Author and forensic psychologist Lisa McKay probably has more stamps on her passport than anyone I know. More often than not, she's on a plane bound for a new international destination in her role as Director of Training and Education Services for the Headington Institute—which provides psychological and spiritual support services to humanitarian workers around the world.

While she’s been spending many of her days racking up those frequent flyer miles, McKay also managed to find time to write a book, the much buzzed-about My Hands Came Away Red (Moody Publishers). Now in our recent interview, I got to find out how this Aussie manages it all while keeping her sanity intact.

When did you decide you had to write a book? 

It’s a bit of a weird story. I was 18—just out of high school—and going on a mission trip to a remote island in the southern Philippines with a backpack team for three months. I had came across an article in the Washington Post about pirates in southeast Asia, and I ripped out that article and hid it in my underwear drawer so that my parents wouldn’t find it—just in case.  I mean, in retrospect I didn’t need to be that cautious because, hello, they raised us in southern Africa, but still.  So I hid it in case they get worried or didn’t want me to go. And then I began to wonder what would happen if we came up against pirates in southeast Asia, and then I thought that I have never read anything about a mission team that runs into that sort of difficulty. 

A lot of the Christian books I had read growing up were about wagon trains in America or about the end of the world.  That seemed to be the spectrum. I hadn’t come across a lot of books that dealt with teenagers trying to deal with a lot of contemporary, modern-day troubling issues.  So I was like, I’ll write that book someday. Now I’m learning to be a lot more cautious about what I say I’m going to do. I’ve found when I make those “I will” definitive statements, they come back and haunt me until I actually do them. 

God kind of takes you up on that sort of stuff.

Yeah, He does. I sort of felt like I had made this commitment and now I had to do it even though I had no idea what I was doing. So I took really careful notes on my own mission trip on what it’s like to actually go on a three month backpack trip. And it almost killed me. That trip was so hard.  I came back and I decided to write this story, and it was all crap. So I sort of put it on the backburner for one reason or another.

So what eventually got you writing?

From the age of 18, it was always something that I had to do. But it wasn’t until I was about 25 and had just finished my Masters degree in forensic psychology in Australia that I thought, This is that time when I want to go back to this, and I want to give it a decent shot.  Even my ideas about the story had changed. My family had spent between 1996 and 2000 living in Indonesia, which was right during that time of the east Asian financial crisis, and they been evacuated from Jakarta in the midst of civil unrest and riots. It was a bit of a scary time.

So I was visiting in Indonesia during that whole four-year time period and had started to track what was going on politically there. When the violence really broke out in 1999 I felt like, Wow, this story is the one I want to write about this mission trip. It seemed like it should be set in the midst of a conflict, a modern conflict that is actually happening today, and see if we can untangle it. There were so many layers to what was going on in Indonesia that was just fascinating. And I thought, What would happen to a team of teenagers who were somewhere nearby when what happened happened?  What would that be like? So that’s when I started to go down that path of really thinking, I want this book to be about teenagers, but at the same time I want this book to be set in the midst of a really real conflict today. That’s a really long answer to your question, so I guess about 18, but it didn’t really start to take shape until my mid 20s.