Interview with Alan Ahrens-McManus

What's the story behind your latest book?
I've taught various school subjects in Scotland and all over the world and my doctorate is in Education so it's been fun to have Bruno and his friends open a small school. The challenge then is that as soon as kids (or dogs) become involved, they take centre stage. Blacky the cat has never really cared enough about anything to take an active role in the books (though that may change) but little Max makes his mark in Qismet and that is the book where the kids are really important. As my focus is on Bruno, a school trip gives a great background to the developing plot and scenes such as swimming with seals some much-needed relief from the intensity of this tragic but inspirational story.
What motivated you to become an indie author?
Publishing is changing. I typed, formatted, edited, proofread and publicised my first book on ethics, Only Say the Word: Affirming Gay and Lesbian Love, and although there is still a sense of greater prestige associated with a publishing company, many authors are honestly asking ourselves if it's now worth it. Self-publishing platforms like Smashwords are really empowering to authors prepared to put in the hours. Actually I found that my doctoral work on the American philosopher and novelist Robert M. Pirsig really helped me over come my technophobic attitude to learning all the formatting and unloading details. I love being in control of the process, especially when the resulting quality is so good!
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
The greatest joy has got to be when my readers form their own relationships with my characters. Whether they like or dislike them doesn't matter to me but what does is that they can relate to them as real personalities.
What do your fans mean to you?
I'm just dead chuffed (that's 'totally buzzed' in US English!) that my stories are travelling all over the world, as I've been lucky enough to do. I have friends in Brazil and in China who are reading about Bruno and his friends. And those are just the ones I know about! Readers (it seems immodest to call them 'fans') mean that a book has connected with people. Otherwise it's a personal, fabricated, diary.
What are you working on next?
Having just published Tir nam Ban, I'm going back now to do some consolidation and quality control on the previous 4 Bruno books. I know that doesn't sound terribly exciting but it really helps with continuity and also puts me in a different frame of mind so that I'm listening to the characters tell their stories and questions may arise, such as 'Imogen's always been a go-getter, what does she want to get next?' Because well-drawn characters come right off the page and surprise you!
Who are your favorite authors?
I would say that my two most immediate inspirations for the Bruno Benedetti Mysteries are Armistead Maupin (creator of the Tales of the City series, set in San Fran) and Iain Banks for his Scottish novels (and incidentally for the name change between Alan McManus and Alan Ahrens-McManus, as he is Iain M. Banks for his Sci-Fi novels). I like Maupin's short snappy sentences and sense of the ridiculous, as well moral nature of his celebration of life and liberty that's completely not uptight. In reaction to the 'tartan shortbread' or Brigadoon view of Scotland, there has been an emphasis on gritty Glasgow (or ugly Edinburgh, as in Trainspotting) but Banks has something of the transcendent in his Scottish novels, even with his feet firmly on the ground, and that inspires me.
What inspires you to get out of bed each day?
My dog Ben! Walking with him along the Forth & Clyde canal that follows the path of an ancient Roman wall, with a view of the hills to the north, is my daily inspiration and a time for thanksgiving.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
With family and friends and of course with Ben the dog. I'm not the world-traveller I used to be, and may be again, but I've seen more of my native country of Scotland this year and especially being lucky enough to live for a time in the Hebridean islands was a great joy - though often very challenging.
How do you discover the ebooks you read?
I confess that I don't read a lot of ebooks as I spend quite a lot of time reading from screens as it is. However I do sometimes investigate suggestions made by the online outlets where my books are published and that has led to the discovery of some very enjoyable stories.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
I used to sketch very rudimentary (but not rude!) cartoons when I was a child. Usually involving my naughty pranks as the youngest child. So I think writing has always been a subversive activity for me. Later on I wrote several versions of what was really the same story but set in different places and with a different cast of characters. The twin themes were: can a gay and a strait (sic) man ever really be friends, when one is in love with the other? Is it better to be with the one you love, who doesn't love you, or not?
What is your writing process?
I wander about in a 'dwam' (a kind of dreamy daftness) just musing on what might be and I ask myself what Bruno and his friends are up to. Sometimes they don't tell me for months and that's so frustrating. Imogen wouldn't let on what happened in the crypt (in Shades of the Sun) and I just had to keep writing until she would - or until everyone else could work it out. When you first create characters you have a lot of leeway but then they acquire a life of their own and start bossing you about. It's all quite mad really. Eventually I have enough of an idea about what's going on and what the outcome may be and all I have to do is wait for the first line. This often comes in the middle of the night and I know that if I don;t get up and write it, it may be lost. The whole process is very driven and not at all like lazing around in sunny cafe with your trusty notepad and a cappuccino, attended by your muse.
Do you remember the first story you ever read, and the impact it had on you?
I grew up with all the English children's classics, supplemented by the Scots tales of terror and of the uncanny such as Tam O'Shanter by our national Bard, Robert Burns. I think the greatest impression was made by my large and lovely English-Italian cousin reading The Hobbit to me, when I was about eight years old and we were in sleeping-bags on the floor of my aunt's house in Leeds - because her hospitality exceeded the number of her beds. His big deep manly voice brought that tale alive and I've loved it ever since.
How do you approach cover design?
I try to find an aspect of the story in the cover. So for Tricks it was the esoteric tradition, unknown to many Europeans and Americans, and for the Lovers a red rose - which is of course beautiful but can cause pain. Shades needed a mad manor of course and I loved the ghastly hooded image I found for Qismet. With Tir nam Ban the seal was important but also the colour scheme and that's something I may develop in this retrospective phase of my work.
Published 2016-12-27.
Smashwords Interviews are created by the profiled author, publisher or reader.

Books by This Author

Transits of Terror
Series: The Bruno Benedetti Mysteries. Pre-release—available December 1, 2018. Price: $2.99 USD. Words: 68,720. Language: British English. Published by Alan McManus. Categories: Fiction » Gay & lesbian fiction » Gay, Fiction » Romance » Paranormal
Has Bruno’s gay lover been deceiving him for years? Rising anxiety means he’s missing time and waking up in strange places. Bruno diverts his mind with the astrological transits that augur good fortune for a child but are a ticking time bomb for a local landmark. As the clock counts down to terror, unable to trust his instincts, how can Bruno save dignitaries, at the wrong place at the wrong time?
Tir nam Ban
Series: The Bruno Benedetti Mysteries. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 67,860. Language: British English. Published: December 11, 2016 by Alan McManus. Categories: Fiction » Gay & lesbian fiction » Gay, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Supernatural
What could possibly go wrong when Bruno and friends take a school trip to a Scottish Hebridean paradise? A mysterious prophecy just seems part of the charm of Tìr nam Bàn and with the beauty of the island (and of his athletic boyfriend) Bruno doesn't see the significance of the lights to the north-east of the island. But there is evil in paradise and stopping slavery means paying a terrible price.
Series: The Bruno Benedetti Mysteries. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 67,840. Language: English. Published: February 14, 2016 by Alan McManus. Categories: Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Supernatural
Clara’s inheritance makes Bruno’s wish to open a small school suddenly possible. But the scandal of her great-aunt's lesbian relationship isn’t the only secret from the past. As things go bump in the night and day, the line between quick and dead is crossed. Bruno becomes an unwitting pawn of a force he cannot control, believing that a better world is possible – at the cost of this one.
Shades of the Sun
Series: The Bruno Benedetti Mysteries, Book 3. Price: $3.99 USD. Words: 81,580. Language: British English. Published: February 13, 2015 by Alan McManus. Categories: Fiction » Gay & lesbian fiction » Gay, Fiction » Thriller & suspense » Psychological thriller
All’s fun (but very weird) at a mystery winter weekend at Corpington Manor until Bruno, Justin and Imogen lose a night and Clara, back home, diagnoses PTSD. The Scooby-Doo type adventure stops being comic when stress and a sinister hiker traumatise them till a Midsummer healing retreat leads Bruno to a bloodstained body on a Glasgow street, to let go of his past and try to live with the mystery.
The Lovers
Series: The Bruno Benedetti Mysteries, Book 2. Price: $1.99 USD. Words: 47,970. Language: British English. Published: January 24, 2015 by Alan McManus. Categories: Fiction » Gay & lesbian fiction » Gay, Fiction » Romance » Suspense
Neither an unusually hot Scottish summer nor Justin’s habitual strip-teasing can take Bruno's mind off the slow ebbtide of his dad's dementia. Justin’s suggestion of going to a Psychic Fayre leads to Bruno overhearing a tarot card reading for Bernadette, not just the lonely and intelligent nurse that she seems, as the cards on the table lead them into deadly confrontation with crony capitalism.
Tricks of the Mind
Series: The Bruno Benedetti Mysteries, Book 1. Price: Free! Words: 44,790. Language: British English. Published: January 23, 2015 by Alan McManus. Categories: Fiction » Gay & lesbian fiction » Gay, Fiction » Inspirational
In the Westend of Glasgow, during the tension preceding the second Gulf War, Bruno walks in on Justin exercising and gives in to his pleading to massage taut muscles. As Justin groans in pleasure, Bruno reads him a strange astrological dream which begins to echo eerily in various narratives of family and friends as the dream turns to nightmare and Bruno is forced to confront monsters from the Id.