Alan Ahrens-McManus describes his qualifications as a novel writer as, "a life of getting into scrapes and out of them while hanging out with people so extremely different they wouldn’t be seen dead with each other; years of living and working in dodgy situations in even dodgier countries; a Highland grandmother who passed on her gift of various experiences of second sight; a fascination with the peculiarities of people and a total inability to stop my words jumping around merrily on the page. I also have a respect for my characters, which are only vaguely my own creation, and the patience to let them tell me in their own time and in their own way what they’ve been up to since I wrote about them last."
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!
The Bruno Mysteries are aimed at intelligent readers of mystery novels who like characters who they can identify with rather than slick Bond-types. Particular aspects of this series are the move away from the ‘gritty Glasgow’ genre, which has become predictable, and the faithful reflection of the strategic use of dialect in different social situations – which many readers (Scots or not) will recognise.
"The Bruno Benedetti Mysteries", rather than just a form of escapism, allows reflection on 'real life' as the main characters are multi-faceted and develop as they learn from experience and each other, a development started in "Tricks of the Mind" and continued in "The Lovers", "Shades of the Sun", "Qismet" and "Tìr nam Bàn".
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.