I came across UK author, Natalie Reeves Billing on Twitter (@BillingReeves) last year. She's a witty, energetic, positive go-getter! She has incredible creative energy that spans song-writing, singing, poetry, fiction, writing for children, and even more. There's no stopping this woman! I am so happy to announce that her debut picture book, My Mummy is a Monster is releasing on May 5! Paperback and eBook are available on Amazon She'll also have a special edition flip book available from her own website.
(I encourage you to check out her website, Lollipop Lodge. In addition to more information about Natalie and her writing, it has a lot of great free activities and downloadables for kids.)
Natalie took some time out of her busy schedule to answer some questions for us. Enjoy!
SJ: You have an adorable and fun new picture book releasing this month! Congratulations! What sparked the idea for this book?
NRB: After a particularly grueling hair brushing session with my daughter, I tried to give some kind of reason for the ritualistic torture.
‘Hey Ellie, I might have to get the scissors on this thing if you don’t let me brush it.’
‘You do know birds are gonna mistake your head for a winter nest?’
But, no! I was a mean mummy, and that was that. Hell bent on making her life miserable. I imagined myself as some sort of cackling monster, and wondered if she knew how I felt. Or whether she’d even care. She is six after all.
And that’s when split perspective books came to mind. Starting with the Monstrous Me collection. A fun tool for exploring life through someone else’s eyes. An invaluable resource for parents everywhere, who are out there battling little monsters every single day.
SJ: People think picture books are easy to write because they’re for young children. Did this book come easily for you or was it difficult to write?
NRB: I’m lucky in that I’m a song writer by trade, and I wrote this story in rhyme for no reason other than it happened that way. The writing of the words is not the difficult part. Not for me anyway.
It’s the big concept. The core, magical idea. It’s also what isn’t said, and the bond between writer and illustrator. Picture books are a team effort. I trust my illustrator, Lisa to fill in the gaps, and pull out the funnies from the story thread. It’s a beautiful process.
SJ: How did you connect with your illustrator? She did a fabulous job!
NRB: I was lucky enough to know a fabulous local children’s writer, who introduced me to Team Author UK. Team Author gave me an industry level service without the publishing contract. Allowing me to retain full ownership of my work, but with the support and advice of a full, experienced team.
SJ: How did you come to realize you wanted to write for children?
NRB: My whole life is one big story after another. We have a story about everything in our house, even mundane matters like measuring out cereal at breakfast time. I live in a fairytale land, and it feels great. It certainly smooths the edges off reality, and what’s the harm in that? So, my answer I suppose is, that in seeing the positive impact storytelling has on my own children, I came to believe I had something worth sharing with tiny people.
SJ: In addition to this book, you’ve been hard at work with your Bubs series as well. What can you tell us about that?
NRB: The Bubs have gone through so many changes, I’m now convinced they’re shapeshifters. I think I’m currently on version 30, 001. In the end, I’ve accepted that the Bubs will never be finished. I can never sign off on them. There will always be something to do, add, change or procrastinate over. I take them to primary schools conducting research, seeing what works and what doesn’t. I’m sure one day, the penny will drop. There will be that eureka moment. But, for now, I’m just having some fun with them, and teaching kids to read, Bub style.
SJ: You’re also very involved in a local project to bring awareness to knife crime. What’s it been like working with such a powerful cause?
NRB: I’m not going to lie, it hasn’t been easy. At first, I felt a degree of imposter syndrome, although I’ve had direct experience of knife crime. I still felt removed from those going through it as a reality. I’d never worked with such a vast age range of children, either. 13-19 to be exact. Tailor-making a presentation for them was a brain scrambler.
I was insanely nervous, but I knew it was something I had to do, and I’m so, so glad I did. Watching the kids warm to me, and take on board the things I say, it’s a wonderful thing. When the kids launch the Carry Love book sometime in July, I will be the proudest person on the planet.
SJ: You also wrote a heartwarming story for the Winter Chills short story collection. How did you get the idea for that story?
NRB: I’m a paranormal nutcase. I love anything remotely spooky or unexplained. My guilty pleasure is ghost hunting, and I have one coming up later this month. An overnight stay in the most haunted pub in Chester, to be exact. So, as you can guess, this was right down my alleyway. Usually, I’d go a bit darker with the content, but as it was Christmas, I played nice.
SJ: You have so much creative energy and passion, what do you do to refresh and recharge?
NRB: Hmmm, that’s tricky! I never plan, I just react. It makes my life somewhat random.
Baths filled with fizzy stuff work well for me. Candles, reading, the usual.
Arts and crafts with the kids, decorating my occasional tree (We’ve invented more occasions for slower times of year) and making weird movies with friends and family. Usually, involving hideous costumes, dance routines, pranks, puns…it’s all very silly, really.
SJ: What is your writing routine like? Do you write everyday?
NRB: Errr…no. I have no routine. I envy those who do. I struggle to balance plates. Social media, networking, reading in your genre, courses, family and of course the actual writing itself.
I used to beat myself up about it, but now I’m more accepting of my ebbs and flows. I just go with it, and usually meet the deadlines, albeit in a haphazard sort of way.
SJ: Who are some of your favorite picture book authors/books?
NRB: I know it’s an obvious choice, but as I love rhyme, Julia Donaldson was my benchmark. I love the way she and Axel work as a team.
My early memories are of Meg and Mog, by Helen Nicoll and Jan Pienkowski. I can remember reading every page with eyes like saucers, sniffing their newness with every turn. Now, I smell time and nostalgia, as I watch my kids enjoy them instead.
SJ: What do you love most about writing?
NRB: I love the catharsis. The opportunity for discovery. The release. The balancing of a chaotic mind. Creating worlds that others can escape into. What other profession offers us this?
SJ: What is your greatest hope for My Mummy’s a Monster?
NRB: I guess we all have the dream of the household hit. And yes, that would be blooming great. But, I’m happy just knowing my work is out there in the world, being enjoyed by other living breathing creatures. A few kind words here and there, and an opportunity to read them to groups of little ones. That would be perfect.
Thank you so much Natalie. I hope everyone will grab a copy of My Mummy is a Monster for the little monsters in their lives today. Best of luck with this fun new release! I can't wait to see what you come up with next.