Transmedia storytelling experience comes to Portsmouth for the first time – here's how you can get involved

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I interrupt Matt Wingett while he's writing.  He’s mid-thought and ideas are flying around his brain like electricity running through wires. 

After I apologise, Matt tells me he needs to channel himself ‘out of his writing world and into this one’ – and then he’s ready to begin. 

James Waterfield, Matt Wingett and Roy Hanney at Southsea Model Village. Picture: James Tobin.

James Waterfield, Matt Wingett and Roy Hanney at Southsea Model Village. Picture: James Tobin.

The 52-year-old has had a busy year with the project Cursed City: Dark Tide now on the horizon. Inspired by his popular novel The Snow Witch, Matt’s work was the catalyst for a transmedia experience that’s coming to Portsmouth for the first time. 

As part of DarkFest 2019, Cursed City: Dark Tide is an interactive story that will unfold on social media, in street art, live events and even a live gig at a secret location.

Along the way, people can either watch for fun as the story unfolds or help solve the clues through deciphering the secret messages by going to locations across the city to pick up subtle signs that will point them to the next part of the game.

But what kick-started a unique project that now encompasses more than 40 local artists, collaborative writers and city venues was a walk though Southsea by Matt in 2013.

Artists James Waterfield putting the final touches to the two character models. Picture: James Tobin.

Artists James Waterfield putting the final touches to the two character models. Picture: James Tobin.

He says: ‘I was inspired by a couple of buskers I came across in Palmerston Road. They were very charismatic violin and guitar players. I found them so interesting. 

‘I approached them when they’d finished and bought them coffee. She and her partner explained they were catching the next ferry out of Portsmouth to travel around Europe, funding their trip through busking. 

‘I went away with this image in my head, planning for the novel to have a magical feel but I seem to have a dark sense of storytelling. 

‘I decided to let it sit and I finally came back to it in 2016 and just went for it. 

The scriptwriters in a workshop with Matt Wingett at the University of Portsmouth. Picture: James Tobin.

The scriptwriters in a workshop with Matt Wingett at the University of Portsmouth. Picture: James Tobin.

‘I just followed my gut instinct. There’s a big twist and even I had no idea it was coming,’ says Matt. 

The Snow Witch was published in 2017 and has received glowing reviews in The Folklore Podcast and Folk Horror Revival

The novel tells the story of an enigmatic young woman, Donitza, who arrives in Portsmouth in a snow storm and as the story unfolds, the reader discovers she is a far more powerful woman than was first realised.

And while Matt thought the dust had settled surrounding the craze of his magic-realism masterpiece, Roy Hanney’s transmedia idea was just beginning. 

Roy, 58, says: ‘I first read The Snow Witch in early 2018. I thought it was remarkable. 

‘I’ve always had an interest in magic realism and for me, it generated an interest in European culture and music. 

‘The novel also celebrated Portsmouth so beautifully. I could imagine myself in the pub where the characters were.’

Roy is a lecturer for the media production course at Solent University, Southampton, and transmedia was one of the new modules he was required to teach.

‘I was intrigued and didn’t know what transmedia was so I began an online course by the University of New South Wales, Australia,’ he explains.  

By definition, transmedia is the technique of telling a single story across multiple platforms and formats using current digital technologies. 

Roy continues: ‘The course involved developing a story, ideas and characters. 

‘I thought The Snow Witch was a fantastic book.

‘I approached Matt and asked if I could develop it for my course and he agreed. 

‘I essentially took three of the characters and changed their fates and created a new story.’ 

What began as a learning experience for Roy transformed into a ‘huge idea’ which led to him applying for funding from the Arts Council. 

He had created a sequel to Matt’s The Snow Witch in a different medium and built a team of collaborative writers through workshops to produce a script for social media and for the future live events.

He adds: ‘We held three workshops at the University of Portsmouth on collaborative writing, transmedia and gamification [converting a story into an online game]. 

‘Now, with the skills we have developed, members of the public will be able to interact and be able to talk to the characters through Facebook.’ 

But Matt admits the expansion of the project has been ‘overwhelming’. 

He explains: ‘When Roy approached me with the idea with this transmedia experience, I didn’t really have any idea what that was. 

‘It’s been a really intense learning experience because storytelling is not as traditional as it once was. 

‘The future of storytelling has changed forever. 

‘It was once just gathering around a camp fire and acting but now it’s something different because of technology. 

‘Humans organise their world through storytelling. 

‘My major concern with the transmedia experience was that The Snow Witch was a very personal world I had created. I didn’t want it to be diluted by new storytelling.’

The writer and publisher, who wrote scripts for the 1990s’ TV show The Bill, was planning to take a back seat in the transmedia storytelling experience.

But Matt is the chief scriptwriter because he wants to ‘ensure the project stays on track’. 

He adds: ‘The Snow Witch completes itself – there isn’t a cliffhanger. But it does have several unanswered questions and that’s what we build on.’ 

The warm-up phase of the project was launched on August 29 at Southsea Model Village and Matt says it was ‘very emotional’. 

He says: ‘A lot of the original story is based there and local artist James Waterfield has created a pair of sculptures of two of the characters – both of them magical and mysterious beings in different ways.

‘They were so beautiful. I was so impressed with this work of art and proud that my own work had inspired people to create. 

‘Art is what makes life worth living,’ he says. 

Cursed City:Dark Tide officially launches on October 11, however Matt and Roy are keen not to give anything away. 

‘We can't tell you too much about the story or the events to unfold because it's down to the players of the game to work out the clues that we'll be dropping on social media and on the streets of Portsmouth,’ says Roy.

‘But your role as a player is to help save the city from a curse that threatens to destroy it.

‘The whole experience will get you thinking, working things out and even performing specific rituals to help save the city.

‘Think of it a little bit like an escape room – but Portsmouth is the setting where you solve the puzzles. And there's plenty of story and action along the way.’

Roy refers to the series of events as a game because each event – whether it’s theatre, dance or gaming – gives the public a clue to the epilogue of the transmedia storytelling experience.

To follow the journey, join Cursed City: Dark Tide’s Facebook group when it launches on October 6. 

But until then, Matt and Roy continue to plan for something they hope the city will love.

The story so far…

Janey’s spirit is vengeful, angry and spiteful.

Having died traumatically, she cannot leave this place and seeks to wreak her vengeance on the town and its population.

She has become Onryō – the most dreaded of spirits whose vengeance is indiscriminate making no distinction as to who it targets.

Donitza, a traveller and a witch, holds the key to this tragic story having discovered the truth behind Janey’s disappearance through her own encounters with the people of this seaside town and is fleeing her own traumas.

She can weave a spell to release the Onryō 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 Onryō?

Follow the links below for more information about the Cursed City: Dark Tide project which launches on Facebook on October 6 and lasts until November 9.

facebook.com/ cursedcity darktide/

thesnowwitch.com/

supernaturalcities.co.uk/darkfest/

groundlings.co.uk