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Interview: Edmund Bohan talks on Turn On, Old Time

Historian, biographer, novelist and former international operatic and concert singer, Edmund Bohan is a man of many talents. In the 2019 New Year Honours List, Edmund Bohan was awarded the MNZM for services to music, historical research and literature. Edmund talks to NZ Booklovers about his new novel.

Tell us a little about Turn On, Old Time.

Turn on, old Time is a historical mystery novel and the eighth in the Inspector O’Rorke series - whose continuous theme is that inevitably consequences of past events will, sooner or later, return to threaten, haunt and, perhaps, even destroy.

Like each of the others, it is complete on its own, while involving characters who feature in previous novels - in particular O’Rorke’s beloved Kate Martin, his old friend Colonel Jamieson, and his mortal enemy the Polish revolutionary Bogdan Lynskey.

Called in by Scotland Yard and the Home Office to help investigate the murder of a distinguished New Zealand businessman in 1882’s London, and to protect a famous visiting Austrian general from assassination, O’Rorke - on the eve of returning to New Zealand - finds himself, and his friends - old and new - drawn into a series of dramatic events whose origins date back to the Crimean War. As circles of intrigue swirl, alliances splinter, and as he learns more and more about those past events, he starts to distrust even his closest colleagues. With danger threatening those he loves, his departure from London becomes increasingly urgent.

What inspired you to write this book?

Simply to continue the long and complex O’Rorke story - and also those of his closest friends and, especially, of his enemies Lynskey and Zoltan Bathory, who have long been determined to destroy him.

What research was involved?

As with all my other historical novels - and, of course, for my historical non-fiction - my research is very comprehensive. I’ve always enjoyed that immensely - ever since I began my undergraduate historical research long ago in the 1950s!

This book involved detailed research into the Crimean War, both online and from published sources, and, especially, into the greatly feared Bashi-Bazouks Albanian irregular cavalry - whose very name was once used to describe unbridled violence.

What was your routine or process when writing this book?

My writing routine remains unchanged since I began writing non-fiction in the 1950s and fiction in the 1960s: after preliminary research, once I actually start a book, I write in the mornings, revise, and, if need be, do more research in the afternoons. I revise continually. I work office hours and seldom write in the evenings.

If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.

There could only be one soundtrack! The trio ‘Turn on, old Time,’ itself from Vincent Wallace’s opera ‘Maritana’ for mezzo, tenor and bass. I recorded this commercially during my career as an operatic and concert tenor in London in the 1970s. It was an LP with London Concert artists but is long unavailable, of course. It was a very popular operatic trio once because of its soaring main tune, especially in Victorian and Edwardian times when Maritana was performed by opera companies throughout the world.

What did you enjoy the most about writing this novel?

I’ve enjoyed writing the O’Rorke novels enormously ever since the first - The Opawa Affair (1996) - in which a performance of Maritana and the trio play a significant part in the plot.

I enjoy constructing complex plots and, especially, developing the numerous characters. The whole series is character-driven. And it’s an enjoyable - even refreshing - change from writing historical non-fiction.

What did you do to celebrate finishing Turn On, Old Time?

Celebrating? Nothing special these days as I’m a widower living alone.

An extra glass of wine, a special cream cake and a chocolate biscuit or two! We will be launching the book at Christchurch’s University Book Shop on 4 October with Trevor Agnew presiding. That will be great fun.

What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?

I read mostly non-fiction these days, but L.C.Tyler’s most recent historical crime novel The Summer Birdcage is easily my favourite novel of this year. His ingenious plots, superb characterisation,, brilliant dialogue and, especially, his wit all make him a special favourite.

My non-fiction read this year: Martyn Raby’s The Middle Kingdoms, a new history of Central Europe, takes the top spot so far for scholarship, readability and style.

What’s next on the agenda for you?

What next? Completing my history of the Christchurch Arts Centre (1874-2024). Another historical novel? We’ll see. Time will tell!

Quentin Wilson Publishing


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