Café Cala welcomes Joanne van Os

Hi Joanne, welcome to Café Cala,

Jo van Os

I’m delighted to have you visit Café Cala. I’ve just finished reading Ronan’s Echo and loved it. I’ve been making a banana and pecan loaf this morning. Would you like tea or coffee with yours?

Thank you Maggie. A cup of tea and banana and pecan loaf sounds lovely!

 1 Where did you get the idea for Ronan’s Echo?

In 2008 we were sailing in southern Borneo and met a forensic anthropologist whose work involved digging up mass graves and finding evidence for international war crimes tribunals. Her next job was excavating burial pits of lost Australian WW1 soldiers at Fromelles. I’d never heard of Fromelles – like most Australians – and when I began reading about it I was fascinated, and shocked at the scale of the tragedy. It was Australia’s first engagement in Europe, and it was a disaster – 5,533 troops either killed, wounded or missing in just a few hours on 19 July 1916. This young woman also caught my attention. For someone with such a gruesome job, she was one of the most delightful and funny people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. She, as much as the story of Fromelles, set off my imagination, although the resulting main character in Ronan’s Echo is nothing like my friend, just her job!

2 What have you found most rewarding about your writing?

I love the research part, and find it difficult to stop, and to find my way back out of all the rabbit holes I’ve gone down. I love the act of writing, of disappearing into the world I’m creating on the page, and being allowed to stay there for a while.  And it’s a wonderful feeling when readers let you know that they really enjoy something you’ve written, when you know they “get” it.

3 How did you start writing?

Writing’s always been something I’ve loved, even as a child. At the end of the school year I’d tear the blank pages out of my exercise books, stack them up, and feel this little thrill of expectation looking at all the clean, empty pages I could fill up. I still get the same feeling from a beautiful blank notebook. Strange to say, I don’t feel the same way about a blank screen!  It wasn’t until I wrote my memoir “Outback Heart” that I began writing seriously. I was prompted to do that by the numbers of people wanting to make a film about “the real Crocodile Dundee” after my ex-husband died. I decided the only way the true story would be told was to do it myself. So I did.

4 What would you say has helped you most?

Having an understanding husband has helped the most. He has always taken my writing seriously, giving me space and time to work – although he’s made it hard the last couple of years by taking me off sailing, away from my study and my desk!!

5 What are you working on at the moment?

Next question!!  It’s in the too-early-to-talk-about stage right now, but it is going to be historical.

6 What advice would you offer aspiring writers?

Write. Just write. Keep writing every chance you get, whether you expect it to be published or not, because you are constantly honing your craft. Don’t edit yourself in the first draft, just get it all down, and don’t be too critical of it too soon. Take your writing seriously. Be careful who you talk to about it, because a writer’s ideas are the most fragile creatures and easily crushed when young and undeveloped.

7 Which authors do you enjoy reading?

It depends which day you ask me!  I can never pick a favourite – I read widely. But I do love Geraldine Brooks, (especially Year of Wonders), also Kate Grenville, Sebastian Faulks, Hilary Mantel, Jane Austen, JRR Tolkein, Bernard Cornwell for Viking/ Dark Ages escapism, and Donna Leon for lovely, cosy Venetian detective stories… Tomorrow I might have a few different authors!

I couldn’t say if I was influenced by any particular author when I wrote Ronan’s Echo. It’s a family saga set in the time around WW1 and the present day, with a dip into post WW2 and the 60s. It’s essentially about the knock-on effects of the trauma from the battle of Fromelles on one family, through several generations. It has a present day thread running through it, which is concerned with the discovery of the missing soldiers.

Thanks Maggie, it’s been a pleasure! And the banana and pecan loaf was excellent.

Ronan's Echo Cover Image

About Ronan’s Echo

In 1916 twin brothers Denny and Connor Ronan are eager to get to the war before it’s all over; Bridie O’Malley, their childhood friend and the woman they both love, watches them leave, understanding too late that war is about more than heroes and handsome boys in uniform.

Nearly a century on from the disastrous battle of Fromelles, forensic anthropologist Kat Kelso, Bridie’s great granddaughter, is in France identifying the recovered bodies of lost Australian soldiers. The discovery of her own relative amongst the dead men begins the unravelling of a hundred years of family history, lies and secrets.

Ronan’s Echo is available through good bookshops – if it’s not on the shelf it can be ordered in. It’s also available on line at:

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Fromelles, 19 July 1916

‘Connor . . .’

The roar of the surf filled his ears as he rode his longboard across the face of a huge, tumbling curler. It was a monster, ten storeys high, terrifying against the clean blue sky.


From up there, he could see the tall pines along the Steyne tossing their heads in a gale that wailed and howled until he could hear it above the crashing surf. He needed to get off the wave, needed to get ashore, needed–


He opened his eyes. The sun was nearly down, and the barrage of guns and mortars was as fierce as ever. Denny was slumped against the other side of the shell hole, his rifle and pack on the ground beside him. He grinned at Connor, his gold tooth glinting oddly against the charred gore of his face. The front of his tunic was dark and wet, and something glistened in the places where it was torn.

‘I thought you were dead . . . lyin’ there like that,’ he said. He dropped his head back against the mud and panted shallowly for a few seconds. Talking was an effort. ‘Y’ been out for ages.’

Heavy boots scraped past the shell hole. A mortar exploded nearby. Denny turned his face away, his eyes tight against the shower of earth. ‘Please, Con, do it now, before someone finds us.’

Connor looked at his brother and his vision swam with tears. Eighteen years of backing each other up, of finishing each other’s sentences, of knowing what the other was thinking . . . But he had no way out. A promise to Denny was a promise to himself.

‘Do it!’ Denny’s voice grated at him, full of mud and bone. ‘Do it, Con.’

Connor Ronan scrambled awkwardly over the lip of the shell hole and joined a thread of men heading towards the enemy trenches. He moved in a daze, oblivious to danger or fear. A machine-gun nest mauled them with a blizzard of metal. Lead scorched his ears and tore apart the soldier to his left. The man on his other side jerked like a marionette, spraying Connor with blood. He tramped on, unharmed.

A short distance in front of the machine gun he dropped and rolled into a hollow in the earth. He drew the pin on a grenade, lobbed it and followed up with a second before the first had even exploded. Dirt, shrapnel and blood blossomed from the nest, men screamed and died and the gun fell silent.

Connor leaped into the trench onto mounds of dead and dying soldiers with his brother’s bayonet in his hands and a red mist in his eyes.

They were almost back to their own lines, hours later, the moon not long set, when the world erupted sideways and Connor fell again. This time he did not dream of a Sydney beach. He lay in the cold, churned earth, paralysed with pain and horror as three soldiers writhed their death throes on top of him, until someone found him moaning beneath their shattered corpses and dragged him back to the trenches.

He woke on a muddy groundsheet between two other broken, groaning bodies.

‘Denny,’ Connor grated through his torn, smashed mouth, ‘Denny . . . we promised.’












Café Cala welcomes Erica James

Hi Erica, welcome to Café Cala,

 Erica James

I’m thrilled to welcome you to Café Cala. I love all of your books and think The Dandelion Years is one of your best. I’ve been making some hot cross buns this morning. Would you like tea or coffee with yours?

 Tea please, with a tiny splash of milk. Thank you.


Where did you get the idea for The Dandelion Years?

Ideas fall into my lap at the oddest times and in the most unexpected ways and with The Dandelion Years it was a combination of things that triggered the storyline. Firstly I was planning to move to Suffolk and was spending a lot of time house-hunting and it was after viewing one particular property, a gorgeous Suffolk pink thatched cottage, that I started to imagine a family living there – a family that became Saskia and her father and two grandfathers. So that triggered the contemporary storyline. As for the WWII and Bletchley Park setting, that came from out of nowhere.

I had visited Bletchley some years ago but didn’t really take that much interest in the place; it certainly didn’t cross my mind that one day I would write about it. But such is the way of these things, fate had other ideas and suddenly I found myself very much interested in what had gone on there during WWII. I think it was the absolute secrecy that everyone who worked at the Park adhered to that struck me most, that and the hothouse environment that these incredibly skilled and dedicated people were working in. I can’t imagine the same thing happening today, social media would be rife with every detail!

What have you found most rewarding about your writing?

The rewards are many, but if I had to narrow it down to one or two, I’d say that meeting my readers is always a real joy. I also love being left alone to get on with the business of writing, especially when it’s going well and the ideas fit together perfectly and my characters seem to move the story along in a direction of their choosing. Printing off a chapter at the end of the day, that seemingly wrote itself, is such a great feeling.

How did you start writing?

I began writing purely as a hobby, and was, it sounds strange to say, an extension of the pleasure I derived from reading. Once I got going I really enjoyed the process of creating something from nothing, I still do.

What would you say has helped you most?

I’ve written nineteen novels now – almost a book a year since my first novel was published – and the thing that has helped me most to achieve that is a puritanical work ethic. I’m naturally very self-contained and disciplined – if I’m going to do something, I have to do it to the best of my ability.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m hard at work on my next novel but it’s much too early to give anything away about it. All I’ll say is that it’s another book with a dual narrative and involves a fair bit of research.

What advice would you offer aspiring writers?

Don’t keep talking about what you want to write, just get on and do it!

Which authors do you enjoy reading?

I’ve recently finished reading Mapp & Lucia by E.F. Benson, a book I’ve meant to read for a very long time, but somehow didn’t manage to do so until now. It’s a wonderful comic novel set in the 1930s and revolves around two outrageously competitive women who are obsessed with outdoing each other. It made me laugh out loud many times. I’m now on a mission to read some more of E.F. Benson’s books.

Anne Tyler’s novels have always been some of my favourite reads, she writes so perfectly about families.

Thrillers and crime novels are pretty much in evidence on my bookshelves – there’s nothing like a fast-paced thriller!

The Dandelion Years

The Dandelion Years

Ashcombe was the most beautiful house Saskia had ever seen as a little girl.  A rambling pink cottage on the edge of the Suffolk village of Melbury Green, its enchanting garden provided a fairy-tale playground of seclusion, a perfect sanctuary to hide from the tragedy which shattered her childhood.

Now an adult, Saskia is still living at Ashcombe and, as a book restorer, devotes her days tending to the broken and battered book that find their way to her, daydreaming about the people who had once turned their pages.  When she discovers a notebook carefully concealed in an old Bible – and realising someone has gone to a great deal of trouble to hide a story of their own – Saskia finds herself drawn into a heart-rending tale of wartime love …

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Where to find Erica