Body of work

Novelist and law/MPA alum Pamela Callow

- December 18, 2013

Pamela Callow. (Bruce Bottomley photo)
Pamela Callow. (Bruce Bottomley photo)

This story was first published in the Fall 2013 issue of Dalhousie magazine.

I had a lot of fun figuring out what a bog would do to a body,” says Pamela Callow (LLB’91, MPA’94) with a laugh. “The experts I consulted were intrigued as well.”

It’s a surprising question for a lawyer turned public policy consultant to be researching — but less surprising for a public policy consultant turned novelist.

Callow has written three mystery novels and while the connection to her legal background is evident, she’s just as proud of the public policy issues she’s explored in her books: the regulation of bio-medical devices, the experiences of the wrongly accused and the right to die movement. They are issues informed by her education in law and public administration, featured in books that benefit from the research skills she developed as a student, lawyer and consultant.

“I’m very focused and disciplined when I write,” she says. “I think anyone who pursues an advanced degree has to have those skills.”

Callow calls herself an “accidental thriller writer.” It was the early 2000s. She had been working as a freelance consultant after the Halifax office of her former employer, Accenture, closed. With two small children at home, though, juggling intense work assignments and family life was proving challenging.

She decided to take time away from work until her girls reached school age, thinking as well that this would be a good opportunity to give her dream of becoming a novelist a shot. She signed up for writing courses and started deconstructing novels she liked, charting their plot points and character development.

Halifax setting

Her first attempt was a heavily researched historical novel. While there was some interest from publishers, no one committed to signing her on. “Can you write something else?” asked an editor who liked her writing but didn’t feel the manuscript was a fit for her publisher. Callow said yes, and lawyer Kate Lange was born.

While the rejections were difficult (Callow’s first novel remains unpublished), “I almost feel badly for people who are successful right out of the gate,” she says. “You need the rejection and the critiques to make you a better writer and to thicken your skin.”

Her current agent first rejected her — with a form letter — before taking her on based on her first published novel, Damaged. “If your book does get published, eventually it will be out there being judged by everyone, so you need to be able to handle rejection and criticism.”

Damaged was followed by Indefensible and Tattooed. Callow is proud to have convinced her editors to let her set her books in Halifax, when the temptation might have been to locate them in an anonymous American coastal city. “One publisher rejected Damaged because it was set in Halifax — but then approached me after the book came out to see if I’d sign with them.”

But why the decision to rename Dalhousie University as Hollis University? “I get asked that a lot!” she says. “I struggled with it, but decided to change the name because there’s a university researcher in the first book who does something unethical, and I didn’t want to denigrate Dal because I know how ethical Dal’s researchers are.”

With three Kate Lange mysteries under her belt, Callow is returning to historical fiction, with her next novel featuring an abolitionist heroine born in the late 18th century.

Will she come back to Kate? “I plan to,” she says. “I carry these characters around in my head. And I don’t think Kate’s story is finished yet.”


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