Jill Murphy, 69, is a British children’s writer and illustrator best known for her iconic series of books The Worst Witch, which centre on witch-in-training Mildred Hubble and her life at Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches. We caught up with Jill just as a new story hits the West End. Based on Murphy’s original books first published in 1974, it has been adapted for the stage by award-winning screenwriter Emma Reeves.
The Worst Witch, UK Tour with previous cast (Photograph by Manuel Harlan)
The Worst Witch is about to tread the boards in a fantastic theatre show. How excited are you about your book being adapted for a live audience?
Excited is not the word! Jumping-up-and-down thrilled to bits describes it better!
Have you had a sneak preview?
I saw the production several times when it was on tour, also when it was rehearsing, and I can’t wait to see it in London. It is the most amazing show, with brilliant music and songs, wonderful acting and a thrilling flying sequence with Mildred trying to save Maud — they are high up in the air, hanging from their broomsticks and it really does have you on the edge of your seat. There’s some great dancing, too and I love the way they have done the cats.
Which actors and characters are you most looking forward to watching in the stage version of The Worst Witch?
All of them! Every single character has got such a lot to do, but I must admit my heart is always with Mildred, because she is really me when I was at school.
Are there any special effects we can look forward to? We’re assuming there is flying involved!
The flying is brilliant. It’s done in a very unusual way, with trapezes! The base bar of the trapeze is a broomstick, complete with a brush on the end and they are used in such an ingenious way that they really do look as though they are flying. There are lots of other special effects too — in fact the whole show is completely magic!
You’ve written so many of our best-loved children’s books including Whatever Next?, Five Minute’s Peace and all the other Large Family adventures. What were your own favourite books to read as a child?
The Narnia stories were my all-time favourites, especially The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and The Magician’s Nephew. I loved the writing and the illustrations in those books and dreamed of having my own books on the shelf one day.
You wrote and illustrated The Worst Witch when you were just 18 years old but when did you first think of the idea?
I started writing “The Worst Witch” in my school rough book when I was fourteen [1964 — a very long time ago] and I still have the drawing I did of Mildred in her cape and hat. Over the next four years, I worked on it until I had it just right and did a few illustrations to show what I thought it would look like.
Danielle Bird, The Worst Witch. UK Tour with previous cast (Photograph by Manuel Harlan)
What was it that spurred you on to write the story and to try to get it published?
I was spurred on by the fact that there were no other stories about a magic school at that time and I was so proud of The Worst Witch that I really wanted to see it published and on a bookshelf in the library. In fact, I asked the librarian how I could get it to a publisher and she gave me a list of publishers. So, I sent it off to four of them, who all sent it back saying children would not like a book about a magic school for witches — got that wrong, didn’t they?!
What advice would you give to young writers who want to get their work published?
Never give up! After four rejections I put the book and the illustrations into a drawer and left it there, because I felt demoralized when nobody had wanted it. Every now and then I had another look at it and thought “but I think it’s really good!”, so I tried one more publisher [called Allison and Busby] and to my eternal delight and gratitude they rang me up and told me they thought it was wonderful. I remember my mum and I going barmy with joy and dancing around the kitchen together!
Of all Mildred Hubble’s talents which one would you most like to have?
I’d like to have a spell to make myself invisible — I think that could be very handy.
The Worst Witch runs from the 24 JULY – 8 SEPTEMBER for 60 Performances only at The Vaudeville Theatre. Book Now tickets are priced From £20 (all tickets for the 24 July performance are just £20 each) Age Recommendation: Most Suitable for Ages 7+