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Bruce had a fleeting recollection of himself, nearly twenty years ago: Weeping, his body shaking with emotion, as two coffins were lowered, one by one, into the ground. Throwing two pink roses into the pit, and hearing the stems slap onto the dark lacquered wood of the coffins.
The scene in his mind shifted, to reveal him sitting in his campus office in front of his old typewriter; dropping his head in his hands as he failed to think of something to write. Tearing up page after page of writing and flinging the crumpled wads at the walls. Ripping up any textbook in sight, howling like a caged lion, gritting his teeth as pages fluttered around him.
-Excerpt from The Breathing Ghosts, copyright Eleanor Keane 2013
In The Breathing Ghosts Gabriel Bruce (or Bruce, as he is more commonly known) is Rowan’s uncle and her last living relative. In appearance, he reminds me of a weathered old lion- noble features, a thick mane of auburn hair and crow’s feet.
Once a high flyer in the academic world, Bruce sailed through the ranks of academic at a (somewhat prodigiously) young age.
But his dreams and ambitions were crushed when his younger sister, May, and her vampire hunter husband Thomas Oakwood were murdered by an unknown vampire. Bruce loved May, and Thomas was his best friend throughout University, and he has never really got over their deaths. Now he runs a disorganized (albeit surprisingly successful) rare book shop, and spends his spare time researching vampires in an effort to help his hunter niece- and perhaps find whoever is responsible for murdering May and Thomas.
While writing The Breathing Ghosts, I envisaged Bruce as a character crippled by a grief of such complex magnitude, that he has been wallowing in it for nearly two decades and hasn’t yet noticed.
Yes, Rowan his niece could be seen as the typical clichéd ‘orphan teen’ of YA fiction, yes, Bruce could be the protective father type, but they are both fundamentally rather damaged, rather affected by the grief they share. TBG is as much a novel about the long, long shadows that such a devastating grief casts, as it is about vengeance, vampires, family and love.
Bruce’s house itself is a metaphor for grief and dejection. Wallpaper peels from the walls, the sofa is faded and sagging, and even his beloved books are dusty.
But, through the disorder and the faint but persistent scent of despair, there is also humour. Originally, I intended for Bruce to be a humorous character- it was only as the novel went on that he became more three dimensional, more flawed, more complex. He also took on a very distinct set of likes and dislikes that pave the way for humour in what can often be a very dark novel with a very dark subject matter.
For example, he loves old and rare books, (particularly his favourite tome, Ye Olde Booke of Vampyres) but hates modern technology. He despises swearing, poor grammar and violence, but sometimes succumbs to it in moments of anger; or when he is pushed further out of his comfort zone, or out from behind his protective barricade of books. He wants to remain in communication with Rowan, but doesn’t email and struggles with texts (which he calls ‘phone mails.’) He is also a truly, truly terrible cook. (The kitchen ceiling has burn marks from his failed attempts at gourmet dining.)
Moreover, when Camille-his oldest friend and secret life-long crush-reappears to help Rowan, they immediately spar off each other, and stumble into tender, funny moments involving jealousy, whiskey and a lot of heavy-duty cleaning.
But Bruce is also a man of contradictions. As Bruce and Camille’s long-suppressed attraction to each other grows into something deeper, these contradictions become more polarized. For example, his worn, fuddy-duddy clothes (tweed jackets with elbow patches, half-rimmed spectacles, starched shirts) contrast with his natural handsomeness and unruly hair. As Camille reminds him- much to his embarrassment- his nickname at University was ‘Gabe the Babe.’ Also, his desire to protect Rowan and confront vampires goes against his almost feminine sensitivity, and his later acts of bravery throw all his soft-spoken reserve to the wind.
As a result, he is a puzzle to both vampires and humans. Rowan loves him and sees him as the father she never had- Camille simply loves him, but is unsure if her feelings are reciprocated after such a long time apart. Vampires like Simone Gray and Nathaniel Naughton are drawn to him, and Simone even goes so far as to suggest he would make a good vampire.
Moreover, Bruce is a puzzle to himself, a man locked within many layers, and as the novel progresses-and he and those he loves are put in more and more danger- it is unsure which self will fight its way to the top, now that he finally has something to fight for.
Will it be cautious, bookish Bruce, hiding behind his wall of books and manuscripts, poring over old photographs of his sister and his friend? Will it be the erudite Professor, with a knowledge of vampires and vampirism that is nigh unsurpassed? Will he turn into someone who tackles his vampire foes head on- regardless of life, limb and the terrible sacrifices he may be making?
Or will he be someone else entirely?