Worst Witch novel captivates a new generation of fans
Jill Murphy can't quite believe how long it is since she wrote her first Worst Witch novel. "I was 18," says the author, now 64. "Can it really be that long ago?"
And Jill, who lives at St Mabyn in North Cornwall, will be talking about her seventh in the much-loved Puffin series, The Worst Witch and the Lucky Star, at the North Cornwall Book Festival next Saturday.
The stories of Mildred, she of the untidy shoelaces and scruffy hair, who attends Miss Cackle's Academy for young witches, have captivated young readers since The Worst Witch, the very first in the series, was published back in 1974.
It was a small publisher called Allison and Busby which took a punt on young Jill's first picture book, with its engaging illustrations of Mildred with her scruffy hair and not-very-witchlike tabby cat, alongside the sleek black cats of other novices. It was a fantastic success, selling millions of copies, and launching Jill's career as a picturebook creator.
FREE WHEATGERM WITH EVERY POND HEATER www.blagdon-water-gardens.c...View details
Protect your pond fish this winter. Purchase the resun 100w pond heater £39.99 from www.blagdon-water-gardens.co.uk and we will give you a pot of Tetra wheatgerm 1l winter fishfood worth £4.99 FREE
Contact: 01934 316673
Valid until: Friday, February 28 2014
"In this latest one she gets a scruffy little dog, who turns out to be a really good flyer," says Jill, meaning on a broomstick rather than a plane. With each one I write, I think 'that's the last one' but I've had such fun with this one that I do feel like I will write an eighth one! But that will really have to be it!"
Jill grew up in London, and started writing and illustrating stories as a tot. "My earliest memory – my mum tells me I was two – is sitting on the kitchen floor surrounded by sheets of drawings," she says.
She stapled her first little book together when she was six. "I wanted to write a book that would be on the shelf next to The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, because I thought that was the best book ever written, and I loved the illustrations by Pauline Baynes."
It is fair to say that Pauline, who died in 2008 aged 85, was a huge influence on Jill, who was blown away when Pauline wrote her a fan letter, praising her picturebook The Last Noo-Noo. "That really was my proudest moment!" she says.
The Worst Witch was inspired by her schooldays, at "a very academic grammar school". One day she was walking home with three friends in their uniforms.
"My mother said 'you three look like three little witches, and that was my lightbulb moment."
"I started thinking of a school story. At that time, there were no school stories about witches.
"We used to go for holidays as a family to Swanage in Dorset, and there was a little castle at the end of a funny little bay. I did a little drawing in my school sketchbook. That became Miss Cackle's Academy."
Jill has gone on to write many more books for children, including Peace at Last, which was Commended for the Kate Greenaway Medal.
She has also been shortlisted for the same medal for A Quiet Night In, the first of her Mr and Mrs Large picturebooks about an elephant family.
The Worst Witch remains her best-known creation, with the children of her original fanbase now reading them themselves.
"I still get lots of fan letters about them today," says Jill. "I'm just delighted that children still read them."
Jill Murphy will be talking at the North Cornwall Book Festival at Trebetherick on Saturday, October 26, at 1pm. The event is free, but please book, on 07787 944935.