Memorizing Chaucer for provincials upon graduation from Oak Bay High is among the fond memories for award-winning author Alisa Smith. The 1989 graduate went on to take courses at the University of Victoria in creative writing and finished a Masters at UVic in history, writing her thesis on B.C. history before going on to a career in journalism.
“I was actually an art history major to start with but I got involved with the Martlett and just absolutely fell in love with writing and journalism from that,” she said.
Smith launches her first fictional novel, a West Coast caper, at the Oak Bay branch of the Greater Victoria Regional Library on Saturday, April 8.
She was inspired researching another historical project, poring through old newspapers every day.
“I kept seeing Bill Bagley and the Clockwork Gang day after day,” she said. “I got fascinated because I’d never heard about them before. I love B.C. history so this for quite a few years it was at the back of my mind that I wanted to do something with that, with fiction.”
The headline “follow the woman” planted a seed that led to the Lena Stillman character, also based on Smith’s own great aunt, a codebreaker during the Second World War.
“That inspired me, she was not at all a bank robber, but that’s the kind of cool, independent, adventure-seeking woman who might be drawn to a bank robber,” Smith said.
Speakeasy follows Lena, a former undetected outlaw who joined Bill Bagley’s infamous Depression-era Clockwork Gang when they robbed the bank she worked at. A decade later, as an elite codebreaker at the military base at Esquimalt, she keeps her past locked away until Bill is sentenced to hang. At the house she bought under a fake name, Lena receives mysterious messages. At work, she is assigned to root out a spy at the base because of her skill, and as the war draws closer to Canada, even her new friends become suspects.