Zeb’s Search – An interview with Jill Batty


Getting a morning fix of reading was traditional for Jill Batty as she grew up. Should there be no book to hand, the breakfast cereal box sufficed.

“I could recite the label in full,” she laughs. “I was shocked later to learn that some people thought it was bad manners to read at the dining table. Needless to say, meal times with my family were quiet.”

Jill, in herself, is a quiet person, too. So much so she believes that publication of Zeb’s Search, her first book, could come as a shock to family and friends “who had no idea I write,” even though there’s hardly been one day when she hasn’t written.

Her writing activity spans the genres from children’s fiction to Regency romance, and it all began when she was a child. It was early encouragement that set a path for Jill’s writing. “I wrote a story about a seagull and the teacher said it was wonderful.”

Tucked away, still untold but promised soon, are stories about Edward Mouse adventurer, Lucifer the Cat, Maisie the Pig, and the list goes on. Zeb, like others, arrived in a dream, with details duly noted on the pad beside Jill’s bed.

“He pushed in and wouldn’t let me ignore him. He’s a zebra in search of identity. All the males in his herd are called Zeb and the females are called Zed. Zeb’s the rule-breaker, the one who goes off to find something he wants, a name that’s all his own.”

His search takes him to many different communities of animals where the rules that govern naming all differ. Jill says, “At least they have individual names. In his herd, they don’t. I believe even as children, we’re developing our own identity. Some follow others, which isn’t always the way to go.”

Though story matters most, enhanced by illustration for young readers, Jill says she saw underlying opportunities for exploring language through different name styles.

“We’re told we should read to our children, with books from our own backyard, or from all around the world. Reading is the basic skill, don’t you agree?”

And New Zealand is a reader’s market, but it has its own challenges. In publishing Zeb’s Search, Jill has had to disturb the quiet reader and writer within to go public. She is also learning the skills of publishing, distribution and promotion.

“Approaching a publisher was never a consideration. There are so few children’s fiction publishers in New Zealand and they don’t, as a rule, take on first-time authors. There was little choice except to self-publish.”

Starting the process, Zeb’s Search was presented as part of A Lunch-time Literary Line-up of Tauranga Writers’ publications during New Zealand Book Week on October 27. The book can now be sourced by visiting www.paperairplanepublishing.co.nz or purchased at Tauranga’s BOOK A PLENTY and PaperPlus Papamoa and Te Puke.

Experienced local illustrator, Gordon Miller, says from the four different styles of character he presented to Jill, she chose the cheeky mischievous one. “It’s a good choice as Zeb is friendly and will connect well with children.”

Jill says it has taken a huge leap of faith to financially back herself and her writing. As a self-publisher, she realizes it’s the beginning of the road if she and Zeb are to be noticed.

A member of Tauranga Writers for two years, she gives credit to the opportunities provided by the group and most especially to editor and mentor Jenny Argante.

“She encouraged me from the start, and I’ve learnt so much about publishing by working through the process with Zeb’s Search, and through sharing the experience and expertise of others in Tauranga Writers’ sub-group, Words and Pictures. I’m also lucky in that my daughter is a graphic designer and has helped me too.”

So, what’s next? Overseas travel with her husband John will continue. The couple has been doing that while raising their children for the past forty years.

“Travel definitely broadens the mind, and if I start getting ideas from places we’ve been, perhaps I can start claiming our journeys as a tax- deductible expense,” she jokes.

Already in the pipeline is a planned sequel to Zeb’s Search. “Without giving too much away, it shows the balance between belonging to a herd and being your own person. But there’s also Edward Mouse waiting in the wings. He’s tapping his foot impatiently.”

Now she’s achieved the first publication, Jill says she is determined to give her other unpublished stories their due. She’s already featured in Byline, Tauranga Writers showcase annual, and that’s raised her confidence too, and her expectations.

“Seeing your work in print is fantastic. I want more of it! Writing is tough, but I’ll stick at it now I’ve started. Getting this far is a boost that’s given me a sense of real achievement.”