A renowned BC author of historical fiction books, whose characters are based on former real-life people, has recently taken up residence in Kelowna.
Bill Gallaher has traveled all over the country researching his novels, with many based in Western Canada just before the turn of the 20th century.
Three of his books make up the trilogy of Wild Jack Strong, a man whose life stretches from the Riel Rebellion of 1885 to the Boxcar Rebellion of the Great Depression.
Gallaher’s next novel, tentatively titled ‘No Less A Man’, is the story of John Ware who was born a slave in South Carolina and became an independent rancher in southern Alberta.
He says he decided to write about a black cowboy, because up until this point, no one else had.
“I felt someone like him needed to have a story. No one in the black community was doing it, but in a sense, all of these stories are about injustice and I can write from that aspect.”
Without getting into specifics, Gallaher said he had experienced his own kind of injustices growing up in a broken home and felt even as a white male, he can still write from that perspective.
Gallaher dropped out of school at the age of 15 and it wasn’t until his late 20’s that he decided to finish high school.
“I never went back to finish until I was in my late 20’s, then I went on to university when I was in my 30’s, I become a musician and folk singer in my 40’s, a house builder and writer in my 60’s and here I am in my 70’s,” he says.
Now 73-years-young, this modern day Renaissance man still enjoys telling stories and part of that stems from his work as a folk singer.
“Back in the 1960’s I read Pierre Berton’s ‘Klondike’ and thought it was such a fabulous story and interesting from the very beginning right to the end,” explains Gallaher.
“Instead of focusing on events, he focused on people in the events, and that made it really interesting. I started reading more and more history books, and when I turned to folk singing, I wrote historical ballads.”
His musical career started more out of necessity than anything else. When he couldn’t find other work he turned to song.
The transition to novelist was helped along by his need to set the stage for a song. His lengthy introduction became the basis for the novel and it almost wrote itself.
“I couldn’t tell all of the story in that song (The Promise), you couldn’t tell it without boring people to tears,” he laughs.
“People come to listen to music, they don’t come to hear you tell a 20-minute story. So I always felt that story needed to be written out in full length because it’s so incredible.
“If I sang the song without telling anybody the story it wouldn’t be relevant and no one would know what I was singing about, so it went hand in hand.”
And so it began.
Gallaher says he continues writing partially to pay his bills and partially for the intrinsic value he receives when someone enjoys his storytelling, in no matter what medium they’re conveyed.
“Especially with the first four books, where all of the characters in it are real characters. I’ve just breathed some life into them by giving them some dialogue and richness of place,” he says.
“They’re all history based and they’re all well researched, so anybody reading them can take away the history lessons they contain.”
Many authors deal with the heartbreak of rejection, especially in the early process of getting something onto the shelves. This was not the case with Gallaher, even though he fully expected to be turned down.
“So I wrote (the book), and then cleared off a bunch of space on my wall for all the rejections notices I would get, but the first publisher I sent it to (Heritage House Publishing Company) accepted it.”
Much to his surprise, that acceptance letter was his springboard and he has averaged just over one book every two years since then.
He doesn’t tour much anymore, but still enjoys good folk music. That part of his life took him all over the world, recording eight albums and playing at gatherings that included bands like Blue Rodeo, Natalie McMaster and Ricky Skaggs.
You can find out more information on Bill Gallaher, along with his books and albums on his website.