Jill Murphy, children’s author and illustrator, dies aged 72

The writer was best known for the much-loved picture book Peace at Last and the Worst Witch series of novels

Beloved children’s author and illustrator Jill Murphy has died at the age of 72. Murphy was best known for writing children’s book series The Worst Witch and The Large Family.

Murphy’s publisher Macmillan announced the author’s death in a statement, saying that she had died “peacefully” in a Cornwall hospital on Wednesday “following a long struggle with cancer”. Her son Charlie and her niece Isabelle were with her.

An illustration from Peace at Last (1980)
An illustration from Peace at Last (1980) Illustration: Jill Murphy/MacMillan Children's Books

“I feel beyond lucky to have had a mum like mine and it’s impossible to summarise the ways her absence will be felt,” her son said. “She had a depth of character, a warmth and a life force like no other.”

The illustrator Quentin Blake said: “I met Jill through our work in children’s books, and it was a delight for me to encounter someone who seemed to be so gifted. Jill could invent The Worst Witch and write her story in all its ingenuity and draw the pictures – as well as creating her own picture books. I am sure they will be with us for a long time. I am also sure that there are many like me who will want to say it was very special to know her – she looked wonderful, she was dynamic and funny. It’s unfair that someone so life-enhancing should be taken from us. I feel privileged to have been one of her friends.”

Murphy started writing The Worst Witch while still at school, completing her first manuscript at the age of 18. Her mother once commented that Murphy and her two friends looked like witches in their dark school uniforms, which gave the author the idea for her first book.

Murphy initially struggled to publish her first novel, as many publishers at the time worried that children would find the book about witches too frightening. But the tale of clumsy young witch Mildred Hubble and her adventures at Miss Cackle’s Academy stole the hearts of generations of children, selling more than 3m copies and becoming one of the most successful Young Puffin titles.

Murphy’s books went on to win many major awards, including the Smarties prize for The Last Noo-Noo. Peace at Last and All in One Piece were both commended for the Kate Greenaway Medal. She was also an honorary fellow of Falmouth University.

“It’s a sad day for children’s books,” said Pamela Todd, Murphy’s friend and agent of 30 years. “Jill was so creative, beautiful and funny. Her genius lay in the way both the child and the adult could identify with her stories.”

Contributor

Weronika Strzyżyńska

The GuardianTramp

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