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Working with Words: Candy Royalle

Read Monday, 18 Apr 2016

Candy Royalle is an award winning performance artist, writer, storyteller, activist and educator. She tackles topics ranging from sexual obsession to social injustice. We chatted with Candy about poetic and culinary nourishment, Jay Gatsby, and taking the ego out of art.

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Candy Royalle

Frida People – Candy Royalle's collaborative album, with Sloppy Joe
Frida People – Candy Royalle’s collaborative album, with Sloppy Joe

What was the first piece of writing you had published?

I’ve never really sought publication and have rarely submitted any work. I choose to perform the majority of my work and self-publish. I understand that many people in the industry turn their noses up at that, but my contemporaries and I have managed to successfully exist in this way.

My work is still edited by multiple individuals and designed by wonderful artists. It’s just that this way, I maintain creative and financial control, and I prefer it that way. That being said, being published in Audio Overland a couple of years back was really great because that’s a publication I adore, and that edition was edited/curated by Maxine Beneba Clarke – who is of course, amazing. My first published written work was in the Austin International Poetry Festival’s anthology.

What’s the best part of your job?

There are a number, to be honest – pinpointing one is difficult! I love the creative process of writing new work, locking myself away for a couple of weeks at Bundanon, writing madly. I also love the editing process, sorting the shit from the rough diamonds, cutting up the work, refining it, searching for the right way to carve it up so it can be served well. I then love the process of deciding the best way to perform a piece – memorising it, playing with it, moving my body with it, finding its rhythms.

What’s the worst part of your job?

Admin. I find it incredible the amount of admin a poet like me has to do! I think I have about ten spreadsheets on the go at the moment! Admin is the bane of my existence.

What’s been the most significant moment in your writing career so far?

Getting to appear alongside some of my favourite Australian and international poets. It’s an incredible feeling to have read someone’s work, adored their work … dreaming of one day being able to meet them, and then actually being invited to appear alongside them at a writers festival or arts festival. I don’t think my work is yet the equivalent of those whose work I have admired for a long time, but I work tirelessly to earn my right to stand beside them.

I believe most people, especially artists, struggle with ego. I hope mine is no longer the place from which I create.

What’s the best (or worst) advice you’ve received about writing?

When Anna Kerdijk Nicholson was my mentor, one of the first things she ever said to me was ‘Stop telling me how good your work is – let your work speak for itself.’ In that moment, I realised I was all ego and my work really wasn’t good enough to speak for itself. I started working much harder at developing my skills as both writer and performer, and stopped telling people how amazing I was. Because I wasn’t, and neither was my work. These days, I do hope my work speaks for itself – I hope that people connect with it, that it moves people in some way, otherwise I am failing as a creator. I believe most people, especially artists, struggle with ego. I hope mine is no longer the place from which I create. I believe I have evolved away from that sort of writing and performance.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve ever heard or read about yourself?

I was touring my second album, Frida People, with my band. It’s a mix of poetry and music, and the live show contains some performance art by performer Betty Grumble. It’s my attempt at connecting with people who wouldn’t normally engage with poetry – I kind of like to think of myself (and my work) as a gateway drug to poetry.

In any case, a reviewer in Melbourne who didnt like the show likened us to Ani Difranco and Michael Franti as though that were an insult. Funnily enough, Ani Difranco was my idol when I was young, and was my own gateway drug to poetry. So ultimately, the reviewers insult’ was the best compliment I could have received!

If you weren’t writing, what do you think you’d be doing instead?

I’d be working with food. I love feeding people; I always have. Before I took the plunge into poetry full time, I’d been working in the food industry. I promised myself that if poetry failed me, I’d nourish people another way. 

There’s much debate on whether creative writing can be taught – what’s your view?

I run a number of masterclasses annually and I have witnessed some amazing things. I certainly think enabling people to fully access their own creativity by teaching them some of the tools required to write well, is a form of teaching creative writing. I would argue there are many people who are in teaching roles who simply shouldn’t be teaching – a good writer does not make a good teacher.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a writer?

It’s hard work, therefore you need a good work ethic. You must be prepared to fail much more than you succeed. Go out and get yourself a trustworthy mentor who believes in you, but is unafraid to call you on your shit. Find people who will read your work and who are willing to be honest with you – which means you need to be tough enough to have your work ripped to shreds. This is the greatest challenge many artists face.

Dont do anything for the money. Thats how you lose your integrity a writer without integrity is a broken writer as far as Im concerned. Money makes everything dirty it will come, if you work hard enough, but never work for it.

You need to be tough enough to have your work ripped to shreds. This is the greatest challenge many artists face.

Do you buy your books online, in a physical bookshop, or both?


If you could go out to dinner with any fictional character, who would it be and why?

Jay Gatsby, for sure. I’d tell him how sorry I was for him, and how Daisy simply didn’t understand the sacrifices he’d made, the delusion he’d maintained just to propel himself towards her. We’d talk about how we both idealise and idolise love. How we confuse the ways in which to love.

What’s the book that’s had the most significant impact on your life or work – and why?

The book that’s had the most significant impact on my life is A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. I was so invested in those characters that to this day I still feel them. I felt like I knew them so intimately, so well, their joy and anguish was my own too. I’ve never read a book that affected me in such a way as it did. The loss was so palpable that even now I can recall it and feel it. 

The book thats had the most significant impact on my work is without a doubt Suheir Hammads Drops of this Story. Born in Brooklyn to Palestinian refugees, she wrote it when she was only 18. Its an incredibly intimate account of one womans experiences of racism, family, growing pains, misogyny and more. Written without rules, it is so poetically rough that I cant think of a single other similar example. Its real, raw and echoes so many of my own experiences. Its also incredibly hard to get a copy of, and I cherish mine it is the one book I will not loan out. I take it everywhere and know many parts off by heart.

Candy Royalle’s latest album, Birthing the Sky Birthing the Sea, is now available on CD or USB. She will be performing the work with her band, The Freed Radicals, live at Sydney’s Red Rattler Theatre on the 22 April and 13 May.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.