Jill Murphy was born in London 1949. From a very early age she was drawing and writing stories, and was already putting books together (literally, with a stapler) by the time she was six. She went on to study at Chelsea, Croydon and Camberwell Schools of Art. Jill worked in a children’s home for four years and as a nanny for a year, before becoming a freelance writer and illustrator. The Worst Witch stories are some of Puffin’s most successful titles.
What inspired you to write The Worst Witch books?
It is difficult to say what inspired my work. I learnt to read very early and I liked to make my own little books from when I was six years old. I just found it very natural and easy to do and I used to imagine one day my own books would be in the library, so I gave that to myself as a goal to head towards. I must admit it is a great delight to me, even after all these years, to see my books in the libraries and bookshops and to receive letters from schoolchildren, just as I imagined when I was very young.
Is being an author all you expected it to be?
Yes, it most definitely is! I love everything about it, although I do get a bit exhausted sometimes because I do my own pictures and I always put lots of illustrations in my books, so they take ages to finish. When I was little, I always wanted to see a book of mine on a shelf next to “The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe” [my all-time favourite children’s book] and I always keep a copy of “The Worst Witch” next to that book on my shelf, just to remind me that I actually did it!
What advice would you give to a young author?
The best tip is to keep a diary and try to make every day sound interesting, even if you have hardly done anything at all. You can describe how pleased you were when there was a breakfast cereal that you like, or how sad you were that your best friend was not at school for the day. Try to remember all the little incidents during the day that you could perhaps make sound more interesting than they really are.
Are any of The Worst Witch characters based on anyone you know or have known?
The characters in “The Worst Witch” are all based on my schooldays. Mildred is based on myself when I had plaits so long that I could sit on them! Maud is based on my little best friend, Elizabeth, and all the teachers (both nice and nasty) are based on my schoolteachers. It was a very strict school and I began to think up the story of Mildred when I was still at the school, aged fifteen. I used to draw little pictures of Mildred, with her pointy witch’s hat, all over my school exercise book. I made them into witches because I thought it would add a touch of magic to the story. “The Worst Witch” was published thirty-nine years ago.
How do you think of your story ideas?
As I have mentioned above, all my stories come from noticing the world about me. For example, “The Large Family” is based on a friend of mine who has lots of children and they were always doing things that gave me ideas for the series of Large Family books. Likewise, “The Last Noo-Noo”, which is a story about a little monster giving up his dummy, is based on my own son Charlie, who didn’t give up his dummy until he was four and we buried it in the garden together – although it didn’t grow into a noo-noo tree, I am sad to report!
It’s been six years since your last Worst Witch book, what have you been up to during this time?
wrote and illustrated a picture book called “Mother Knows Best!” and I am busy doing a gift edition of “The Worst Witch” with colour plates and new illustrations for the fortieth anniversary, which is next year. I am also in the middle of a picture book about a naughty rabbit going berserk in a supermarket.
It has been such fun writing “The Worst Witch and the Wishing Star” that I have got some new ideas for an eighth book in the series, so I’m going to be writing that one soon – as you can see, I’m really in the mood at the moment!
Out of The Worst Witch series which one was the most enjoyable to write?
They have all been extremely enjoyable to write, but I suppose the first one was the most thrilling because it was the very first story ever to portray a witch’s school, with potion laboratories, flying tests, magic, old-fashioned names etc. and I was so proud when it was published all those years ago.
Do you have any hobbies that don’t involve reading, writing or drawing?
My hobbies are swimming and I love taking my deerhound, Keira, for a walk on the beach. I used to have four deerhounds, but the other three have died of old age and I am trying to restrain myself from buying a new puppy to keep Keira company. Deerhound puppies are so cute that I don’t think I’ll be able to restrain myself for much longer! I also quite like knitting and quilt-making, but they take such a long time when I should be doing pictures for my books.
What are your plans/hopes for the future in your career?
Just to keep going forever!