Jill Murphy was born in London in 1949. From a very early age she was drawing and writing stories. “My earliest memory (my mum tells me I was two), is sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by sheets of drawings.” By the age of six she was stapling her own little storybooks together.
Jill went to a strict convent, and left at sixteen to attend both Chelsea and Croydon art schools. At only eighteen she finished her first novel, The Worst Witch, which was based heavily on her own experiences at the convent school. Three big London publishers turned it down so Jill put it in a drawer and went off to work in a children’s home and as a nanny.
When Jill was twenty four, The Worst Witch was finally published, and was an instant best-seller. Jill became a freelance author and illustrator and many more wonderful books followed. Mildred Hubble has gone on to several more adventures, most recently The Worst Witch and the Wishing Star, and even her own TV show. The Large Family stories are Jill’s other best known stories, picture books telling of the domestic chaos of a family of elephants.
It’s very easy to return to Mildred because she is really me when I was at school, so of course I know all about her and what makes her tick!
You wrote The Worst Witch when you were just 18. Did your own school days inspire you to create Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches?
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.
We love Tabby and Mildred’s new canine pal, Star. Are animals a big part of your life?
They are! For the last twenty years I’ve had four deerhounds and three cats. The cats are all doing fine, but the last deerhound died in November so I have been very sad with no dog to walk – the cats have been getting all the cuddles recently! The good news is that I’m getting a new deerhound puppy at the end of February. I think we’re going to call her Flora and I just can’t wait to go and collect her.
The Worst Witch has been a children’s classic for 40 years. Are there any recent children’s books that you would tip for lasting success?
This is a very difficult question because there are literally hundreds of brilliant new writers and illustrators out there so it would be difficult to mention just one.
What’s next for you? Do you have more adventures in store for Mildred?
Yes, I do. I’m just about to start a new story about her and, as usual, I can’t wait to finish the writing so that I can do lots of pictures.
Five Facts about Jill Murphy
Her favourite smell is honeysuckle!
She was only 18 when she wrote The Worst Witch.
Her favourite meal is sausages, chips and beans.
Her favourite children’s book is The Sword in the Stone by T.H. White.
She’d love to travel back to the time of dinosaurs with her son Charlie.