PROFILE: From self-published short stories to a trilogy deal, David Whellams launches 2nd book of detective fiction on Sunday, May 5, at Books on Beechwood

Ottawa author David Whellams launches The Drowned Man on Saturday, May 5, at Books on Beechwood

In 2012, Ottawa author David Whellams launched Walking into the Ocean, the first of a crime-fiction trilogy starring chief Inspector Peter Cammon of Scotland Yard. The local launch of the thrilling followup — The Drowned Man — takes place Saturday, May 5, at Books on Beechwood (35 Beechwood Avenue). Travis Persaud interviewed Whellams last year to find out how he came to be a published author.

When David Whellams retired, he boasted more than 30 years working as counsel with the Government of Canada in the Department of Justice and the Ministry of the Solicitor General, working on the Criminal Code in areas such as sexual offences and corrections law and contributing to Canada’s Anti-terrorism Act after 9/11. But though there was no room for grey in his work life, he had no clear vision of how to spend his retirement.

He did know he wanted to explore writing, but he had no plan for where that hobby might go. His first attempts were short stories. “I submitted them but didn’t get them published anywhere, so I self-published,” the 64-year-old says. “I didn’t sell a lot of copies, but it felt good that I got that under my belt.”

Photography by Justin Van Leeuwen

Then came the short story that grew. Whellams began with the idea of someone walking into the ocean after committing a crime. As he began elaborating on that initial thought, he quickly realized that he was moving far beyond a short story. He wondered whether he had what it took to write a novel. “I decided to give it a try. It took three years to write the darn thing, and about a year and a half in, I was ready to let it go. It was a stop-and-start project for me.”

It may have been an arduous task, but he found a publisher for Walking Into the Ocean (released in April 2012) on his first try. “The publisher of ECW Press in Toronto called me and said he wanted to publish my book,” he remembers. “Not only that, but they wanted to publish two sequels. I guess the big thing since The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is to write three books.”

That’s why Whellams gives high praise to Lady Luck. But in doing so, he forgets to credit himself. He took a small image and built an elaborate story: an ordinary domestic crime that suddenly unravels into a deep, mysterious investigation; a veteran inspector with the New Scotland Yard who must travel from London to Malta and seemingly everywhere in between; and a serial killer on the loose, terrorizing the region.

Now that Walking Into the Ocean is on the shelves, the words are just flowing for Whellams. He has already finished the second novel, which took him only half the time of the first. And he’s beginning the third. “My hope is that the second and third are as good as, if not better than, the first one,” he says. “My character, Inspector Peter Cammon, is 67 years old in the second novel, but there’s still room for him to grow and evolve.”