Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Interview with Gary Sim, author of Railway Rock Gang

An interview with the hard-working Gary Sim


SSJL Tell us about yourself. 
GS: I was born in Vancouver BC, but graduated from Steveston High in 1969. I dabbled in quite a few different jobs and activities along the way, including working for the phone company, and for BC Rail. I've written numerous published articles, and have published (and keep updating) the digital project BC ARTISTS. I also draw, paint, and produce limited edition prints and etchings. By day I work for DGBK Architects, Vancouver, as a Construction Administrator, specializing in healthcare construction. 

Tell us about your book
Railway Rock Gang is a compilation of memories and photographs of projects that were done during the nine years that I worked for BC RAIL on the Rock Gangs, from 1978 to 1987. I was always taking photographs of interesting projects, and after many years decided to put them together with chapters describing the projects. From this grew an 800-term glossary in which I describe all of the tools, equipment, terms, techniques, and slang used by the rock gangs on a daily basis, that might not otherwise be familiar to the reader.

How did you get starting writing this book?
About 18 years ago I was volunteering at the Writers Festival. Every year they held a volunteer thank you party, with an open mic. Any volunteer who wanted could sign up to read. I decided to write the short story "Patrolling the Budd" for the event, and did the reading as planned. When I finished, a guy came out of the audience and introduced himself as one of the characters I'd written about in the story. He was the BC RAIL Lillooet Station Operator that day, and remembered the events vividly. He was quite excited to hear the story, and it really showed me how our history is relevant and important.

What did you learn during the writing process? Can you give us any tips?
I was lucky in that I have hundreds of photographs taken during the time I worked for BC RAIL, so many of the stories came from simply looking at the pictures and describing them. I think that telling personal stories about "the old guys" (as one of my readers put it) makes the stories more interesting. My main difficulty in writing was managing all of the images that I wanted to use, and a rigorous filing system is highly recommended, and a way to link the images to their desired location in the book. Outside of that, I actually had fun writing the stories, especially since I didn't have to make anything up. In production terms, the computer gives endless freedom for writing, hacking, hewing, proofing, writing alternate tries, listing things to do, doing research and fact checking, and making ongoing sequential backups. Otherwise, my main "tool" is to read everything aloud to myself (or to anyone who will listen). You can find and fix lots of funny wording if you read your writing aloud.

Tell us about your previous books/projects.
I have self-published a number of pamphlets over the years, starting with the "Sim Family Goodie Recipes" book, and continued with compilations of drawings and limited edition prints. I've issued historical chapbooks on Ruiter Stinson Sherman (1865-1941), Maud Rees Sherman (1900-1976), School Days magazine (1919-1931), and John Kyle (1871-1958).

What is it that you like about your particular area of history?
A lot of the information on our history is being lost, literally as we speak, and I think that anything we can do to save it is important. As well, the time and places that I'm researching are often places where I too have lived in BC, and it is interesting to see the changes over time.

What books are you reading right now?
Charlie Hill at the National Gallery sent me a copy of "Artists, Architects & Artisans: Canadian Art 1890 - 1918", which I am working my way through (it is a hefty 340 pages).

Tell us about your next project.
I seldom have just one project on the go. I keep adding information to my main project BC ARTISTS. I'm working on a catalogue raisonné of my artwork, and a biography of early Vancouver/BC artist Maud Rees Sherman. I'm writing another autobiographical volume to fill in the early and later years that Railway Rock Gang doesn't include.

How can people buy your book ?
I created a website, which has links to the BLURB onlinebookstore. I can also ship or deliver a copy locally, email me to order at

Thank you, Gary!