Working with Words: Vidya Rajan
We spoke with writer, comedian, and performance-maker Vidya Rajan about rabbits, testing material for live performance and why she’s interested in systems of power.
What was the first piece of writing that made you laugh or cry?
I remember reading Enid Blyton’s Brer Rabbit stories as a very young child and crying with laughter. It’s about a prankster rabbit who plays tricks on his friends, but they often backfire on him. I knew then I had to become this rabbit. I now know that Brer Rabbit is problematic (the figure originates in African folklore and has been adapted and watered down over time). So now I’m looking for a different rabbit role model.
Did you write during your childhood and during your teenage years? What did you write about?
I did. I wrote constantly during my childhood, less so as a teenager and at university. I wrote a lot of fantastical stuff like most kids. The stories were often quite funny, and disturbingly dark for my age which, maybe someone should have investigated. I wrote a lot of poetry too, most of it grossly sentimental.
What day jobs have you held throughout your life, and how have those experiences influenced your writing?
I’ve had a variety of jobs. Outside of the arts, I’ve worked retail and tutored, but mostly I’ve worked in the community and legal sector. I can’t quite say if it’s influenced my writing. I’m often interested in exploring experiences on the margins, and the systems and power relationships we set up to deal with people. But I don’t think that’s something I got from the work, so much as what attracted me to it in the first place.
I’m often interested in exploring experiences on the margins, and the systems and power relationships we set up to deal with people.
If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?
I’d probably be working in community or social change spaces; in a whole other life I’d maybe have gone into medicine. Writing isn’t something I ever expected to be able to do full-time. I’m very lucky most of my work is making art nowadays.
What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?
Any writing advice I’ve received that insisted there was only one way to do things, or that there is a right kind of art (very common advice to writers of colour!) has been bad advice. The best advice is an off-hand remark a lecturer at VCA once made. He said: ‘writing is just control of the flow of information’. I love it because it sounds like something a robot would say after it finally learns how to write stories for its human masters. But also it’s just good advice.
Have you ever kept a diary? Do you keep one now?
No, I tried many times but I’ve given up each time. I’m not sure why I find regularly documenting my thoughts or life difficult – I could say that it’s about having a predisposition to fiction, but it’s probably just a lack of discipline. Though I do sort of treat Instagram as a visual diary, in that I’ve failed to build a brand as an influencer, and so just use it to capture a lot of mundane things I want to remember one day.
Which classic book/play/film/TV show do you consider overrated? Or which obscure, unsung gem do you think is underrated?
I think people have such varied taste that I’m not comfortable calling something overrated, at least in public! But a lot of the ‘English canon’ is probably overrated? An underrated gem… I loved Ana Lily Amirpour’s film A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night. I think it was quite acclaimed, but more people should see it.
Anything like [live theatre or comedy]… you’ve probably made an error of judgment at some point, or written something to test that’s really poor quality. How else do you grow in skill or as a person?
Do you have any strange writing habits, customs or superstitions?
I write in bed more than I should. If I’m struggling to start work – I’ll sometimes put on nail polish, like I’m dressing up for the occasion or desperately calming myself with a repetitive action, depending on how you want to look at it.
Have you written anything in the past that you now wish you could go back and change?
Yes, lots of stuff I’m sure, even if I don’t remember exactly. And I’m sure I will again (perhaps even these answers). I write for theatre, and perform, and do comedy. Anything like that… you’ve probably made an error of judgment at some point, or written something to test that’s really poor quality. How else do you grow in skill or as a person?
Which artist, writer or character would you most like to have dinner with?
I want to have dinner with the 2100 AD Emmy award-winner for Best Writer for a Comedy Series, Musical or Hologramtertainment Experience. I just want to know what the future is like, and what we’re still laughing and dreaming about, and also what I should do with my life, and whether X Æ A-12 and I ever had a hot collab.
Writing in the ‘cracks between the facts’
Hot Desk Extract: Hilda Saves the Multiverse
Hot Desk Extract: Panda Wong
Using fiction to imagine the future
Drawing attention to another Afghanistan