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Where fact meets fiction: Doublespeak, a historical thriller

Doublespeak is the latest novel by Vancouver's Alisa Smith. (Source: St. Martin's Press)
Summary

The protagonist is partially based on Smith's great aunt, who was involved in intelligence work during World War Two

It was also important to Smith that the books have a strong female lead, especially given the era

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – She is the co-author of Plenty: A Year of Eating Locally on the 100-Mile Diet, but these days Alisa Smith is better known for writing historical thrillers. The Vancouver-based writer is out with Doublespeak, the follow-up to her debut novel, Speakeasy.

Both books are set during World War Two and shortly afterwards. The protagonist is codebreaker Lena Stillman.

“She is forced to spy on her colleagues in book one and it leads her to betray a close friend of hers and she has a lot of guilt about that,” Smith explains. “So, Doublespeak is about her looking for him, last known as a prisoner of war in Burma and meeting up with her old criminal gang.”

That gang is based on the real-life Bill Bagley gang, which carried out bank robberies all over the Pacific Northwest in the 1930s, including a sizable one in Nanaimo.

Smith says the Stillman character is partially based on her great aunt, who was involved in intelligence work during World War Two.

“[She was] the kind of woman that would hook up with a crazy guy like that, someone who likes knowing secret skills, like how to pick locks and stuff like that, [who] wants to be different than anyone else.”

Stillman is also based on a real-life female spy, Vera Atkins.

“There’s a biography of her called Spymistress, actually written by a fellow spy and she wouldn’t allow it to be published until she was dead. I got a lot of interesting stories from that. I thought Lena would aspire to be that kind of spy in Doublespeak.”

It was also important to Smith that the books have a strong female lead, especially given the era.

“I don’t think people are aware of all the things that women did in World War Two because it gets overshadowed by that whole idea of the 1950s housewife, when women were just happily at home baking cookies. But they actually did a lot of stuff, like jumping out of airplanes in World War Two into occupied France, that’s really fascinating.

“I wanted to make her a strong character but someone that you could also relate to. I gave her bad sides and good sides. I feel that even if people are crooks the reader wants to relate to them as human beings.”

Look for Doublespeak from St. Martin’s Press.