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Yvonne Bailey-Smith On Being An Older Writer, The Language Of Jamaican Patois & The Hidden Traumas Of Migration

It’s a great time to be a black woman author in the UK – and while the publishing industry is still, rightly, criticised for its obsession with “youth”, it’s great to see older black women published as first time authors as well.

One of these women is Yvonne Bailey-Smith, mother, grandmother, former social worker and qualified psychotherapist. Her debut novel, The Day I Fell Off My Island, is a coming-of-age story about Erna Mullings, a young Jamaican girl who grows up with her grandparents in the country before eventually migrating to England to join her mother and siblings.

The seeds that became Erna Mullings’ story were planted long ago, when Yvonne was a young 20-year-old working with other young people in London.

“A lot of them were black young people, and there are often a lot of angry confrontations,” Yvonne explains. “We, the youth workers at the time, would go out and try to quell [the argument]. We would march into it and help these young people sort out their gripe, whatever it was, and I began to think a lot then about the journeys of some of these young people in my own journey.”