Stuart Cloete was born in France in 1897 to a Scottish mother and South African father. (His ancestors had come from Holland with Jan Van Riebeck to establish a settlement for the Dutch East India Company).
He remembered his early years in Victorian Paris with sweet nostalgia, but the ideal was shattered when he began his schooling in France and England. He never excelled academically and - in his own words - ‘learnt almost nothing'.
At the age of 17 Cloete went straight into the army, and became one of the youngest commissioned officers in the First World War. While nearly all of his early fellow officers and friends died, he survived four years of fighting in France and, for a while, was treated like a living lucky charm by the troops. He was seriously injured twice and experienced amnesia induced by ‘shell-shock' which was largely left untreated. In a mental hospital in London he met his first wife, a volunteer nurse, Eileen Horsman, and fell deeply in love, even inducing a second breakdown with aspirin and whisky so he could see her again.
After recuperating in France, Cloete acted on his compulsion to identify with the land of his ancestors. He became a successful farmer in the Transvaal in South Africa. But as soon as he had established himself and achieved his aims he became restless again and began pondering a life as a writer. His eighteen year marriage floundered through growing incompatibility and Cloete's infidelity.
He sold up and left for England to become an author, leaving Eileen behind in South Africa. He recalled the decision to become a writer as the biggest gamble of his life. But, as it turned out, he hit the jackpot with his first novel, Turning Wheels, published in 1937. It sold more than two million copies, although it was banned in South Africa where it scandalised the authorities with its commentary on the Great Trek and a mixed race relationship. Cloete was a prolific writer and went on to complete 14 novels and at least eight volumes of short stories.
On the way to America to promote Turning Wheels, Cloete met Tiny who later became his second wife. It was not love at first sight but eventually he realised he had found a soul mate. Tiny enjoyed the fruits of his success as a highly acclaimed writer and was his faithful companion until his death in the Cape in 1976.
Cloete lived though a period of unprecedented upheavals and in his autobiography, published in the early 70s, he pondered whether ‘progress' was in fact a misnomer; it had ushered in colourless uniformity and even the threat of nuclear war. He also reflected on the chapters of his vagabond, eventful and, in his view, incredibly lucky life.