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Friday, June 6, 2014

Out of Africa... meet Beverley Eikli

BE and AS hamming it up...
Sometimes in life we meet people with whom there is an instant connection. I have known about Beverley Eikli (or Beverley Oakley) for a long time through the writing circles, but we never really got to talk until we went to the Phryne Fisher Costume Collection last year. Not only did we discover we were both big kids who liked dressing up, but also discovered some of the most amazing coincidences in our lives... beginning with the fact we were both born in the dying days of the colonial presence in Africa: me in Kenya and Beverely in Lesotho and moved to Australia at about the same age (Beverley to Adelaide and me to Melbourne) etc.  However what Beverley did, that I have never quite had the courage to do, is return to Africa and her life from there reads like a Girl's Own Adventure.

Beverley and I are doing a shared book launch on June 22nd and all of those (in the general vicinity of course!) are more than welcome to join us for an afternoon of wine, cheese, chocolate, books, poetry and music. (Proceeds will be going to Alzheimers Victoria). Details at the end of the post. 

So many questions I could pose, Beverley, but first let us compose ourselves with a cup of tea. I have been teaching George Swahili… “Peleke chai kwa Mgeni” (Take tea to the guest).  The question is what sort of tea is your preference?

Ah, there’s nothing like a good strong cup of tea, first thing in the morning when I sit down to work. Thank you so much for having me, Alison. So, tea? I’m a traditionalist and a ‘when in Rome…. ’ sort of person. In Australia it’s English Breakfast with no milk or sugar. However when we visit Norway, which we do quite frequently as my husband is Norwegian and I lived there for a year, my favourite is Jul Te or Christmas Tea (pronounced yule, as in yuletide), a fragrant fruit and spice tea, taken black and unsweetened, which I bring home in large quantities after every visit.

The reason I mention Swahili is because you and I have a very similar background. I was born in Kenya and you in Lesotho (formerly Basutoland) during the dying days of the British Empire. What took your family to Lesotho?

BE's grandfather on a survey trip of the Okavango 
Ah, Africa and the good old days…. Well, my dad, Ted Nettelton, had been born andbrought up in Botswana during the 30s and 40s and had studied anthropology at Cape Town University before he joined the British Colonial Service. They sent him to Cambridge University to do a District Commissioner’s Course, and then to the mountainous African kingdom of Lesotho in the mid 50s where he became a District Commissioner in Mokhotlong, known at the time as ‘The British Empire’s most remote outpost’. I was born ten years later during what mum and dad considered the happiest years of their lives in this far-flung region. Shortly afterwards dad was transferred to the capital, Maseru, where he took up the post of Private Secretary to the country’s first democratically elected Prime Minister Leabua Jonathan. We emigrated to Australia a few years after Independence.

Garden in the mountains of Mokhotlong in Lesotho
Your own life reads like a girl’s own adventure or at the very least the plot of a romance novel. Again, like my family, yours emigrated to Australia but unlike me, Africa has drawn you back and that in itself is a story. Can you give us a potted history of your African adventure?

Thanks Alison… I love telling this story because it’s a reminder that real-life romance is just as interesting as fiction. So, how did I end up back in the land of my father’s and grandfather’s birth, a whole generation later?

BE with microlight in Botswana
In my late twenties I came upon my grandfather, Gerald Nettelton’s pictorial diary, which details his extraordinary adventures as a young District Officer between 1916 and 1922 in the Okavango Delta in Northern Botswana. About that time, an unexpected freelance windfall gave me the funds to see the country for myself on a fly-in safari, so I persuaded dad to come along, and we had a brilliant time, the icing on the cake being a job offer to return later in the year to do two months relief management at Okavango Wilderness Safari’s luxury camp, Mombo. I leapt at the opportunity and took leave from my job as a journalist on Adelaide’s The Advertiser to immerse myself in bush life. This was twenty years ago so communications were basic. There was nothing as sophisticated as wifi or GPS or fax machines, though we had a two-way radio. Delivering fresh supplies and tourists to camp was done by light aircraft due to the floodwaters which turned so many camps into islands for six months of the year, but those  floodwaters attracted vast herds of game to the area which the tourists paid big money to see. Botswana’s successful economy is based largely on high cost, low impact tourism, in addition to revenue from its diamonds which were – fortunately for Botswana – discovered after they gained independence from Britain. (I later had some exciting times working in survey in the closed diamond town of Orapa, several years later, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, back to my own fairy tale in the pristine, romantic environment of the Okavango, where fate intervened the evening before I was due to fly home to resume my old life. After dining around the large table with the 14 guests staying in our small camp, we all convened around the campfire, and this is when I got talking to the handsome Norwegian bush pilot who’d just flown in four tourists.

Eight months later, after a whirlwind courtship consisting of these six hours of conversation around the camp fire, dozens of long-hand snail-mail letters three faxes and two long-distance phone calls, Eivind (pronounced Ivan) boarded a flight from Botswana and jetted over to Australia to ask me to marry him. It’s been a brilliantly successful 20 years, as that was only the beginning of our adventures around the world.

How has Africa influenced your writing?

I’ve always felt part of me stayed in Africa, though I’ve lived in many countries and Australia is home. As a child I wrote childish, dramatic stories about kidnapped earl’s daughters, and, as an adult, more sophisticated stories of kidnapped earl’s daughters, but a novel with an African setting has always been something I’ve wanted to do.

A poaching background might have been an obvious choice due to my having worked in the safari industry. I’d heard so many stories from Dad who’d grown up in the bush, and hunted for the pot during boyhood expeditions. Tragically, his brother, my uncle Gerald, was trampled to death by an elephant in Tanganyika; later, when I worked in Botswana, and then when I returned once more to live with Eivind in a tiny thatched cottage in the middle of a mopane forest by a flood plain, I formed a very healthy respect for elephants, and for the other African wildlife which surrounded me.

However, although I was working and socializing with pilots who flew for photographic safaris, and pilots who flew for hunting safaris, and also game rangers, documentary makers and long-time game hunters, I wanted to set a story in the country where I’d been born during the final years of the Colonial Administration.

Dad had prosecuted many medicine murders and Illegal Diamond (IDB) Buying cases in Lesotho, so I decided to make my hero a bush pilot who becomes embroiled in IDB to save the reputation of the District Commissioner’s daughter, whom he loves, but who has set her sights on a more illustrious match: an up-and-coming Cape Town lawyer. In addition to the dramas of conflicted love and how many risks a man will take for honour, despite the fact his ultimate goal seems hopeless, I also wanted to explore the nuances of the class structure amongst both blacks and whites in a country that has never experienced Apartheid yet which was surrounded by Apartheid South Africa.

The Sani Pass - one of the world's great mountain passes - was just down the road and separated us from South Africa. I returned several years ago and remembered all over again how terrifying it was to negotiate those hairpin bends in a 4x4

You are best known for your wonderful cross genre historical novels (indeed you write spicy historical under the soubriquet Beverley Oakley). Do you have a particular period that holds your passion?

I enjoy so many, and I have to admit that when I set a book in a particular time period, it’s often a good excuse for me to make a full costume, with all the corsetry and underpinnings to wear in order to promote it. The two favourite settings for my spicy stories are the English Civil War (The Cavalier) and the 1880s during the pioneering years of Photography (Saving Grace). Pan Macmillan Momentum have just included Saving Grace in a bundled collection of their Hot Down Under series, which was launched a few days ago on May 27th. And I have to say, that although my Beverley Oakley stories were classified erotic, most of them were more an exploration into how desperation motivated my heroines during key historical moments, rather than a celebration of eroticism, though the descriptions were reasonably explicit, as the heat level of my Beverley Oakley stories always are.

Your latest book (and your second with Choc Lit) is THE MAID OF MILAN. What was the inspiration behind this story?

I worked on this story over many years, while other stories of mine were published. Honour and redemption are key themes, as is generally the case with my books. As almost every reviewer remarks, The Maid of Milan is ‘not your typical historical romance’, and that the ending isn’t what any of them expected. I love to keep readers guessing and to lead them to expect a certain ending, but to get another.

I also wanted to explore the issues of wrongdoing and manipulation, and how far love and forgiveness will stretch. I agonized over getting the nuances just right in this book and I strove for an atmosphere reminiscent of the 1944 mystery-thriller movie ‘Gaslight’ starring Ingrid Bergmann. In the beginning of The Maid of Milan, everything at first seems obvious. The reader knows that Regency party-girl Adelaide has come a cropper and, following four years of unspectacular marriage, she’s just begun to appreciate her noble, energetic and reformist MP husband, Tristan, who’s nursed her through her darkest hours.
Then Adelaide’s former lover, (who happens to be Tristan’s boyhood friend), turns up, and Adelaide is forced into a series of lies and counter-lies to hide the secrets of her past, while being thrust reluctantly into the limelight as the celebrated muse of a famous painter.

But that’s when everything stops being obvious as, hopefully, the reader grapples with who, in fact, is manipulating Adelaide, and why? The answers are definitely not as clear-cut as first appears and  Adelaide finds herself spiraling into a world where, despite all her best intentions and efforts to be the woman her husband deserves, she is trapped, a pawn in someone else’s game.


How much would you pay for a clear conscience?

Adelaide Leeson wants to prove herself worthy of her husband, a man of noble aspirations who married her when she was at her lowest ebb.

Lord Tristan Leeson is a model of diplomacy and self-control, curbing the fiery impulses of his youth to maintain the calm relations deemed essential by his mother-in-law to preserve his wife’s health.
A visit from his boyhood friend, feted poet Lord James Dewhurst, author of the sensational Maid of Milan, persuades Tristan that leaving the countryside behind for the London Season will be in everyone’s interests.
But as Tristan’s political career rises and Adelaide revels in society’s adulation, the secrets of the past are uncovered. And there’s a high price to pay for a life of deception.

The Maid of Milan is available in ebook, paperback, Large Print and audio book from: Amazon USAmazon UKiBooksKoboBarnes & NobleBook Depository

Beverley Eikli is the award-winning author of eight historical romances, laced with 
mystery and intrigue.
She has worked as a journalist, magazine editor, a safari lodge manager in Botswana’s Okavango Delta, and an airborne geophysical survey operator on contracts around the world.
Beverley loves exploring complex issues such as the consequences faced by characters who make errors of judgment in a punitive society. Her own experiences have provided rich fodder for her books, the highlight of her tumultuous past being the handsome Norwegian bush pilot she met around a camp fire in Botswana and married after a whirlwind romance, twenty years ago.
Beverley teaches in the Department of Professional Writing & Editing at Victoria University. She lives with her husband, two daughters and their Rhodesian Ridgeback, in a pretty country town near Melbourne, Australia.

You can visit her website at: or follow her on Twitter @BeverleyOakley or Facebook:

It’s been a pleasure to be here, Alison. Thank you. I’d also like to offer a copy of my Regency romantic mystery/suspense Lady Farquhar’s Butterfly to a randomly selected reader who can tell me what year France’s Madame Guillotine beheaded its last victim. (I ask this during my History Through Costume talks, because my last book, The Reluctant Bride, was partly set during The Reign of Terror in 1792.)