Gillespie, Donna 1948-

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Gillespie, Donna 1948-


Born July 21, 1948, in Gainesville, FL; daughter of Joe and Orlene Fay Gill. Education: University of Florida, B.A., 1970; attended the University of California, Berkeley, extension program. Hobbies and other interests: Photography.


Home—San Francisco, CA.




The Light Bearer (novel), Berkley Books (New York, NY), 1994.

Lady of the Light (sequel to The Light Bearer), Berkley Books (New York, NY), 2006.


Donna Gillespie earned a degree in fine art from the University of Florida and then studied writing for seven years through the University of California, Berkeley, extension program with instructor Leonard Bishop. Gillespie credits Bishop's strong emphasis on narrative structure for her ability to make the leap from writing short stories to writing novels. Her first book, The Light Bearer, about a woman warrior named Auriane, is set in the time of the Roman empire. On the Berkley/Jove Authors Web site, Gillespie explains her love of historical novels, inspired when she first read the works of Mary Renault. She suddenly envisioned her future life as a writer of historical fiction, able to travel in time and "to conjure up the ancient world so that it was as graphically real to me as the small Florida town in which I grew up." After she viewed the Public Broadcasting Service's production of Robert Graves's I, Claudius, her fascination with ancient history expanded to include Rome. She read all of Graves's sources and as much else as she could about the Roman empire.

Gillespie continues Auriane's story in her follow-up novel, Lady of the Light. By now the warrior is middle-aged and living with her lover and two daughters. However, Auriane's life is less peaceful than it seems, as she is secretly involved in a smuggling operation that aids her own people, the Chattians, a secret that threatens her relationship and her freedom. Avenahar, her older daughter from a previous relationship, is also becoming a warrior in her own right, forcing Auriane to choose between child and lover. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly wrote: "This is historical fiction for adrenaline junkies: the pace is furious, the action ferocious and the suspense unrelenting."

Gillespie told CA: "I first became interested in writing when I realized the utter freedom it gives you, that you can write your way into any circumstance, in any era. At first, I tried my hand at everything—science fiction, contemporary stories, ghost stories. Then I saw [the television series] I, Claudius, and decided to take a long, long vacation in ancient Rome.

"[Author] Mary Renault touched off my fascination with historical novels. The King Must Die, The Persian Boy—these books made all things ancient seem charged with magic, ever after.

"Everything I see, hear or read is likely to get processed into a scene. The automatic thought when I experience anything intriguing is—can I use this? And I find myself prodded to try to improve my writing when I'm reading good fiction. For me, that's a book with well-drawn characters, poetic prose, a sense of the magic in life, and a strong plot.

"I still hand-write my first drafts. There's something liberating about the hand skating over the page; it leaves you free to totally immerse yourself in the story. I'm inhibited by having a keyboard in front of me; it makes me overcritical of what's appearing on the page, so I go to the computer only when I'm on the final drafts of a scene. Basically I let a novel grow like a tree. I don't outline, I just toss in a seed, and tend and water and wait. The trunk sends out shoots, which, hopefully, become branches. It's an organic process that's so slow, it's a miracle I've ever finished a book. For me, writing scenes is like running experiments in a lab—most of those experiments will fail. So it's always been a game of three steps forward, two steps back. But the benefit of writing this way is that the book has a chance to grow and change with me over time, and incorporate all the freak discoveries, the expansions in ways of thinking that come with real life."

When asked to describe the most surprising thing she has learned as a writer, Gillespie responded: "The fathomlessness of the—I'm not sure what to call it—the source? the unconscious? the well from which the ideas filter up?—and it's not just that it's an inexhaustible source. It's how it keeps shifting your angle of vision. What you see in a scene when you first write it will be much altered when you rewrite that scene a week later—and be utterly transformed, if you come back to that same scene after a year. Which is why I recommend taking a long time with a book. I used to panic on bad writing days when nothing came; it was many years before I trusted that the source couldn't dry up; it has a life of its own.

"I always hoped to write the sort of book that was transformational to me, back when I was growing up. The novels I loved then stand out like luminous dreams that subtly shaped the way I saw things, ever after. I always read my favorites more than once, and I lived in them when I read them; they gave me a sense of hope, kept me sane. It's been my fondest wish to be able to do that for someone else.

"And, if it doesn't sound too overblown, I think, as I began The Light Bearer, I was yearning, in a half-unconscious way, to create a new sort of myth. That ‘Hero with a Thousand Faces’? It's time some of them were female. But really, I bumbled into this backwards with my eyes closed; it was only as Auriane's story grew through the years that I began to hope she might be filling a gap; it felt refreshing and right, healing even, to put a powerful woman at the center of a tale of ancient Rome. When I started, I didn't know of any novels set in that period with a strong woman driving the plot, unless it was some well-polished historical icon like Cleopatra or Berenice. I hope I've helped correct an imbalance."



Kirkus Reviews, September 15, 2006, review of Lady of the Light, p. 923.

Publishers Weekly, July 25, 1994, review of The Light Bearer, p. 46; August 28, 2006, review of Lady of the Light, p. 25.

Washington Post, December 1, 1994, review of The Light Bearer.


Berkley/Jove Authors Web site, (April 14, 2007), author biography.

Best Reviews Web site, (April 14, 2007), Harriet Klausner, review of Lady of the Light.

Donna Gillespie Home Page, (April 14, 2007).

The Light Bearer Web site, (April 14, 2007).

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Gillespie, Donna 1948-

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