Jill Murphy (born 5 July 1949) is a London-born English children's author, best known for The Worst Witch series and the Large Family picture books. She has been described as "one of the most engaging writers and illustrators for children in the land".[1]


Jill grew up a Roman Catholic, but is no longer practising. Her stay-at-home mother was a "book maniac" and her father was an Irish engineer.[2]

Jill was born and brought up in London and says that she can’t remember a time she wasn’t a storyteller/illustrator. “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, Jill was stapling her own little illustrated storybooks together – her mum kept them all and she still has them today! “It’s great fun to see them all these years later,” she says. “You can see how my handwriting and drawing improved as time went by.” Jill had made her own enormous library of hand-written and illustrated books while still at primary school. Jill loved primary school, where, she says “I could always draw my way out of trouble if we had a tricky history project!”

Jill attended the Ursuline High School, Wimbledon, a very strict academic convent which she hated for the first year. “The nuns didn’t care that I could draw fantastic pictures,” she says. “Where was my physics homework!?” Together with the boarding school stories she enjoyed reading, this provided much of the material and inspiration for Miss Cackle's Academy in The Worst Witch series.

Jill Murphy began writing The Worst Witch at the age of 15, while still at school. "The characters in “The Worst Witch” are all based on my school days. 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."[3]

However, Mildred wasn’t a witch at all in the beginning: “She had pointy ears because she was in fact a fairy, and was originally in the wrong school – she should have gone to a fairy school. At the end of this story she starts to grow wings and has to wear a very tight vest to stop them showing. She flies out of the window to find the fairy school and has a wonderful time there.”[4]

She started to write The Worst Witch while still at school, but put the book on hold while she attended Chelsea and Croydon Art Schools, having left school at sixteen. She continued to write it during a year living in a village in Togo, West Africa and later while working as a nanny back in the UK. She sent it off to three big London publishers, who all turned it down, and Jill “put it in a drawer and decided to concentrate on other things instead.” After a spell working as a nanny and in a children’s home, which she loved, Jill had a phone call from a small publisher interested in The Worst Witch. The book was published when Jill was 24 and proved an instant success. Jill continued working as a nanny until the publication of The Worst Witch Strikes Again prompted her to devote herself to writing full-time.[5] She gave birth to her son Charlie in spring 1990.

Jill Murphy

In 1986, a television movie with the same title as her fantasy novel premiered on HBO. It later aired on The Disney Channel during the 1990s around the time of Halloween.

The Worst Witch stories have become some of the most successful titles on the Young Puffin paperback list and have sold more than 3 million copies. They were also made into a successful TV series, airing on CITV between 1998 and 2001.

"I was thrilled to bits to have Mildred and Co. in their own TV series. I thought it was better in the early episodes, but I do think that it was basically a good series and people still remember it very fondly. By the way, just in case you don’t remember, the girl playing Ethel was Felicity Jones, who has gone on to be a very high-powered young actress. She is in The Invisible Woman showing at cinemas at the moment."- Jill Murphy [6]

Jill is also known for her picture books, in particular the popular Large Family picture books, which detail the domestic chaos of an elephant family. The "Large Family" is now a TV series on CBeebies and ABC Kids. In 1996 The Last Noo-Noo was adapted as a play and performed at the Polka Theatre, London.[7]

In 2007, Jill received an honorary fellowship from University College Falmouth.[8]


Year Book Award Achievement
1980 Peace at Last Kate Greenaway Medal Commended
1986 Five Minutes' Peace Children's Book Award Shortlisted
1987 Five Minutes' Peace Parents Magazine Best Books for Babies Award Winner
1987 All In One Piece Kate Greenaway Medal Highly Commended
1987 All In One Piece Children's Book Award Shortlisted
1994 A Quiet Night In Kate Greenaway Medal Shortlisted
1995 The Last Noo-Noo Smarties Book Prize (0-5 category) Winner
1995 The Last Noo-Noo English 4-11 Outstanding Children's Book of the Year Shortlisted
1996 The Last Noo-Noo Sheffield Children's Book Award Winner
1996 The Last Noo-Noo Gateshead Gold Award Winner


The Worst Witch

The Large Family (Picture Books)

  • Five Minutes' Peace (1986)
  • All in One Piece (1987)
  • A Piece of Cake (1989)
  • A Quiet Night in (1993)
  • Mr. Large in Charge (2005)
  • Laura Bakes a Cake (2008)
  • Luke Tidies Up (2008)
  • Lester Learns a Lesson (2008)
  • Lucy Meets Mr Chilly (2008)
  • Grandpa In Trouble (2009)
  • Sebastian's Sleepover (2009)

Non- Series Works (Picture Books)

  • My Teddy (1973)
  • Peace at Last (1980)
  • On the Way Home (1982)
  • Whatever Next! (1983)
  • What Next, Baby Bear! (1984)
  • The Christmas Babies (1992)
  • The Last Noo-noo (1995)
  • All Aboard (1996)
  • All for One (2002)

Non- Series Works (Novels)

  • Geoffrey Strangeways (1985)
  • Worlds Apart (1988)
  • Jeffrey Strangeways (1992)
  • Dear Hound (2010)


External links

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