Mukahang Limbu is a young and aspiring 16-year-old writer, who is currently living in Oxford. He was the overall winner of the First Story National Competition in 2015, for his poem ‘When I came from Nepal’ and was the winner of the Cheltenham Literature Festival. He was also included in the top 85 commended poets for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award in 2016. His interests range from writing poems to theatre plays, and he dreams to one day be able to publish his works in an anthology and direct his own original piece of drama in the West End.
1) Mukahang, first of all huge congratulations to you on being awarded the Peregrine Prize 2017! As a young writer, you have already accomplished so much, with your achievements this year following earlier success in the ‘First Story National Writing Competition’. What is it about creative writing that you find engaging?
I am a sloppy speaker, and most of the time I have great difficulty finding the exact words I want to say in the heat of a moment, or how to word my sentences in a way that people can understand the meaning, without me having to waste more syntax. Writing lets me think and it sends me off on a journey to find the ‘right’ words. Not the ‘correct words’, but the ‘right’ words. When those words are found, there is just such a sweet ‘pang’ of satisfaction. Also, writing allows me to express and paint with all the senses, and there aren’t any smudges when you want to repaint or birth something new. It is the words and what I can do with them that I find engaging.
Writing lets me think and it sends me off on a journey to find the ‘right’ words. Not the ‘correct words’, but the ‘right’ words. When those words are found, there is just such a sweet ‘pang’ of satisfaction.
2) Your script on the issue of police brutality in America deals with a topic that is extremely relevant at the moment. Do you think it is important for fiction to cover current affairs or should it act as an escape from the real world?
Fiction should allow escape, because some people just need an escape. I know I definitely would not have made it through GCSEs without hiding inside somebody else’s world, where I did not have to deal with physics. However, writing is also a confrontation. It is important that writing tackles current affairs, as it has done for many years now, because writing can tackle all the shades of social problems, like no other art form. It can look in. It can show the problem inside out. It can confront. Only by confronting can we hope to move forwards.
3) Is there a specific genre of creative writing (e.g. poetry, short stories, drama etc) through which you feel you can best express yourself?
There is not one best medium that I can best express through, because I think each form allows me to express myself in its own way. Poetry, I feel, allows me to express small bursts of large feelings, or a moment in my brain itching to be on paper, or simply when I am feeling overwhelmed. By contrast, short stories are for much larger events that want to be strung together, or for other characters to have some input in the narrative. Drama is, for me, the most physical way I can express myself. Even when I am writing a script, there is such movement and life. Drama also reflects a lot of things people have said to me in real life, and is the only form in which I can allow myself to spout vulgarity to my heart’s content.
4) In Ghazal- to see, you refer to origins of your first name (‘Muka means greed, hang means King’). How much of your work do you see as being based on your own life experiences?
A lot! Almost everything (maybe everything) I have written is inspired from my own life experience. When I first started I used to write pieces that were more distant from me: very, wild, uncontrollable stories, or generic poems, possibly about flowers, maybe fireflies. However, more recently, I have started writing more about myself: my experiences, my emotions, answers to questions that can only be answered by me. This is because there is now a lot more truth to my work, and so it’s much more meaningful to me personally. Although there is a lot of fear, created from allowing people to see into you, writing ‘from’ within myself has allowed me to find my own distinct voice.
5) In your script on deception, the character M exclaims ‘Out damn spot!’ referring to their identity. This quotation reminds me of Lady Macbeth speaking about the blood on her hands after the murder of Lord Duncan. Do you consciously refer to other texts in your work and if so, what effects do you think you achieve by doing this?
The effect I hope to achieve by doing this is to connote my character’s subtext of emotions, by alluding to major literary characters, who possessed unforgettable characteristics. This mirroring of such characters, I hoped, allowed the audience to compare their situations and give a more reinforced impression of the character I have created. I was inspired to do this in the play, as I had read “Great Expectations”, by Charles Dickens. One of the subtle nuances, which was lexically cohesive throughout Dickens’ novel, was the act of Jaggers constantly rubbing his hand. By emulating such an iconic character in my script, I instantly conveyed to the audience that the character in my play was one imbued with crime, or guilt. In my piece, I alluded to Lady Macbeth, to emphasise the guilt and shame, how ‘dirty’, ‘M’ feels, and has been made to feel, by the cruelty of the people who were meant to protect him.
6) What made you want to apply for the Peregrine Competition in the first place?
It was partially due to my mum, who said the competition would be a good chance to gain more experience, and that she wanted my work to be seen by than more than just my desktop. Also, I wanted to share my work with people outside my writing circle, and see what people who do not know me or have never spoken to me thought about my work.
7) What creative writing plans do you now have after winning the competition?
I would like to get back to writing scripts and also writing confessional poetry. In addition, a writing teacher once told me that I tended to run away with my muse, so ‘meanings’ used to get clouded by my imagery. I would like to work on pieces that are more controlled, maybe more simplistic, something understandable, by writing pieces with actual forms, such as sonnets, haikus or haibuns.
8) What advice would you give to other aspiring young writers?
Although I am in no position to give advice other people, because I am still very lacking in experience, I would like to say, that from what I have done so far, sometimes the most creative or touching pieces are the ones that come from the writer. For a writer, writing ‘from’ within oneself is one of the bravest thing they can do. It takes a lot, but it also gives so much back. I would also like to echo the teachings of my writing teacher, Kate Clanchy, who has said to always be nosy, do not be afraid of killing your darlings then “banking” them for a different body, and to start with the senses.
9) In your poem Papa, you experiment with the layout of the words on the page. In Mothers who cannot bear to dream alone, many of the lines seem to run on from one another, which is especially well conveyed when the poem is read aloud. How important do you think it is for the reader to engage with poems visually on the page (as is the case with shape poems) and aurally when poems are performed?
There is a poet called Ocean Vuong, and he has influenced me to write free-verse poems. “Papa” was a direct response to Vuong’s poetry. The thing that first grabbed me about free-verse was how much weight a word seemed to have on a page if it was a stanza by itself, or how much sorrow a poem could evoke when the words looked like raindrops sliding down a window, or how much curiosity a poem could stimulate when the stanzas looked like ladders or trails leading to the poet. I think when poems are written, they come with a lay-out they want to take - sometimes it’s perfect and other times it takes time for the poem to finally fit in its body. I heard Ocean Vuong reading a poem called “Notebook fragments” online and there was such vulnerability and softness in his reading that filled up my entire room. He touched me. He did it with the silence that filled in after every line, a chance for quick breath then followed by another line. Near the end of the recital, there was a staccato, a quick set of words in succession, normally created by enjambment on paper, but in full effect as he had read it. By the end of the poem, I’d been left breathless. This is an example of why it is important for a writer to engage a reader visually and aurally, because they can inspire, they can fill up the room of a person’s mind, or just a room with all of their self, and because they can make a stranger feel like a family in mere seconds.
10) In Mothers who cannot bear to dream alone and Ghazal - to see, you refer to Durga, Ganesh, Parvati and Ramayana. What has inspired you to include Hindu mythology in particular in your works?
My mother is a devout Hindu, and the country I was born in (Nepal), is predominantly a Hindu society. Therefore, I grew up with stories, and fables of Hindu gods, so naturally they became a part of me. Now I’m older, I have a very peculiar relationship with my beliefs, and that conflict itself is something I have a great need to express, so Hindu mythology always appears in my work, especially in very personal pieces.