Wednesday, January 30, 2013

#BookChat THE LIGHT BEARER by Donna Gillespie #historical #fiction

The Light Bearer is a novel of ancient Rome and and Germania, encompassing a sweep of events that spans the reigns of two tyrants, Nero and Domitian. When Auriane is born to a tribal chieftain, the seeress who attends her birth predicts that she will be a “living shield” to her people. As the legions plunder her people's lands, burn their crops and kidnap their young men for the imperial army, she is chosen to lead her father’s battle companions at his death. As the only world she has known collapses around her, Auriane is captured and taken to Rome, and into a life of horror and glory no seeress could have foreseen.

In Rome, senator and Stoic humanist Marcus Arrius Julianus rises to the loftiest pinnacles of government. Through wit, daring and brilliant maneuvering, he struggles to check the murderous whims of the increasingly corrupt Emperor Domitian. As a reign of terror begins, Julianus orchestrates a vast plot to assassinate the emperor. Cultured Marcus Julianus and barbarian Auriane meet — and form a powerful bond across the gulf of their vastly different ways of life. Domitian condemns Auriane to the arena, where in the halls of a gladiatorial training school she discovers the tribesman who betrayed her people in war. As Julianus’ assassination plot rushes to its cataclysmic conclusion, Auriane must carry out the solemn rite of vengeance before a maddened throng in the Colosseum.

From the Author: It all started with PBS: After I saw the miniseries based on Robert Graves’ I Claudius, ancient Rome took over my life. I started making trip after trip to the library, checking out anything with “Rome” in the title. (This was way pre-Google.) This world was so vastly distant from ours, yet in some ways so strikingly familiar. I’d been trying unsuccessfully to start a novel for several years, but when I decided to set my book in Rome all of a sudden the story ran away with me and I ended up with this 800 page monster that ate up twelve years of my life.

But Auriane was the deeper reason I wrote it. I loved Rome, yes, but it’s also true she needed Rome as a backdrop. She came to me fully formed one day while walking to work, and I was smitten. I feel that in a way she taught me to write, because I felt a great urgency to learn the craft in order to do her justice. These days I still can’t seem to let her go, and am now working on the third book in the series. (The second, Lady of the Light, came out in 2006). This was 1994, and at the time, it seemed she filled a gap. Novels set in the ancient world featuring a woman who drives the plot (and who was not Cleopatra) weren’t so common in those days. A woman who was an adventurer, a woman who quests, who stands up to those in power — it’s what I’d lacked in my reading life when growing up. Originally I’d thought of writing of the British warrior queen, Boudica, but decided I didn’t want my main character to be a historical figure — it would have been too much like writing biography. So Auriane is a “might have been” surrounded by historical figures, a slightly-larger-than-life heroine not immune from humiliating bouts of self doubt. It just seemed she needed to be here.

Readers' Reactions:
“Throughout this monumental story, Gillespie constantly increases the excitement and intrigue. There are no flat passages in The Light Bearer, only a fast-flowing stream that erupts into a fullscale torrent in the book's conclusion.” —Washington Post Book World

“For anyone interested in this tumultuous period of Roman despotism and Germanic tribes, Gillespie's epic is an intriguing recording of everyday detail, national issues and, more impressively, overarching influences of religion and psychology.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Gillespie's grasp of the daily social, religious and political lives of Germanic tribes and urban Romans alike, and her understanding of the way human deeds are woven by time into myth, keep The Light Bearer rooted in historical plausibility … keeps the reader engaged … The Light Bearer taps into one of the most popular themes in historical fiction today, the unsung woman who takes a hand in the shaping of history.” —The San Francisco Chronicle

From Amazon’s book editor: “Quo Vadis for our times! Well, not exactly. It's been awhile since anyone tackled the Roman Empire as entertainingly as Gillespie has done in this book…Strongly drawn characters, a setting both familiar and exotic and a subdued but important romance subplot drive the sweeping novel of Auriane's growth and maturity and Rome's decadence.”

Author's Story: The Light Bearer came so close to becoming a mini-series. In 2001, Hallmark Entertainment bought the option, and I’d heard that they make 90% of what they buy. I was delirious, fantasizing daily about curling up in front of my tv, mesmerized by the sight of my characters manifesting magically on the small screen. After a year Hallmark renewed the option — everything was going swimmingly. The director was someone I’d actually heard of. A screenwriter in England wrote a script and it was approved by the producers. I was giddy. Then suddenly, silence. One day the emails, the calls, just stopped. Later I found out it all fell apart at the level of funding. They just couldn’t raise enough money for the project. But I still haven’t given up hope that someone will produce it, some day.

The most surreal incident happened just before the book came out. Foreign rights were starting to come in, and when the German rights sold, the translator insisted on flying out to meet me. At the time I was working as a telephone operator in a cramped, windowless sub-basement room of a San Francisco hotel on Nob Hill. My translator moved into one of the luxury suites up on the 8th floor of the same hotel, and began translating my book. Whenever he came upon something in the manuscript that puzzled him, he would dial “O” for operator, and get me. Once he came all the way downstairs to my domain, took one horrified look around and said, “In Germany this would be illegal,” — then went back up to his suite to continue translating my book. This went on for about a month.

It puzzled me that my publisher put Lady of the Light out as an e-book right away, but not Light Bearer. I suspect it was because Light Bearer came from the pre-digital age — all those scanner errors were probably too much for them to deal with. So last year I decided to do something about it — I got the rights back and put Light Bearer out as an e-book myself, and now it’s available on Kindle, Nook and iPad. To me the most revolutionary aspect of the e-book era is that now any book can be pulled back from the out-of-print abyss, given a whole new life, even — that is, as long there’s enough electricity in the world to recharge everyone’s batteries!


  1. Thanks for introducing me to another historical fiction writer, Rachelle. I'll be checking out your books, Donna. Research before Google is really something!

  2. Thank you Carol! I hope you enjoy them!