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Interview with Jill Murphy

Jill Murphy, author and illustrator of The Worst Witch and little children's picture books like Peace at Last, was our first Guest Author in Issue 1. She lives in North London's Hampstead Garden Suburb with her son Charlie. She does not have a cat, but she does have a gorgeous dog, a Scottish deerhound called Grace, and two guinea pigs, Girlie and Bonting (Charlie chose the names-he likes Shirley Williams books!). She started writing when she was 6 and has published 13 books so far.

Jill was interviewed by the girls of The Margaret Allen Preparatory School in Hereford, England. Here are some of their questions, and Jill’s answers.

How do you create a good character? Why did you write about witches?

When I was eighteen, I knew I wanted to write a book about a hopeless case at school (based on me being a hopeless case in my first term at 'big' school!) but there were hundreds of school stories, so it needed to be different. My two friends and I used to come home in our dark uniforms, looking very scruffy at the end of the day - my dark plaits sprouting tufts, with lost hair ribbons. My Mum used to say "Look at you all. You look like the three witches!" and it gave me the idea for a witch's school - so that it was exactly like my school, but with a subtle touch of magic. All the characters are based on my school friends (and enemies) and teachers.

Can you give us any tips for writing good dialogue?

I always speak the dialogue aloud to see if it sounds natural.

Do you think a book has to be funny in order to sell these days?

If the story is strong and interesting, it certainly doesn't have to be funny. There are plenty of riveting stories that aren't funny, for example 'Goodnight Mr Tom' and 'Treasure Island'.

How long does it take you to write a novel? How many times do you redraft? How long do you spend writing each day?

It varies. If I'm in the mood, a story like 'The Worst Witch' just flows out of my pen and is finished in two weeks. I do very little redrafting, although I always write it out clearly a second time so that my secretary can decipher it in order to type it out. The pictures take six months to a year, depending if they are black and white or coloured pencil. I don't write every day. Sometimes inspiration doesn't strike for weeks!

Do you think up your titles before or after writing the story?

The title occurs during the writing, ie 'Peace At Last' was so obviously a good title when I wrote the page where Mr Bear got into bed and said "Peace At Last". 'The Worst Witch' has nice alliteration (which is the two 'W' sounds in Worst Witch). I can't see how you can write the title before you've thought up the story!

Do you try out new ideas on your own children?

No! I didn't have any children until five years ago, so most of my books were written before I had any children! I've only written two since I had my little boy - 'The Worst Witch All At Sea' and 'The Last Noo-Noo', a new picture book about a monster who can't give up his dummy.

Thank-you very much Jill Murphy!

Read more interviews of leading authors by children.

YoungWriter was a magazine published from 1995 to 2003 by Kate Jones.
We here at Myst Ltd had the pleasure of producing the magazine for Kate.
Sadly, Kate passed away in 2010.