Today we’re in conversation with the fantastic Vidya Madabushi for our ‘Behind the Book’ segment. Vidya is an Indian writer living in Sydney. Her first novel, Bystanders, was published in India in 2015 and was shortlisted for the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize, and a previous version was longlisted for the Australian Vogel Award. In 2018, Vidya received the Writing NSW Grant for Fiction for creating this novel—The Days Toppled Over, which is also her Australian debut.
When did you first think of writing—The Days Toppled Over?
Vidya: Funnily, I didn’t actually think about writing this book. I was working on two separate short stories for what I hoped would form a collection. When an opportunity for a grant came up, and I had to write a proposal, these separate stories just seemed to intertwine into one story.
The title truly justifies the theme of the book. How did you decide on it? Was the book written first or the title?
Vidya: The title definitely came from the writing of the book. The image of the days being stacked like a pile of books came to me early. My first chapter is in fact titled “The Days are Stacked like a Pile of Books”, and at some point, I thought they had toppled over for Malli as well as Surya. I was also writing a lot during the pandemic, and I had the same feeling about my own days. I had a few options, but I checked with my early readers, who liked this one.
The Days Toppled Over is a powerful sum-up on mental health, sibling relationships and, most importantly, the complexity of international students in great detail. Is there any particular message that you want to convey via this novel?
Vidya: I don’t know that I want to convey a message so much as throw light on certain aspects of life lived on the sidelines of society, such as it is for both Malli and Surya. I could find hardly any literature about international students, and yet they comprise a significant portion of migrants here and are considered crucial to Australia’s success.
How did your love for writing begin? Did you always want to be a writer?
Vidya: I started writing diaries like every self-respecting high school teenager in those days. Long ramblings about the goings on at school. Some love poems for my early crushes. From there, I progressed quickly to fiction. So yes, I think I probably always wanted to be a writer but was only seriously aware of it in my twenties.
Let’s dig a bit into your writing routine. Do you usually write on your desk, or do you like to hop out in cafes and do some writing there instead?
Vidya: I write in bed with my dog curled up beside me. I am not methodical or disciplined, so while I would like to try to write every day, I don’t. The writing flows around the other things in my life, like my job and family. Still, I’d say the current can be pretty strong once it gets going.
How different was the experience writing The Days Toppled Over compared to your previous release, Bystanders?
Vidya: It was very different. I didn’t have an agent or as much editorial input, so the process itself was different. I also grew up between the books and read so much more, so that reflects in this book.
Bystanders is, however, very close to my heart, and I love that book.
What has been your biggest takeaway while writing this novel?
Vidya: I think my biggest takeaway is to break away from conventional storytelling and move into more explorative, experimental territory. It’s the kind of writing I like to read, so whether I am good at that or not, I am going to give it a go.
Every book is special in its own unique way, but how does it feel to see the labour of your love, out in public, in bookstores?
Vidya: I wasn’t prepared for it, and I was moved to tears. If you ever find me weeping inside a bookstore, it’s probably why.
If the book gets adapted into a Netflix movie, who do you think will be cut out for the main characters—Malli, Surya and Nayan?
Vidya: The South Indian actor Sidharth for Surya, Konkana Sen as Malli because she’s brilliant, and the actor Madhavan for Nayan. That would be a killer cast.
The Days Toppled Over was published on 20 June 2023 by Penguin Books Australia. You can purchase the book here.