Cursed City, Dark Tide: My Journey into the Unknown

What is a transmedia story? People keep asking novelist and S&C regular Christine Lawrence this and it’s taken her a while to work out the answer. She shares it with us now.

After obtaining Arts Council funding, local filmmaker and academic Roy Hannay put out a call to creatives to get involved in an exciting new project. We all met at the Wine Vaults in March and were introduced to the concept of transmedia gaming. The scenario was then titled ‘The Tale of the Southsea Onryo’ and was inspired by the story world of Matt Wingett’s magic realist novel The Snow Witch.

So what is this transmedia approach? It’s a way of telling a story but it’s more than telling a story because it includes street art, flash-fiction, immersive theatre, an art exhibition, social media interaction, interactive puzzle solving, live music, dance and Tarot readings. These activities will take place in theatres, cafes, pubs and other locations around Portsmouth. The public, in effect, enter into a game which combines all of the above elements. They help to prevent a disaster by saving the city from a curse by finding clues and solving a mystery.

Several workshops for the team of writers have taken place over the last year. I missed the first one on the evolution of story which focused on collaborative writing and was run by the White Water Writers. After this it was tricky at times to catch up but I persevered.

The next workshop was on transmedia storytelling. It was a fascinating day – what stands out most for me was how important it is to know who your audience is, not the demographic but the type of person they might be: curious, adventurous, sociable, loving a puzzle, a challenge, hungry to be a part of something different, to be involved in an adventure. Alison Norrington was the workshop leader. She is inspirational and has a great talent for delivering information.

A third workshop by Mark Eyles on game design for storytelling at times had me feeling overwhelmed and overloaded with information. As someone who has never been a gamer, I found it all intriguing however, and by the end of the session was excited to move into creative mode.

By now I had a couple of ideas for a character and began looking forward to doing the research. I had to read The Snow Witch again to refresh myself and started cooking up ideas, looking at the locations in the original novel and exploring Southsea pubs.

Then began the writing workshops. Collaborative writing is fun – we were able to focus on several days’ scripts in a few hours, working together, then going away to work on certain sections alone. Fun and frustrating too. We were in the dark at times, not really sure where it was all going to go. Some of the material was rewritten several times.

The script will not really be finished until the end of the game as the public will be a part of the writing up until then. Our characters, however, were coming to life and sometimes it felt like they had taken over our own lives. We also wrote flash fiction stories ready for publication on the website. A massive learning curve for me was discovering how to use the shared drive on Google. Sounds simple to many, but several of us struggled and then overcame the IT challenges.

And we were only the writers. Behind the scenes so much more was going on: editing scripts and stories; gigs and art exhibitions to organise; auditioning actors and dancers; arranging events at pubs and theatres; producing street art, paste art and distribution of same; compiling packs of tarot cards; designing clues and ways players can be involved in the game. Cafés in Southsea were approached and many have agreed to be involved in the distribution of clues.

The name of the game was changed to Cursed City, Dark Tide when we felt that the original name was too obscure. Cursed City, Dark Tide began to appear on social media and we were ready to roll.

I can’t say that I have enjoyed every minute of this journey but it certainly has been a journey from which I’ve learned a great deal. At times I’ve felt like throwing up my hands and walking away. At times I’ve felt like crying, at others I’ve laughed out loud. Looking back on the journey so far, I guess we have come a long way but still have a lot to do. The team-working is great. What started as quite a large group of writers collaborating has gradually reduced to a core of four writers who regularly have input. Looking back so far, I feel proud to be a part of this and am looking forward to see how it all works when the public players begin to enter the game.

The Story
The restless spirit of a murdered woman hunts for victims in a quiet seaside town. Janey’s ghost is  angry and spiteful. Having died traumatically, she cannot leave this place and seeks to take revenge on the town and its population. She has become Onryo, the most dreaded of spirits whose vengeance is indiscriminate, making no distinction as to who it targets. Donitza holds the key to this tragic story having discovered the truth behind Janey’s disappearance through her own encounters with the denizens of the town. A traveller and a witch from Eastern Europe, she is fleeing her own traumas. She can weave a spell to release the Onryo but will need the component parts to make her magical potions and to sing her incantations. Led on by the mysterious street artist, #Lissitch, can you, the audience solve the riddle and provide Donitza with the materials she needs to release the Onryo?

The story goes live today 14 October 2019.

Further information

Be part of the story!

  • Join the group…
  • Solve the puzzle…
  • Save the city from a crazed and vengeful spirit!

Cursed City – Dark Tide invites you to be part of the story. Meet the characters who will guide you on your journey as you try and save the city from a lost soul, trapped between life and death. Until this soul is released the city of Portsmouth is in grave danger. Only you can save it!

Join the Cursed City Against the Tide Facebook group and meet the team. They have been collecting stories about this dangerous and confused spirit for many months and they have lots to tell you.

Read the Dark Tide Dossier that has already been collated and get up to speed on what has been happening in the city these past months. The stories in the FREE downloadable booklet are not for the faint-hearted, they will tell tales that you will have your hair standing on end.