Influences on writing In a Land of Paper Gods by Rebecca Mackenzie – Guest Post

Today I’m pleased to welcome Rebecca Mackenzie to the blog. Rebecca is the author of In a Land of Paper Gods which is published by Tinder Press and is released in paperback on 28 July 2016.

Rebecca has written a fabulous post on the influences on influences on writing IN A LAND OF PAPER GODS


Thank you for hosting me today on my blog tour for IN A LAND OF PAPER GODS. The novel follows the story of Henrietta S. Robertson, a child growing up in a missionary boarding school in China who, while her missionary parents are busy pursuing their calling, discovers a divine calling of her own. 


For today’s post, I’d like to tell you a little bit more about the influences on writing IN A LAND OF PAPER GODS, particularly how I discovered the character of Etta. 


My childhood was spent in Thailand, Malaysia and India. I lived in these places because of my parents’ work – they were Christian missionaries. Their mission organization was founded in China more than a century before, and I grew up listening to stories of these missionaries bringing the gospel to the Chinese ‘field’. When it came to writing a novel, I thought China would be a wonderful place to set a story – somewhere that was an unfamiliar terrain to me, yet that at the same time, had inhabited my child self’s imagination. China had an unknown, yet almost mythical resonance for me, and called more powerfully than the landscapes I already knew. 


I set the novel during the Second World War, a period of great turbulence in Asia, and asked myself what it would be like to be a child of missionaries in China at this time. I researched as I wrote, reading tracts, diaries, military history. A school prospectus and school magazines provided lots of information about mission schools, which is how the children were educated at that time, often thousands of miles from home. I looked at many school photographs and tried to imagine movement, scents, sounds into the scenes, and memories and futures into the people gathered there. 


There was one photo in particular that contributed the feel of the character of Etta. It was of a picture of a class of girls. One girl at the edge of the group was a blur. She had been moving – could not sit still? up to mischief? – and was rendered a greyish smudge. It made me think of a fast paced, energetic girl, who had disappeared from history. In reading diaries and letters I also found out that many of the children were called ‘ghost girls’ by Chinese, for with their pale skin, eyes and hair, they looked such strange creatures. The idea of ‘ghost girls’ spoke to the idea of a child that had all but vanished, a child caught between two cultures, and in the turbulence of war, a childhood lost. I wanted to give this child and her childhood a voice. And so the voice of Etta began to run across the pages. 


About the book:


“A gorgeous literary debut in the tradition of The Poisonwood Bible about a school for the children of British missionaries in China, at the top of a mountain, at the edge of the Second World War

Jiangxi Province, China, 1941

Atop the fabled mountain of Lushan, celebrated for its temples, capricious mists and plunging ravines, perches a boarding school for the children of British missionaries. As her parents pursue their calling to bring the gospel to China’s most remote provinces, ten-year-old Henrietta S. Robertson discovers that she has been singled out for a divine calling of her own.

Etta is quick to share the news with her dorm mates, and soon even Big Bum Eileen is enlisted in the Prophetess Club, which busies itself looking for signs of the Lord’s intent. (Hark.) As rumours of war grow more insistent, so the girls’ quest takes on a new urgency – and in such a mystical landscape, the prophetesses find that lines between make believe and reality, good and bad, become dangerously blurred. So Etta’s pilgrimage begins.

A story of a child far from home and caught between two cultures, In A Land of Paper Gods marries exuberant imagination with sharp pathos, and introduces Rebecca Mackenzie as a striking and original new voice.”

3 Comments Add yours

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    You do know I can’t resist a book about third culture kids, don’t you? Darn, botherations, yet another to add to my list! Seriously, though, thank you for the suggestion and for the fascinating insight into the inspiration behind it.


    1. janetemson says:

      I’d say I’m sorry for adding to your reading pile but I’m not 🙂 I’m glad that you liked the piece, I found it fascinating too.


  2. I’ve long had a penchant for stories coming out of China and this is certainly a new perspective for me… great guest post & a definite MUST read for me.☺


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