being supported by Chinese funds. There was great animosity amongst many Africans towards South Africa and this was quite understandable. I have no doubt at all that Lesotho potentially would have been used as a staging post by subversive African units from South Africa, which would not have been not opposed by Mokhehle, and these sabotage groups would then have flitted across the border back into Lesotho, an independent country, where South African authorities would not have had the right to make arrests. This potentially would have not gone down well amongst the more extreme elements of the South African government and might well have led to the complete closing down of all movement between South Africa and Lesotho and the consequences would have been dire. The fact that Leabua Jonathan, in a very unconstitutional manner, and in a way that was very unfair to certain people, but which achieved continued harmony between South Africa and Lesotho, was very much in the interests of the general Basutoland population. I know in saying that I’m being very controversial but if you analyse what I’ve said I think there’s a lot of logic in my thinking.

After living in Lesotho for more than ten years, what is your opinion on Lesotho’s adoption of the Westminster model of government? Do you think the Basotho were ready for a constitutional Monarch?

Lesotho Commemorative mug

On the left is my Lesotho Independence Commemorative Mug. Much of the insignia of the commemorative items to mark the occasion had to be changed so that the horses tails were rampant.


In so many countries where the Westminster system has been used it has not worked and in those cases where it didn’t work the reasons often were that those countries traditionally worked on a tribal structure with warlords really having the power to declare what would happen and how things would be done. In those situations, I do not think the Westminster system is well suited but in the case of Lesotho, there was the great advantage of it being one nation, one language, one paramount chief. Also, they were a people reasonably well educated and therefore at a level where the complexities of a Westminster system, although not completely understood, would have been well enough understood to work. I believe that the Basotho were ready for constitutional monarchy — ie, in hindsight, one reflects what did, in fact, happen in Lesotho in the 60s and 70s. It was inevitable that there would be some problems between the parliament which naturally wished to have full use of its authority as granted to it in the constitution, and then on the other side, there was the traditional chieftainship which was entirely hereditary and gave a great deal of power to the paramount chief. I can fully understand that the paramount chief, in this case, King Moshoeshoe II, did not want to lose some of his authority and he resisted it. As things turned out, the inevitable result was that the elected parliament won the day and the situation seems to have settled down politically after those initial upheavals in sorting out the problems between the parliament and the constitutional monarch. Yes, I do believe that the use of the Westminster system in Lesotho had more chance of working satisfactorily to the benefit of the populace.

Winston Churchill once said, the Westminster system is a bloody awful system but no one has ever come up with one which is, in fact, better.

[End of Interview]

Ted Nettelton

Ted Nettelton, in the Clare Valley, South Australia



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Lesotho – Transition to Independence (Part II)

Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan, 1967

Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan, 1967

In June of this year, a student doing her Masters in History at the University of  Lesotho asked my father, Spencer (Ted) Nettleton, a series of questions about his thoughts on Lesotho’s transition to Independence in 1966.

During his 19 years in Lesotho, my father organised the Independence Celebrations and, as Secretary to the country’s first democratically elected Prime Minister, enjoyed a good relationship with Chief Leabua Jonathan.

Here, in part 2 of this series, he reflects on Lesotho’s path to Independence, more than half a century later.

What was your opinion about the installation of Bereng Seeiso as Paramount Chief in 1960 as one of the steps taken towards independence?

I believe that the installation of Constantine Bereng Seeiso as paramount chief in 1960 was in keeping with long-term British policy and was a correct step along the road to eventual independence for Lesotho. In support of this statement let me take you back to the history of British colonisation in Africa. In the 1880s there was a scramble to acquire land in Africa, primarily between the countries of Britain, France, Portugal, Germany and Belgium. The reason was mostly to augment the supply of raw materials to satisfy the huge demand for such commodities generated as a result of the industrial revolution and this occurred primarily in the UK, but also in other west European countries in which industrialisation was growing apace. In aquiring these new lands the British realised they faced a big task in the administration of these newly acquired colonies. In the 1880s, Lord Lugard on behalf of the British government declared that British policy in the newly acquired colonies would be to seek to govern with maximum use made of existing structures of administration. The policy was to seek to build up and strengthen those structures and not to break them down. This policy was largely adhered to by the British authorities. In the early 1960s, Harold Macmillan, PM of the UK made his famous ‘Winds of Change’ speech. By this stage, Ghana and Nigeria were already on the road to total independence. The ‘Winds of Change’ speech made it clear that ALL British colonies in Africa were seen as having a right to set themselves on a course to independence with the real expectation that this would not be opposed by the government. In the light of the historical factors which I have set out above, the installation of Bereng as Paramout Chief in 1960 was in keeping with British policy and was seen as a reinforcement of the authority of the Paramount Chief but at the same time a need was seen for an elected parliament to work alongisde the traditional hereditary system of chieftainship.

In your opinion, would you say Lesotho was ready for independence in the 1960s?

In 1960, Lesotho did have the benefit of an unusually literate population. Largely, Lesotho owes a great deal of gratitude to the three main church groups who provided the educational structure and, to their credit, those places of education were not confined to the easily administered lowland schools but also were established in very remote mountain areas. As a district commissioner I did on occasion have to go way out on horseback to these remote areas and it always impressed me that so often there would be a school well attended with the kids beautifully turned out in fresh clothing and all obviously keen to learn. It was not just the churches but the Basotho who worked as teachers under the guidance of those churches that had led to the high and commendable literacy rate in Lesotho.

Lesotho’s high literacy rate in the 1960s

One of the biggest factors in helping the Westminster model of government function efficiently is to have a well-educated electorate. In Lesotho, the literacy was very high but there were still big gaps in the actual educational level. I was very much at the centre of the Africanisation of administrative positions in Lesotho and I did feel at times that the pace moved too quickly and I saw many very capable Basotho government employees struggle and at times fail because they simply did not have the experience and skills and mentoring to enable them to properly handle quite complex administrative portfolios. Having said this, I believe that the path towards independence in Lesotho had at a political level become unstoppable and to try and interfere would inevitably have resulted in upheaval. This particularly applies in the case of the Basotholand Congress Party which was in a great hurry to see Lesotho acquire full independence with a fully independent and controlled Basotho government. So, in summary, I would have thought it better that the pace towards independence proceed a bit more slowly and in a more structured way to ensure that those taking over the high positions had received the necessary tutoring and mentoring to ensure that they succeeded. But it would have been difficult.

The British government attitude by this stage was that they would not oppose independence, in fact they would assist in it happening, provided the Basotho had displayed a reasonable level of ability to properly handle their new responsibilities.

The Second world war had really impoverished the British government and they lacked the resources which had been at their disposal before the war. There were already signs that there would be a strong push from many British colonies to attain independence. This was illustrated early in the piece in 1947 when India was granted its independence. A big factor was that it was becoming increasingly difficult to administer India because of the push from the political leaders in India and also the fact that there was a great deal of turmoil in India at that time because of the conflict between Muslim and Hindu segments of the population. The British at the time of Independence, working with the Indian authorities, gained acceptance of the idea that India would be split into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Of course, this didn’t work entirely smoothly and within a decade thereafter we saw Bangladesh break off and become an independent country and even today there continues to be conflict in Kashmir which is primarily Muslim but for some reason the powers that be decided that, despite this, Kashmir would remain as part of Hindu India. (The reason was that Nehru’s mother was born in Kashmir. She had a great fondness for Kashmir and she was the one who lobbied for Kashmir to remain in India.)

During the period you worked closely with the Prime Minister, what concerns did he raise about the political situation of Lesotho at the time?

In the 1960s in the leadup to Independence, and in the early days after independence, Leabua had continued to try and balance the competing complexities of the relationship with South Africa by convincing not only his own people but also the other African nations of the world that he was not allowing himself to become a stooge of apartheid South Africa.

First Speech to the UN General Assembly

In 1967, I was with chief Leabua when he made his first speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York. I was really proud of him on that day because he spoke with total confidence and, I believe, put forward a really convincing attitude which he held towards a very complex situation. Leabua explained to the General Assembly that he had to remain in a working and cordial relationship with SouthAfrica otherwise South Africa could have destroyed Lesotho by closing the borders and freezing the Lesotho percentage of custom duties paid in South Africa which had been agreed to as part of the active union as far back as 1900.

Lesotho’s borders

That source of revenue was very important to Lesotho and the economy of Lesotho would have had felt the effects of not having that cash flow. Also, if the South Africans had closed their borders, foodstuffs for Lesotho, which primarily came from South Africa, would not have been allowed to enter the country and those tens of thousands of Basotho men who did contract work in the mines in South Africa and who remitted considerable funds back to their families in Lesotho, would have been cut off. Lesotho simply could not have continued to function effectively if South Africa had done what they could so easily have done which was simply to close down the borders.

Leabua stood up in the UN and he explained the position to the other United Nations delegates representing their respective countries; countries which had in many cases been highly critical of him because he continued to talk to the South Africans.

Lesotho’s relationship with South Africa

After that speech, there was a far greater understanding amongst African countries of the very difficult situation which faced PM Jonathan. He did make it clear to them that although he was seeking to establish a working relationship with South Africa he would never agree to the opening of an embassy in South Africa unless the Lesotho ambassador was an African. I think this factor did appease certain of his critics. PM Jonathan worked very assiduously to keep good relations with South Africa and I have a wonderful newspaper picture of PM Jonathan being greeted by Dr Voervoed, the PM of South Africa, and the prime promoter of apartheid. The South Africans offered the Basotho government loads of financial assistance which Leabua declined to accept as he felt that this would undermine his position in the eyes of the rest of the world and make him appear to be allowing himself to become subservient to South Africa. He did accept limited assistance in areas of trade expertise and other education situations but, as I said, this was all very limited.

I believe that Lesotho owes a great gratitude to Leabua Jonathan for the manner in which he was able to keep things politically under control in Lesotho at that time and also to retain good relations with South Africa.

As far as the internal political situation was concerned, I adhered to a very strict policy that I would never allow myself to become involved in any domestic political issues in Lesotho and I think this served me well. I stuck to this approach not only in my dealings with Chief Leabua himself but also the members of his cabinet who I saw quite frequently, and when I left Lesotho I left on good terms with both chief Leabua and all of his cabinet.

Chief Leabua had a very slender one-vote majority in the parliament but he managed to maintain a situation where the parliament functioned reasonably well. There was the continual problem of the traditional chieftainship attitude towards politics as opposed to the more politically orientated way of doing things which was favoured by the better educated mainly townspeople.

One of the many newspaper clippings in Ted Nettelton's memoirs relating to Lesotho's Independence.

One of many newspaper clippings in Ted Nettelton’s memoirs relating to Lesotho’s Independence.

Note* Many thanks to Mahahabe Selebalo, currently pursuing a Masters in History at the National University of Lesotho, for the insightful questions, above, that she put to my father.

Next week: PM Leabua Jonathan’s use of the Police Mobile Unit (PMU)

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Lesotho – the transition to Independence

As I get closer to releasing my Lesotho-set novel, Diamond Mountain, and my father works on final edits for the volume of his memoirs concerning his career in Lesotho in the 1950s and 60s, I’m launching a weekly series of blog posts related to the political situation in Lesotho in the years leading up to, and following its Independence in 1966.

Independence Celebrations, From l-r/ King Moshoeshoe II, Sir Alexander Giles, Princess Marina representing the queen, chief Leabua Jonathan, Lesotho PM

Independence Celebrations. L-R: King Moshoeshoe II, Sir Alexander Giles, Princess Marina representing the queen, chief Leabua Jonathan, Lesotho PM

Many thanks to Ted (Spencer) Nettelton, my father, for answering a series of questions put to him on his perspective (as a District Commissioner in the 1950s and, later, Secretary to Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan) regarding Lesotho’s administrative structure and the relationship between Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan and King Moshoeshoe II before and after Lesotho Independence in 1966.

How would you describe the working relationship between the District Commissioners and the chiefs?

Lesotho, for administration purposes, was divided into nine districts, each with a District Commissioner in charge. Within each district, there were between three and five ward chiefs. Each had traditional duty responsibility for assisting and administering those people under their control. The DC was the representative of the British Government of that district and he had the final authority

On the whole, the relationship was cordial, though inevitably there was some resentment from a few chiefs. But generally, chiefs accepted the model. The chiefs realised the newly educated and politically orientated segment of the community were likely to increasingly undermine their authority. The DC and the government as a whole was, in the main, on the side of the chiefs. The chiefs realised this and they knew they could depend upon the DC and the government authorities to safeguard their position as chief.

When I left Lesotho in 1969 it had become a contest between the townspeople and the rural people. The rural people still tended to respect and pay attention to the chiefs in their area whereas the town people looked more and more towards the politically vocal members of the community in the towns.

I say, quite candidly, that we had some useless District Commissioners. This also applied to the chiefs. There were some very good chiefs and, just like the DCs, there were some useless chiefs. One had to bear in mind that the chieftainship was a hereditary system and the chiefs were not all educated to a level where they found it easy to embrace an administrative capability which was becoming increasingly more important.

How would you describe the relationship between Leabua Jonathan and King Moshoeshoe II during your tenure as the Prime Minister’s Secretary?

Both Leabua and the king were polite and caring people. Neither of them, I believe, would have enjoyed conflict which is so enjoyed by some members of the human race. Leabua was in favour of a constitution which embraced the Westminster model provided for by a constitutional monarch; and that’s what had been agreed to. Parliament had been elected in accordance with the constitution and in the same manner the constitution provided for a Head of State with restricted powers and that’s what it was his duty to ensure was put in place.

So the PM  was acting in accordance with what had been agreed to. Having said that, it stands to reason that Leabua wanted to retain his full authority as the PM and would not have wanted to allow part of that authority to be ceded to someone else, i.e, the king. The constitution, as agreed to, supported Leabua’s thinking in this matter. For all his mild manner, and engaging smile, Leabua was also a man with ambition both for himself and his people. The new constitution was a departure from the traditional chieftainship model which would have allowed the king to be undisputed authority in Lesotho. In earlier times this would have been the case. It is understandable that the king found it hard to cede all those traditional powers to a newly formed political system.

Leabua Jonathan, a self-educated man

Leabua, for all that he’d only gone as far as Standard 7, was a man who read prolifically and during my time as his Secretary I was continually surprised at his broad knowledge, particularly in issues of politics, both at home and abroad. I think I would be safe, 50 years later, to divulge the fact that he openly admitted to me that he much preferred working with a British Conservative government than with a Labour government.

The founding of Lesotho – a brief history

To go back in history, Chief Moshoeshoe (1786 – 1870) was an exceptional man by all standards. He was the rock upon which the Lesotho nation was founded and through his wisdom and personality, he was able to bring all the scattered groups of Basotho spread around the Orange Free State into a single nation. Some of his edicts show incredible insight into the politics of his era at that time. In that period he issued edicts prohibiting the sale of alcohol in Lesotho and declared Lebola (bride price) illegal. He persuaded his people that the age of cannibalism was now dead and gone. He invited missionaries to come to Lesotho for the main reason that he saw the absolute necessity for his people to learn to read and write. He made it clear to the missionaries that they were free to conduct their religious services but they were to understand that no white person would ever own land in Lesotho.

Moshoeshoe I and Constantine Bereng Seeiso (Moshoeshoe II)

There are many contrasts between Moshoeshoe I and Constantine Bereng Seeiso (Moshoeshoe II)  when he was installed as the Paramount Chief Elect in 1960. Moshoeshoe II was a man who had attended a very well known English school called Ampleforth in the UK for the last few years of his schooling before he went on to do a degree at Oxford University. He could, therefore, boast a very select education by English traditional standards. This, obviously, was a huge contrast to Moshoeshoe I.

When I first met King Moshoeshoe II in about 1960 he was a man who was still very young and who tended to be a bit retiring and hesitant, which was quite understandable. I did feel that the British administration treated him rather as if he was this new boy who had to be tutored towards a better understanding of what his role was as the new leader of the nation was.

King Moshoeshoe II, I always felt, tended to be a bit isolated at his place of residence at Matsieng. I believe it would have been better if he had been living in Maseru right in the centre of government administration. As I’ve stated earlier when I started answering this question I stressed that both Leabua and Moshoeshoe II were polite and caring people and that neither would have enjoyed conflict. However, both of them were thrust into a situation where Leabua correctly had to defend the implementation of the constitution in accordance with the way in which it had been approved, whereas the king naturally resisted what he saw as the erosion of the traditional powers of the paramount chief. I can understand both of them feeling that their approach to this issue was correct but the way things were turning out it was inevitable that there would be conflict.

Pre-independence Conflict

In the lead-up to the Independence celebrations in 1966, I kept most of the newspaper articles which appeared in the Johannesburg Star and the Bloemfontein Friend newspapers. In regard to this particular matter there’s an article which appeared in the Star in which the king on the day before the independence celebrations stated to the Star newspaper that he would refuse to accept the new constitution. The day after the independence celebrations there is a delightful picture of Leabua and the king laughing together after the king had, without any display of resentment, accepted the new constitutional papers given to him by the queen’s representative at midnight.

As an interesting sideline, on Independence night I was in the same party as Princess Marina who was representing the queen and who was given the responsibility of handing over the new documents of authority for Lesotho to divorce itself from the British authorities and to become an independent country. In the hour before midnight there was still great uncertainty as to whether the king was going to accept the new constitutional documents granting independence to Lesotho. I well remember Princess Marina turning to us and saying, “Well, if he won’t accept these papers, I’m going to simply shove them into his arms and say there ‘you are, you go and sort out the matter yourself’.” As it turned out the king was most gracious at the Independence Celebrations and it all went off smoothly.

Judging by that picture in the Star, the king and Leabua were on quite amicable terms the day after Independence but things did again deteriorate further down the track and I can speak with no authority on those issues as I had by that time left Lesotho.

[End of part 1 of this interview]

Note: This series of newspaper articles will appear in Ted Nettelton’s memoirs. 

Finally, many thanks to Mahahabe Selebalo, currently pursuing a Masters in History at the National University of Lesotho, for the insightful questions, above, that she put to my father.

Next Thursday, November 30: The installation of Bereng Seeiso as Paramount Chief in 1960 and “Was Lesotho ready for Independence?” 

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Regency-set ‘Dynasty’ – only 99c today

Daughters of Sin Box Set: Her Gilded Prison, Dangerous Gentlemen, The Mysterious GovernessWhen I stumbled upon this description of the hugely popular 1980s soap opera Dynasty (on its Wikipedia page), I immediately thought it could have been written for my Daughters of Sin series – except that 200 years separate them.

One of the quintessential 1980s prime-time soaps, “Dynasty” follows the gloriously over-the-top trials and tribulations of the fabulously wealthy and none-too-nice Carrington and Colby clans. Come for the catfights, stay for the shoulder pads and scenery chewing.”

My Daughters of Sin series is all that – but in Jane Austen attire, so floral trimmed poke bonnets and green velvet spencers instead of shoulder pads and laquered hair. Better still, today I have a promotion on the first three books (which can be read as stand-alones, also) for only 99c.

Daughters of Sin is about two nobly born debutantes and their illegitimate half-sisters – a governess and an actress – who compete for love during a hectic London season while bringing to justice a handsome, dangerous villain.

So, if ‘twisty family dynamics’, ambition, passion and skulduggery are your thing – and you admire strong, ambitious heroines (and, of course, their sweet, helpless younger sisters) and love to hate their conniving counterparts – ie, beautiful, vain Araminta whom many readers have wished to see run over by a phaeton – you might want to check out the series.

When I sold the first two books – Her Gilded Prison and Dangerous Gentlemen – my publisher wanted me to go the ‘Fifty Shades’ route (and gave me a cover I hated!). However, since I’ve had the rights returned to me, I’ve toned down the sizzle (though there’s still quite a bit in books 1 & 2), and I’ve upped the scandal and intrigue.

Many reviewers say they love the twist endings. Here are a couple:

“What do I think of this book? I loved it! The theme was so very clever and so novel.” Amazon Reviewer (of Her Gilded Prison)

“Great characters and roller-coaster story with plot twists that surprised me at every turn. I could not believe how it ended but I loved it!” ~ Amazon reader (of Dangerous Gentlemen)

“The mystery, intrigue, and romance kept me turning the pages long into the night. It’s not your usual Regency romance. That is what held my interest until The End. I highly recommend it.” ~ Amazon Reader (of The Mysterious Governess)

(Oh, and since I transferred to Pronoun as my aggregator, I’ve lost all my reviews from Amazon, but they’re still there on their respective individual Amazon page.)

Normally, each romance is $2.99 but today the Box Set is only 99c and I’ve very nearly got into the top #100.

If you’re interested, you can get them on all platforms (plus paperback):
Amazon US –
Apple –
B&N –
Kobo –

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Memories of the Okavango in the early 1990s

Okavango Angel promo shotIn 1992, I visited the Okavango Delta for the first time after dad showed me the pictorial diary of his father’s early years in the Colonial Service, from 1916 to 1922. I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts how this visit changed my life, but as my novella fictionalising my Botswana experiences has just gone up for preorder, I want to tell you again why the Okavango holds such a magical place in my heart, and why I’ve set my first Africa story there.

Eivind and me drinking Johnny Walker in the days when a drop of the Okavango made Red Label taste as good as Blue.

I was 27 and working as a journalist on Adelaide’s The Advertiser when I saw the diary. I admit, I was deeply envious as I read about grandpa’s adventurous life: his regular treks of up to six months into Botswana’s interior – alone, except for his carriers.

Working for the Colonial Administration demanded a lot of this young man of only 22. He had to shoot for the pot, collect Hut Tax, settle disputes, and plot the tsetse fly belt which meant travelling by night by mule when the tsetse fly wasn’t active.

At the time, I longed for adventure – still do, actually – so when I received an unexpected windfall through writing three articles for SA Homes & Living Magazine, I booked a return ticket from Adelaide to Harare. I first stayed with dad’s cousin, Felicite, in Zimbabwe. This was when the place still functioned, and Felicite proudly took me on tours to see the local cheese factories and wineries, and the recycled glass business she owned. She was known locally as “Auntie Glass” and employed dozens of locals.

Eivind, left, and Chris, right, preparing for our raiding party.

Preparing our Indian Raiding party of Island Safari Lodge. Eivind is on the left, and Chris is on the right.

After that, dad and I travelled to Botswana for a five-day fly-in, fly-out safari.

My two nights in Jedibe and three nights in Mombo luxury safari camps were magical, so when the manager of Okavango Wilderness Safaris later asked me if I’d return as a relief manager for two months over the following Christmas, I had no hesitation in saying yes.

Indian Raiding Party. I'm the squaw in the striped kikoi.

Indian Raiding Party. I’m the squaw in the striped kikoi.

Okavango Angel, the novella that I’ve included in this Romancing the Holidays anthology, is based on these two months. I was never part of a managing couple – as I married the handsome Norwegian bush pilot, though not the one in my novella. As I’ve mentioned in other posts, all the characters in my story are pure fiction! – but I worked with many couples in lodges and overland safaris, and was a sounding board for young men and women who were falling in and out of love in this magical, extraordinary setting.

When I write about my hero and heroine, Katherine and Aaron, they’re an amalgamation of many of the young camp managers and rangers who got swept up into a world far different from the hustle and bustle of city life, or mundane domesticity – a life I didn’t re-enter for more than a decade. Working at Mombo changed my worldly aspirations and I would soon give up my job in Adelaide to return to Botswana to live with Eivind.

Jorn joining us for a swim

Jørn, my brother-in-law, throwing his weight around. 🙂

I hope you enjoy Okavango Angel. The incident in which the wild dogs rush through camp (which I’ve called Momba Safari Lodge, rather than Mombo), overturning a director’s chair on the veranda in front of one of the East Africa tents, is true. Nothing like that had ever happened before so it caused a huge thrill.

The incident of the elephants trumpeting and ripping up vegetation just behind the boma also occurred during my first visit to Mombo when I was there with my dad.

Other details are as I remember them. Mombo, today, is far more sophisticated – and more expensive! – than during my time in the early to mid-1990s, and I believe Jedibe is no more. Personally, I loved those rustic early days when communications were limited to a two-way radio and light aircraft, even if it increased frustrations when things went wrong. There was no electricity at Jedibe so hurricane lamps were issued to everyone, and would be lined up behind the bar, for guests returning to their tents.

There were no mobile telephones or internet coverage and hot water was supplied by the ‘donkey boiler’, relying on camp staff to keep up a fire behind one’s tent to heat the water for one’s ensuite lataka reed bathroom.

Eivind and me attending the wedding of friends and lodge managers, Paul and Caroline.

As manager, one was responsible for ordering the food and other provisions needed to keep the guests supplied with the gourmet meals they’d expect in a five-star restaurant, and a collection of well-used Women’s Weekly cookbooks was used by a succession of camp managers.

Dawn drive took place after the guests would meet for rusks and tea and coffee, in the dark, in the boma, which was the letaka reed bar overlooking the flood plain. I’ll never forget my first game drive during which we rounded a thorn bush to see a giraffe who’d just given birth. The baby giraffe was still struggling out of its spotted caul. Shortly afterwards, I was treated to a cheetah kill, which lasted a painful 20 minutes since the cheetah had to suffocate its prey rather than use its jaws which were not strong enough to end the animal’s life quickly.

This isn’t the bar, or boma, at Mombo but it’s similar.

As Mombo was only a 16-bedded camp commanding the exclusive range of a concession of about 45,000 square hectares, we used to go out on dawn and dusk game drives in just two vehicles, meaning we never saw another soul. Privileged, indeed!

Okavango Angel is one of nine novellas in a really fun, Christmas anthology with stories set in Africa, Australia, Canada and times gone by.

It’s now up for pre-order and you can get it here!

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