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Harris, Jill
Writer's File

Jill Harris

Harris, Jill
In brief
Jill Harris (1939-2014) was a teacher, librarian and author of four books for children and young adults: Sil, Missing Toby. At the Lake, and The Red Suitcase. She taught in Indonesia and Auckland, and served in libraries in Auckland and Wellington. In addition to her novels, Harris published poems in a variety of magazines and, posthumously, a collection of contemporary liturgies, The Ephesus Liturgies (Mākaro Press, 2015).


Jill Harris (née Restall) was a storyteller whose prime aim in writing was to produce “a rattling good yarn.” Her books also reflect her love of language, painstaking research, and sensitive spirit.

Born and raised in Auckland, Harris attended Takapuna Primary School, Te Kuiti District High School and St Cuthbert’s College, Auckland, before training as a teacher at Auckland Teachers’ Training College. In 1960 she married Ian Harris, and together they taught English at a fledgling Christian university in Salatiga, Central Java.

On returning to Auckland, Harris graduated with a BA from Auckland University and taught at Rangitoto College, Westlake Boys’ High School, and St Mary’s College, Herne Bay. Switching careers, she gained her Certificate of Librarianship and, after moving to Wellington in 1986, was awarded an MA in Librarianship from Victoria University. In Wellington, she held a series of managerial roles at the Medical School, State Services Commission, Central Institute of Technology, Industrial Research Ltd, and Victoria University.

During these years Harris was deeply involved in the Christian feminist movement and anti-racism projects. She was also a founding member of the Ephesus Group in Wellington, set up in 1990 to explore new ways of understanding the Christian faith in the secularizing world.

In 2002 Harris retired to fulfill her long-held dream of writing novels for children and young adults. Her first book, Sil (Longacre Press, 2005), was intended for junior readers and centres around a tui with an extraordinary singing voice whose idyllic community is threatened by a flock of magpies. Set in Eastbourne’s Days Bay, Sil handles the subject of New Zealand’s native bird with sensitivity and tenderness: in Sue Edmond’s words, Harris 'paints a clear and well-researched picture of one of our best-known birds, and couples it with her own love of all things musical, whether they be bird or man-made.' Sil won an Honour Award for Junior Fiction in the 2006 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

After Sil, Harris wrote and published Missing Toby (Longacre Press, 2007), a story about dogs, a girl and a mysterious brooch.

At the Lake
(HarperCollins) was published in 2011, a holiday tale of mystery and sibling rivalry set at Lake Okareka. Sil and At the Lake were listed among Storylines Notable Books for junior fiction.

The Red Suitcase (Submarine imprint, Mākaro Press, 2014) is a multi-layered story linking the experiences of a girl from present-day Takapuna with a young World War II airman. The story explores war and violence, friendship and fear, and is rooted in a mystery that begins in World War II’s air war over Germany. In a review for New Zealand Books, Angelina Sbroma wrote: “The book is careful in its deliberate, and deliberately kind and nuanced, treatment of delicate subject matter . . . plain-spoken, engrossing and moving.” Author Kate De Goldi says: “I can’t tell you how good it is to read a novel for this readership that is well and truly at home with realism in all its depth and subtlety.”

The Red Suitcase was a finalist in the Young Adult Fiction category of the 2015 LIANZA Awards, and in the Children’s Choice section of the 2015 New Zealand Book Awards for Children and Young Adults.

Jill Harris passed away in late 2014. Her last written work, a collection of services for modern Christians entitled The Ephesus Liturgies (2015), was published posthumously by the Mākaro Press.