Yvonne Bailey-Smith: ‘I was terrified of giving Zadie my manuscript’

As she joins the family business, the author tells how her career in healthcare and her own early life informed her debut novel, The Day I Fell Off My Island

It’s not often that a mother follows her children into a family business but, with the publication of her debut novel, that is what Yvonne Bailey-Smith is about to do. Her daughter, Zadie, and sons Ben and Luc are all successful writers of various sorts. Her sitting-room bookshelves, in the area of London immortalised by Zadie Smith as NW, contain multiple copies of her daughter’s works, while the coffee table is piled with Ben Bailey Smith’s colourful picture books. Luc, who is mainly known for his rap lyrics under the name Luc Skyz, is upstairs beavering away on a screenplay.

Ben, who is also a rapper and actor, just happens to be launching his first children’s novel at the same time, so – barring a sudden return to lockdown – they will be making a joint appearance at the Edinburgh book festival, she says, happily. Her own novel is called The Day I Fell Off My Island and, without being purely autobiographical, it gives some idea of how it all began. It’s the story of a young girl of a similar age to herself who travelled to England at the age of 14 – as she did – to be reunited with her mother and younger siblings, after spending her early childhood in Jamaica, being brought up by her grandparents.

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