Emma Smith was born in Cornwall in 1923. She was educated privately up to the age of 16, when she decided to take up a job at the War Office. During the Second World War, she volunteered to work on the canals as a boatwoman. Later on, her experiences as a trainee boatwoman on the Grand Union Canal would become the basis for her debut novel (Maidens' Trip).
In September 1946, Smith, still only 23, went off to India with a team of documentary filmmakers that included the poet Laurie Lee, who was serving as scriptwriter on the team. Cider with Rosie, Lee's classic account of growing up in rural Gloucestershire, was in its embryonic stages during this trip; Emma Smith was one of those who would later encourage Lee to complete the book which went on to become one of the most beloved of children's books in English literature.
After nine months in India, Smith returned to England in 1947 and set down to write her first book. Maidens' Trip (1948) proved to be both a critical and a commercial success and won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. With the proceeds from the book, Smith moved to Paris where she took a room in the Hotel de Tournon and, drawing on her memories of India, typed up her second novel.
The Far Cry was published in 1949 to even greater acclaim. The tale of a young English girl and her cantankerous father travelling together through India, it was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction in 1949, and later reissued in a Penguin edition. At the age of 26, Emma Smith had already reached the height of her literary fame.
It did not last. In 1951, Smith got married. Within the next six years, she became the mother of two children, and then suddenly a widow. Finding herself a young single mother, Smith moved to Radnorshire in rural Wales in order to raise her children. Her writing now took a backseat to her family duties.
It was only very slowly that Smith finally returned to writing. She produced several children's books, as well as a novel in 1978. But she never managed to regain the celebrity she had enjoyed in the late 1940s, when she had back-to-back award-winning bestsellers to her name.
The novelist Susan Hill has been instrumental in the recent revival of interest in Emma Smith's works. Many years after The Far Cry had gone out of print, Hill managed to hunt down a copy of the book in a jumble sale. She wrote enthusiastically about her discovery in the Daily Telegraph, and in 2002 - 50 years after the Penguin edition - the Persephone Press reprinted The Far Cry as one of a series of forgotten classics by women writers. Hill supplied the Afterword to their edition.
Since 1980, Emma Smith has lived in Putney in southwest London.