Merseyside author and social entrepreneur Natalie Reeves Billing, who had published one children’s book at the start of the pandemic and went on to publish a further seven titles during lockdown, says that the challenges posed by Covid have made her more determined than ever to reach children through creativity and storytelling and to help narrow the gap in educational opportunities this year.
Natalie has published The Monstrous Me collection, featuring the books: ‘My Daddy is a Monster’ and ‘My Mummy is a Monster,’ as well as ‘Ben and the Bug’, a title which she created to help address and ease children’s anxiety about Covid.
This year, despite the current UK lockdown, the author says that she’s determined to reach a broader audience with her books, and to make a contribution to the wider community during challenging times. In addition to writing seven books during the pandemic, she graduated from the School of Social Entrepreneurs and is launching a new social enterprise to help families access educational and creative tools.
Natalie, who lives in Wirral, believes that Merseyside is a great place to be based if you have big creative goals, saying: “Liverpool always defeats the odds. We have a caring community, and although funding and wealth are lacking, we have heart, and we care for each other. Because of that, it is always much easier to find a way of getting things done. People will put themselves out and dedicate their time and effort to do good in the community, and we have such an innately creative culture.”
Although writers and publishers have faced various practical challenges this year, from cancelled book tours and events to the closure of book shops during lockdowns, Natalie says she has felt more focused and motivated during the pandemic, adding: “To be honest, I have found that by having the ultimate excuse for not doing anything at all, it completely took the pressure off and helped me to focus and achieve more than I ever have. Creativity and writing for me are the ultimate escapes, and though we can’t travel we can always travel there.”
Natalie recently won a Mums Choice Award for the Monstrous Me collection, and her contribution to Merseyside’s creative sector has been recognised in various ways; she has been named as a Face of Liverpool, and one of her books, ‘Ben and the Bug,’ has been placed on permanent display at the Museum of Liverpool. Natalie says seeing her book there meant a lot to her because: “I was never out of that place as a child. Mum was always dragging us around the dinosaurs and the mummies, and now mums are dragging their kids around my book, displayed proudly in the foyer, as ‘Merseyside’s response to COVID 19.’”
Natalie was also chosen to judge a national creative writing competition by Storychest and the British Libraries, where entries were to be put in a time capsule, capturing children’s thoughts on the first lockdown.
Although 2020 was a busy year for the author, she has more up her sleeve for 2021, stating: “My mission is to narrow the education gap that has been worsened by COVID and help all children access a quality education. I want to show little ones that through creativity and storytelling, we can really find out who we are and what we want to be in in life and develop a lifelong love of learning and reading.”
Natalie has loyal readers around the world and leading parenting expert Sue Atkins has been championing her work, featuring Natalie’s books in her high-profile book club.
Discussing her main goals for the year ahead, Natalie said: “I hope to work hard on my novel with the Golden Egg Academy. It’s always been a dream of mine to write a lengthier book. I dream of book readings in quaint little book shops, with twinkling lights and mulled wine.
“I’m also keen to grow my social enterprise and get our new range of creativity products to the families who need it most across the city. It’s called ‘Build a Book’ and children can not only read their favourite stories by local authors, but build them too, and bring them to life.
“I’m heavily involved in Liverpool Year of Writing 2021, which I’m excited to be a part of and I’m also hugely excited about the rumours of a new storytelling festival in Liverpool, which I’ve been asked to help shape. Very interesting things are happening there, and I can’t think of a better time for families to enjoy connected, non-tech pursuits together, once we begin to emerge from isolation.” Natalie’s books are available from her website: https://www.nataliereevesbilling.co.uk/