My Mummy is a Monster, My Children are Monsters, perhaps two phrases that are being used increasingly as we enter the Xth week of lockdown. Sharing space with families in close proximity 24/7 can drive the calmest person a little bit doolally. Thankfully, if you enjoy reading there is an escape into a book, although reading is an escape and the opposite of escape.
J.D Salinger once said,
What really knocks me out is a book that when you’re done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up whenever you felt like it.
Luckily for me the author we are about to meet is a great friend of mine with an impressive enthusiasm and energy that is intoxicating. A conversation can be the perfect antidote to the current dystopian novel we appear to be living through. Natalie Reeves Billing is a Liverpool writer of fantastical stories for young audiences and also dabbles in poetry and fiction. Her work has been published in several anthologies including the local-based champion of scribes, Writing on the Wall, and 8N Publishing in the USA.
Natalie enjoys map-making, pranking people and munching on jelly beans. I recently managed to visit her old farmhouse in Merseyside through the wonders of Zoom, to discuss her work and latest project: My Mummy is a Monster.
10mh: Tell us about your writing journey so far. And your latest venture…
I’ve always loved writing poetry, and being a songwriter, rhyme and rhythm came naturally. When the kids came along, I invented silly rhymes for every scenario, and loved seeing their little faces light up. Those rhymes became books. On May 5th, I released ‘My Mummy is a Monster,’ the first book in the ‘Monstrous Me’ Collection. It’s a split-perspective book, which looks at a story from two different viewpoints. Written in two parts, one narrative is seen through a child’s eyes, the other, from a parent’s point of view. They both accuse the other of being a monster. It’s hilarious, even if I do say so myself, and totally relatable. It plays out in every home a billion times every day.
10mh: What monsters are you afraid of?
My childhood terror was Pennywise the clown, from the great Stephen King and his fabulous book ‘IT.’ It was absolutely terrifying until it turned into a giant spider at the end. He was notorious for his ‘unusual’ endings.
I also love-hated zombies and supernatural stuff. The unseen monsters, hiding inside people. Possessing us. Staring out of our eyes, or the eyes of those we thought we knew. There’s nothing more terrifying than that. The unknown. Gets me every time. How can you fight what you can’t see?
And I’ve only just realised the parallels to my current work. Monsters hiding within us? Where have I seen that before?
Who’d have thunked it?
10mh: If you could pick three pieces of music to accompany My Mummy is a Monster what would they be and why?
Ooh, that’s a tough one. I’ve been playing around with a few tunes for my iMovie clips. Sean Paul’s dance classic, ‘Get Busy’ worked really well. I rewrote the words to inject some monstrosity into it and made it into a sort of parody. Others would be Rock Lobster, (I intend to rename that ‘Rock Monster’) by the B52’s, if you haven’t heard this, you really should. And one of my own monstrous Tunes, called Strange Blue World.
10mh: Where do you write? Do you have a special place or a favourite time to write and what would be an ideal writing session?
I love to write when I have unburdened myself, by ticking every other distraction off my list. I need to know there is nothing else I need to do, or my mind is fractured. In this light-hearted, spiritual mind space, I like to be in my forest-themed writing den, playing forest sounds basking in the glow of a – would you believe it – foresty smelling candle.
Then my fingers start tapping frantically. I can get some amazing word counts in a short space of time.
I also love to write while other writers write. The sound of their tapping and scratching motivates me. Guilt trips me into getting stuff done. We can even fit in a mini reading at the end. Give ourselves a nice pat on the back. Always nice!
10mh: Who influences your work?
I love the classic old-school authors, who bring the atmosphere and obsolete references and make me yearn to travel back in time for a little peek: Tolkien, Lewis Carroll and Dickens.
In children’s picture books, I’m moved more by the illustrations, at least initially. I’m lucky enough to have the most incredible illustrator for my new book. Lisa Williams. What a talent. It’s truly a team effort.
Recently, I enjoyed a picture book about some crayons who were outraged by their treatment. It was written by an author called Drew Daywalt. I loved it, so wacky and hilarious.
10mh: What are the ingredients for a BOSS story?
Larger than life, heavily flawed characters plus a good bit of conflict wrapped up in a satisfying resolution. In kids picture books, having a nice flow to the words is also important, and a great relationship between author and illustrator. An illustrator that can capture all that’s said and not said, and add some hidden, extra layers, too.
10mh: If you could have a dinner party and invite five writers dead or alive who would they be and why?
I’d love to get inside the head of Margaret Atwood. How on earth did she come up with that creepy world scape? How does she feel now that our own reality has taken such a strange turn? And, David Walliams to share some nonsensical banter.
Stephen King, of course. I would suck up his atmosphere and try to absorb as much of him as possible.
George Elliot. I’d love to know what it was like to be a pioneering woman, hiding under a pen name, in an age when women lacked the same education as men, and were often stereotyped as authors of light-hearted romances.
I’d also like to meet myself, and figure out who I am, and where I fit in this funny old writing world. After this dinner party, I may be closer to uncovering that.
10mh: If your writing could be a type of food what would it be and why?
This is a tough one. I think jelly and ice cream would be a good way to describe it. It doesn’t fit that well on your spoon, and you wonder whether it’s a food item at all. But it tastes so good, and that ice cream gives us a little jolt, just to let us know we’re still alive and kicking. Yeah, that’s a good fit.
10mh: What impresses you?
Honesty and vulnerability. It allows me to get straight to the point and not waste precious time. I love seeing those traits in writing, too. It’s more sincere and relatable. I like anything that dares to be different. Not just for the sake of being different, but because it genuinely has something to say.
10mh: Can you tell us the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Write what you love and your audience will follow. You will never find your tribe if you don’t know who you are and why you write. Write for yourself, make it something you would read. Don’t write to a formula. You may not capture everyone but you will find your own audience.