In February 2014, veteran CBC journalist Renée Pellerin led a team of national health reporters covering the release of a report by Canadian researchers. It showed mammography screening “resulted in a high rate of over-diagnosis.” Pellerin wasn’t surprised. In the 1990s, she’d produced a CBC Marketplace documentary, which made a similar point: “the evidence that screening saved lives was weak.”
What did surprise her was the vehement response to the 2014 study, and the Canadian scientists who’d conducted it. Some even received “ugly, threatening emails.” Pellerin was curious. “Why was there such a strong reaction to the Canadian research and why was there such a fierce debate about screening? That’s when I said out loud in the office, ‘I have to write a book.’”
Last month, Pellerin signed a contract with Goose Lane (Canada) which will publish her book about mammograms, Conspiracy of Hope, in Fall 2018.
Pellerin calls her decision to enroll in the University of King’s College MFA in Creative Nonfiction program — where she began to turn her “have-to” idea into a manuscript — her “eureka moment.”
“Having always been a broadcast journalist, I knew nothing about writing books and, as much as I felt compelled to tell the mammogram story, I was also intimidated by the thought of undertaking such a long-term project. I need deadlines!”
During her time at King’s, Pellerin worked with three mentors: former Chatelaine editor and now MFA Executive Director Kim Pittaway; Toronto-based journalist, author and teacher Tim Falconer; and award-winning science and nature writer Harry Thurston. “What a luxury to get feedback from three such experienced and professional people!”Pellerin says now. “And they weren’t just helpful, they were all incredibly supportive and that is so empowering. Just when you feel as if you can’t pull it off, there’s a mentor giving you encouragement. At the same time, they all were rigorous and tough in critiquing… What writer ever gets this much attention?”
An author friend introduced her to her agent, John Pearce of Westwood Creative Artists in Toronto. “We immediately clicked. He and his colleague Chis Casuccio completely got the book. We honed my proposal and they got to work. It wasn’t too long before we received an enthusiastic response from Goose Lane, and again, it was a response that showed they too got the book, and promise to be a good fit.”
While her first book works its way through the final editing and production stages, Pellerin is thinking about her next one. “I have only the vaguest idea at this time,” she says, “but I have long been interested in investigating what’s wrong with today’s fruits and vegetables… how agriculture and the need to transport perishables long distances have ruined our food.