Photo Contributed                                Alisa Smith celebrates the release of her new novel Speakeasy during a book launch at the White Room on Friday (April 7) from 7-10 p.m.

Photo Contributed Alisa Smith celebrates the release of her new novel Speakeasy during a book launch at the White Room on Friday (April 7) from 7-10 p.m.

Alisa Smith celebrates release of novel with book launch in Nanaimo Friday (April 7).

Speakeasy delves into historical exploits of the Bill Bagley gang

The escapades of the infamous Bill Bagley Clockwork Gang are explored in Alisa Smith’s novel Speakeasy.

During the 1920s the Clockwork Gang robbed a bank in British Columbia, amassing more than $100,000. Smith said it was the biggest robbery at that point in history, which would be about $1 million today.

“They were quite legendary at the time,” said Smith. “Even though I agree that crime doesn’t pay, I had a lot of fun in the book.”

The story follows Lena Stillman, an elite codebreaker at a Vancouver Island Military base during the Second World War.

She intercepts Japanese radio transmissions. But she has a secret past. Stillman is a former member of Bill Bagley’s Clockwork Gang. She keeps her past hidden. But she begins to come under scrutiny when she is assigned to discover a spy who may have infiltrated the Esquimalt base.

Smith said she wanted a strong female lead. She discovered that her great aunt was a codebreaker and based Stillman partially on her aunt. To create the character she asked herself a question.

“What kind of person would be strong enough or interested in Bill Bagley?” said Smith.

Smith said the book was about five years in the making. To create her novel, she researched B.C. history and Bagley’s gang, poring through old newspapers and archival material. She wanted to make a book that had historical ties.

“I’ve always loved B.C. history,” said Smith, adding there are elements of the province’s past that aren’t as well-known today.

Although there were numerous accounts of Bagley’s deeds, Smith said there was very little about what kind of person he was. She created his personality in her book.

The award-winning journalist and author, is known best for her book The 100-Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating, which won the Roderick Haig-Brown Regional Prize, the Canadian Culinary Book Award and the American Cordon d’Or Award of Literary Merit. Smith is currently working on a sequel to Speakeasy, called Doublespeak. Speakeasy is Smith’s debut fiction novel.

Smith celebrates the launch of her novel Speakeasy during a book launch Friday (April 7) at the White Room, located at 4 Church St., from 7-10 p.m. The event is free to attend and features readings by Smith and performance artist Valentina Cardinalli and musical performances by Pulsating Bridge and The Fences of Fairview. Copies of the book will be available for sale at the event, by cash only.

Cardinalli is a multi-media visual artist, musician and writer with a focus on engaging the community.

Pulsating Bridge is led by folk-artist Angus Barter, who lives on Vancouver Island.

The Fences of Fairview is a five-member alternative fuzz-pop band.

For more information about the book or to order a copy, please visit

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