When New Colombo Plan scholar Sara Khamkoed struggled to find stories that reflected her Thai-Australian children, she decided to do something to support diversity in the Australian publishing industry, which serves an increasingly multicultural society.
“When I found out about the New Colombo Plan scholarship, I thought this is the perfect opportunity for me to go to Thailand, learn more about the culture, learn more about the people, connect with the publishing industry, and to have a residency where I'm going to have the time and space to write these stories that we really need in Australia,” she says.
As a Bachelor of Visual Arts and Secondary Education student at Southern Cross University in Lismore, in 2016, Sara moved with her two children and husband to Bangkok and began her studies in comparative literature at Mahidol University.
Inspired by Thai ghost stories and western fairy tales, Sara has started writing her young adult’s novel. The main character is a 16-year-old Thai-Australian girl called Snow, who finds herself lost in the jungle where she conquers her fears and ultimately befriends seven ghosts.
“Ghost stories are very prominent in Thailand,” Sara explains. “There are ghosts that live in banana trees or by the water – there are a lot of different ghost characters that you see being retold in different ways through cinema and through books.”
“I think it’s because the spirit world is something that is present in everyday life in Thailand,” she says. “When you walk down the street, you can see little offerings, and you can see spirit houses where people put out food and drinks and incense.”
For Sara, stories allow the reader to gain an insight into the lives of others and this is immensely powerful for creating cross-cultural understanding and empathy, especially among children. She hopes that her children’s and young adult’s books will one day help create this kind of deeper understanding between Thai and Australian cultures.
“Once I've finished all my scholarship in Thailand and my studies and my artist's residency, I'll be going back to Australia to finish my degree for one year, but, I'm definitely going to be back in Thailand,” she says. “I'm already starting to form as many connections as I can and look at what opportunities are available for my future, because Thailand is definitely somewhere that I want to be returning to and hopefully working in this region, in the future,” she says.