Thursday 25 February 2021

"Multiple Middles: Storytelling in Games," by Hannah Nicklin

In the following article, Hannah NicklinWriter and Narrative Designer on the multiple award-winning and most-nominated at the IGF awards video game Mutazione, talks about storytelling craft in games. In particular, she discusses the narrative design choices and motivations for what she calls her 'multiple middles' as opposed to 'multiple endings.' The article was first published on Die Gute Fabrik's website here

Multiple Middles & Mutazione

By Hannah Nicklin

As part of the Narrative Innovation Showcase I was asked to prepare a 15 minute talk on a key design decision on Mutazione – I chose the narrative design of the player’s agency within the story, which uses a format I like to call 'Multiple Middles.'


One of the first things you’re often asked about interactive narrative is ‘how important are the choices,’ ‘do they matter?’ I’d like to think all the choices characters make in a game ‘matter,’ but the amount of control you have over them, and what they in turn affect, is often seen as the sum of how complex or accomplished a piece of narrative design is. A lot of games discourse tends towards judging the accomplishment of games on how close they get to the ‘real’ world of choice and consequence.

But sometimes abstraction rather than simulation or linearity, as opposed to branching, is a more useful storytelling tool.

In my opinion, when working in any form or set of expectations the craft is to consider the quality of the materials you’re working with - in this case writing for interaction. Like working with or against the grain of a piece of wood, or the qualities of stoneware versus porcelain, how you work it produces different results - but neither is wrong. What’s important is to understand the implications of the decisions you make.

When asked this question about ‘choice’ with regards to Mutazione, I have taken to describing the decisions I made as the game having ‘multiple middles’ rather than ‘multiple endings.’

In individual conversations I very much use the Kentucky Route Zero model of choice – colouring how the character plays the situation, but not letting you choose who the character is. Are you attempt-to-be-articulate Kai? Or are you diffuse-the-situation-with-a-joke Kai? Either way, you’re still Kai. The conversations branch; you might access different reactions, memories and stories; but they come to the same place at the end.

The player agency is instead to be found in exploration.

Exploration as Player Agency.

Why did I come to this conclusion? Well, as writer and narrative designer coming to the project of Mutazione - though we’re mostly talking about narrative design decisions here - the brief that I started with was that it was:

  • Driven by an ensemble cast of characters.
  • A soap opera.
  • Centred on a theme of looking at a community which was aligned differently with nature.
  • Built on a clearly defined and pre-existing story-world and plot.

The decisions I therefore made about player choice were driven by these considerations, which could be translated as needing:

  • Room to develop many characters’ journeys in tandem 
  • Drama-driven slice-of-life setting 
  • Able to examine the interplay of community 
  • Contrasted usefully with the fantastic setting and preserved the basic story and plotting set out by Creative Director Nils Deneken.

For this reason it made a lot of sense not to give the player significant means to affect outcomes - multiple endings. That is: not to allow player agency to exert upon the outcome linearly - multiple-ending style - but rather to invite them to shape their experience of the story laterally - sideways: multiple middles.

Plot levels

The player choice in Mutazione is exploration rather than conversation-focussed. This meant a great deal of careful planning, to make sure that the mandatory moments in each time of day encouraged the player to discover B and C plots, in how they were spaced out, and in what they hinted at. It also meant thinking carefully about each characters’ journey through the game’s timeline, and how different levels of exploration would challenge the pacing. It meant adding certain times of day where the player had fewer options open to them - for either urgency, or to chime with natural rhythms, like morning or late at night. This is very common in ensemble cast TV shows, and if you’d like to hear more about that see my other GDC talk Kill the Hero Save the (Narrative) World.

The A plot is the driving theme or problem of the episode. In Day 5 of Mutazione, that’s 'go on a boat trip with Tung and Miu, discovering you should grow a garden to help him with his boat making.'

‘B’ plots are the ‘secondary’ story in an episode, often lighter, comedic, or contrasting thematically in a way that reflects on the A plot – all of which makes the A plot more compelling when you return to it. In Day 5 in Mutazione B plots include following up on the events of the night before, when it was revealed that Spike the bartender has had a long-running crush on Tung’s mother, Claire.

‘C’ plots are the smallest unit, and might resemble ‘empty’ side quests, but the difference in an ensemble setting is that you care about the characters because of previous investment in them. Which means that these details can be dealt with lightly, and be used to add to your satisfaction with the completeness of the universe. In Day 5 of Mutazione, a C plot would include the Sausage folk plotting a new scheme which this time will definitely make them all rich.

The only mandatory path is the A plot. The multiple middles are the choices you make in each time of day to dig into the B and C plots. Because when the time of day moves on you won’t be able to access those conversations again.

The Journal

I co-developed narrative design details such as the journal - a diegetic means of setting out which conversations or actions were the mandatory A plot conversations for the time of day, and the last of those - the conversation which would move time forwards - was always marked by a timer symbol, so the player could choose if they were done exploring in that time of day. I also gave the many characters habits and routines, constructing plots which progressed whether or not you had found the first or second conversation. This gave a sense of a pre-existing and alive story-world in which you weren’t the only protagonist.

The slice-of-life aspect of the soap opera genre was served by therefore being able to interweave many plot lines, and to allow the player to discover histories and participate in different dramas, past and present. In working with an ensemble cast I was able to vary tone widely - humour and tragedy could exist fairly naturally side by side, as well as huge events and minutiae - contributing to the picture of drama-driven domestic life which is characteristic of the soap opera genre.

Soap Opera and genre

And that ‘soap opera’ setting of personal dramas and everyday routines and the choice I made to draw characters who were very naturalistic contrasted usefully with the fantasy setting - it gave a weight to the mutant world that otherwise could have come across as glib. The multiple middles also allowed me to build characterisation which was rich and complex, meaning that the full ensemble cast felt real and a part of the texture of the place. I worked carefully in the dialogue to imbue each character with a distinct voice – from cadence, idioms, style and manner of speech.

Finally, in being transparent about time, and combining this with the freedom to explore Nils’ wonderful wilderness and environments, the narrative design was able to reflect the theme of a closeness to nature, and the main piece of mechanical gameplay - the magical musical gardens so beautiful composed (musically and programmatically respectively) by Alessandro Coronas and Douglas Wilson.

I made narrative design decisions that focussed on the characters as complex, rich, and a little different for the smallness of their community. I wanted getting to know them to feel like coming across a number of new plants you’d never seen before, watching them grow, tending to them where possible, and allowing them to surprise you.

I set out to build narrative design that would allow the player to choose their own pace: to push at the central plot, or to meander, wander, and grow at their story at their own pace. The themes of the story are tough – among the everyday it deals in trauma, colonialism, infidelity, ageing and illness – but the game is often characterised as ‘gentle,’ I think, because of the ‘multiple middles’ opportunity to pace your own experience.

So, when I talk about Multiple Middles, what I mean is exploration-focussed, lateral narrative design which opens up a community of characters, rather than linear choice-and-consequence style storytelling, focussed only on the hero and how the weight of their agency affects the world.

  • Characters have routines and habits in the physical space of the game, making exploration easier.
  • You can choose which characters or subplots you’re more interested in.
  • Tying story to the natural ebb and flow of different times of day allowed natural pacing.
  • Transparency around time enables the player to define their own pace.
  • Characters live full and well rounded lives, feel situated and whole, grounding the fantasy setting.
  • You can talk about community more effectively, when it’s not there to serve the player, but rather the player is rewarded for exploring and listening. Tending to their story, rather than applying pressure to it.

What can you learn?

To take more general principles from this talk, I’d like to advocate for the consideration of player agency as a quality, not a virtue, of writing for games. Restricting agency can often help you tell your story more effectively, intuitively, and in a manner which allows you to explore tougher and more complicated themes sensitively. Multiple Middles style design allows for player agency through exploration, rather than changing outcomes.

One of the most meaningful dialogue options I offer players in Mutazione is often ‘Stay Quiet.’ When someone is talking to you of their grief, or sorrow, or regrets, sometimes the most powerful act is to not to act, but to listen. We can build narrative design that supports the telling of that - and Multiple Middles is how I, personally, attempted it.

Further Reading

I'd also like to finish this post with the fact that some of the best writing on interactive storytelling structure is definitely from Emily Short. It's likely my 'Multiple Middles' is also described on her blog somewhere with a much more concise description. I am not inventing anything here except the name that I call this conscious narrative design choice.

I would strongly recommend checking out the plot and narrative structure tag on her website, and I'd also highlight three particular posts as good narrative design starting points: 'Small-Scale Structures in CYOA,' 'Storylets: You Want Them,' and  'Beyond Branching: Quality-Based, Salience-Based, and Waypoint Narrative Structures.'

About the author

Hannah Nicklin, photo by Julia Dasgupta

Hannah Nicklin is an award-winning British narrative & game designer, writer, and academic (among other things) who has been practising for nearly 15 years. She works hard to create playful experiences that see people, and make people feel seen, and also argues for making games a more radical space through mentoring, advocacy, and redefining process / premises. Trained as a playwright, Hannah moved into interactive practices early on in her career and is now the CEO and Studio Lead at Danish indie studio Die Gute Fabrik and most recently launched Mutazione in 2019. She has a PhD from Loughborough University in games-influenced theatre / theatre-influenced games. She is on Twitter @hannahnicklin 

Monday 22 February 2021

Congratulations to Isobel Copley!

Congratulations to University of Leicester MA Creative Writing student Isobel Copley, whose story "Too Much Space to Dream" recently won Cath Barton's 2021 Flash Fiction Competition.

Isobel says she is and always has been a dreamer. Fortunately, as a wannabe scribbler this is at last of some value. She is the co-owner of the best little second-hand bookshop in France which gives her legitimate days, weeks and months to read and dream all day long. Winning Cath's competition was the best encouragement for a mature student on the cliff face learning curve that is an MA Creative Writing. Isobel remains astounded and delighted: "Thank you, Cath, for nurturing the magic!"

You can read Isobel's winning story here.

Incidentally, you can also read a review of Cath Barton's novella, In the Sweep of the Bay, on Everybody's Reviewing here

Tuesday 9 February 2021

Constantine, "The Cats of Charnwood Forest"

Congratulations to Constantine, MA Creative Writing student at the University of Leicester, who has just been published his children's novel, The Cats of Charnwood Forest!

Constantine was born autistic (with other learning difficulties such as ADHD and Dyspraxia), at a time when not many in the UK could correctly recognise or diagnose such issues. Like so many others with his condition, he spent much of his late teens and early 20s living on London's streets. He always had a desire to be creative and, after working with Jeremy Deller in 2006, a seed was planted that, maybe, he could achieve something. He took himself into adult education in 2011 and was surprised to find how much more accommodating the education system had become to those like himself. In 2013, his first short was published in an anthology called Jam, and in 2017 he received a first class honours in Creative Writing at Middlesex University. He has since written a number of episodes of Pablo for Paper Owl films (currently showing on CBeebies and Netflix) and has written this book, The Cats of Charnwood Forest, which his script editor on Pablo, Andrew Brenner, was kind enough to edit. 

Constantine is currently working on an audio version with the cast of Pablobuilding a website to accompany the book (  and hopefully finishing his Masters Degree at the University of Leicester.

You can read a review by Ayana Sen-Handley of The Cats of Charnwood on Everybody's Reviewing here

About The Cats of Charnwood Forest

By Constantine

I can tell you what the book aims to achieve. First and foremost, it is a gateway book: a book for those clever six-year-olds who are tired of books for their age and want something more challenging, but are maybe not ready for the more grown-up themes; or for older 'reluctant' readers, readers who need to be coaxed and encouraged - ten-year-olds who pick up books for their age group and higher, but don't get past the first few paragraphs.  

The book aims to connect with such readers firstly through the language: though it is gently paced throughout, it increases in complexity over the first four chapters in a way which, thus far, no child has mentioned but a few parents have noticed. Secondly, there are the protagonists, Bailey and Scruff. They represent not only the child but in particular the autistic child. As they grow over course of the book to adulthood, they deal with many of the same experiences as human children and adults - from bullying (on both sides), to gender roles and stereotypes and much more.

I'm not entirely sure exactly what lessons its sequel will explore as it is not finished yet, but I hope you enjoy this exclusive look forwards to the second book ...

From Joltanheim: The Cats of Charnwood Forest, Book 2


This book is not like most “second books.” Most second books take place the next day, or after the school holidays, or on the anniversary of the first adventure. But this is about The Cats of Charnwood Forest and in Charnwood, time is never quite a straight line.

Between the time I first met Scruff in that cave, and the time I finally finished writing up that first story, years have passed. Time is not the same for all of us. Cats' lives are shorter than the lives of the humans they own. Human lives are short compared to Goblins' and Goblins' lives are short compared to Elves.  

Bailey and Scruff (sometimes with my help) had many more adventures over the years. I hope one day I will have them all written down. However, the story I have decided to tell next sort of goes next; because although it happened many years later, it also happened many years before.

I hope you enjoy.



Chapter One: A Grave Disturbance

Bailey stood by the brook as the last of the Fairies and Pixies jumped through a small door which led back to Fayre. Mai was last to go and she bowed to Bailey before hitting a button on her shoulder which activated her Elf-made artificial wings. She shot up into the air, looped the loop and shot through the doorway with a “yippee.” As the door closed, it melted away like mist and Bailey was left standing alone by the Brook.  

Bailey couldn’t help feeling a surge of pride seeing Mai doing so well as the first citizen of Fayre to be a Guardian in living memory. He started to turn for home when he felt something -  like a low loud noise which he couldn’t hear, but could feel in his bones. A strange silence seemed to fill the world. The birds stopped singing, mice stopped scurrying. Even the insects seemed to pause in their labours whilst this strange “rumble” filled everything.


Gothrick climbed into bed.  His wife was already asleep. One of the moons of Alfhiem shone through their window and just now his wife’s bare arm, which lay outside of the sheets, glowed like mother of Pearl. Gothrick had always thought himself the luckiest of Elves. He loved his wife and his daughter and his King and Queen. But these days, being the first Elf Guardian since before the war was more than he had thought was possible. 

He got into bed quietly so as not to wake her. As he lay there looking at his wife, he noticed that she seemed a bit blurry and out of focus. He rubbed his eyes but it got worse. The moon set and his wife appeared as elves do in the moonless night, as a figure made of slowly flowing water. Still she seemed blurred to him. He put his hand out to rest on her shoulder as he did most nights. All six of his long elf fingers seemed blurred. It was then he noticed the ripples on her skin, she wasn’t blurred, her skin was rippling as if being shaken very fast. The ripples in her skin seemed to be getting higher and higher. Then he felt it.


Scruff finished today's training of the Brownie cadets. As Guardians, Brownies were not necessarily the fastest or strongest or bravest; but they were excellent for reconnaissance. (In case you haven’t come across that word before it means sneaking around and getting information without anyone knowing you're sneaking around getting information except for the people who asked you to sneak around and get information.) The trick to training young Brownies was to make everything a game. Scruff found it getting more exhausting than it used to be. 

As the last of the brownies saluted and left. Scruff took a moment to look around.  The Forests of Bracken never seemed to look the same from one moment to another and she did not want to have to ask directions again; it was getting embarrassing. Scruff decided to try a direction based on the light level and the probable position of Bracken's Sun (which very few brownies had seen). Down here on the floor, though, only the green light, filtered by the eternal canopy of giant leaves miles above, made it through. Scruff leapt into Dream-Space and took a leisurely walk towards where she hoped to find the doorway back to Charley. As she concentrated on it, it appeared clearly before her and she sighed happily. Suddenly the misty greys around her exploded into a mind-numbing jangle of colours and smells.  Dream-Space itself seemed to be coming apart.


Dzukaluke and Ghaz’on stood solemnly in their finest clothes. Around them hundreds of Goblins stood smartly attired. They lined the narrow streets of Kapul-Tok city, each holding up a small glowing crystal. From the palace, a cart appeared. The cart was ancient, made by the same Goblin craftsman of ages past who twisted the gold and platinum braids of the palace gates. Like the palace gates, the cart was inlaid with precious metals which glowed in the light of the gems.

Before the cart, pulling it gently along, a flightless bird, its plumage a pure ivory, walked regally forward. Upon its back, Burgh sat stiff and proud. Zie too sparkled in ancient ceremonial armour. On Zie's breast, a very special crystal sat. It had no internal light of its own, but reflected and amplified the light of all the stones it passed, painting the houses and streets with rainbow hues.  

Behind Zie, upon the cart, in a simple box of whitewashed wood, the old one took that final journey which all creatures must take sooner or later. All of Kapol-Tok grieved his passing and it seemed to those gathered that the very ground shook along with them in mourning.


On the tors, the Chairman paced back and forth. The ground had stopped shaking and normality was returning.  High above a Kestrel cry broke the silence. He reached out with his mind. To the east he could feel Scruff had returned, to the south he could feel Bailey. To the northwest there was a crazy mixture of thoughts and feelings which he recognised as Tipsy and Tumble, the Guardians of Osgathorpe. But to the west, a new scent reached him, like a jolt of fresh cold clean air when you’re in a musty room.  

He ran westward, not risking Dream-space for fear of losing the sent. Carefully he crossed the Abbey road. A fork from the main Fault lay directly underneath and he could feel it as he passed over, like a great pressure in his forehead, a dam ready to burst. The scent was strongest at the top of the rise. A huge tor of stones were thrust up here. The south side was partly buried beneath the thin soil. On the north side they stood a clear twenty feet tall, and at the feet of the rocks, the melting snow had created a small pool. The Chairman stood before it, the smell of clear mountain air filling his lungs, making him feel young again. As he stood there, the ground shook again and a crack, barely visible before, began to widen. The Chairman felt no danger. From the crack, bright daylight shone out. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust.  

When they did, he saw that the tor had become two mighty cliffs. Behind them was a range of mountains far higher and colder than he had ever seen or dreamed of. But more surprising still was the figure who stood between the two cliffs, holding them apart with her bare strength: The Giantess (for the chairman had no better words to describe her) stood at least sixteen feet tall and was dressed in furs and armour with a mighty cloak.  

“I only have till the waters run out,” The Giantess said. Only then did the chairman notice that the waters, which had pooled at the bottom of the tor, were now running through the gap.

“What can I do?” asked the Chairman.

“Bailey and Scruff must be at the, what was it called … the Back Book Ressewer?” said The Giantess.

“The Black Brook Reservoir?” asked the Chairman.

“Yes, that was what they said, The Black Brook Reservoir. They must be there tomorrow at dusk,” said The Giantess. She grunted as the cliffs closed in on her. She turned sideways, bracing the closing gap with her knee and pressing with all her might.

“But why? I must tell them why,” said the Chairman.

“Because if not, the earthquakes will destroy everything, everywhere and everywhen,” said The Giantess. The last drops of the pool disappeared and The Giantess leapt out of the crack on her side. Before the tor snapped shut, she called out: “They must go alone.”

A moment later the tor looked as it had done for as long as the Chairman could remember, but far beneath him the ground grumbled.

Friday 5 February 2021

Alexandros Plasatis, "Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness"

Alexandros Plasatis is an immigrant who writes fiction in English, his second language. He lives in the UK and works with the displaced and the homeless. Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness is his first book. His website is here.

About Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness

By Alexandros Plasatis

Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness takes place in and around a 24/7 harbourside café in a Greek town. It tells the story of the Egyptian immigrants who work as fishermen on the trawlers and other outcasts who hang around the café and the harbour. Each chapter is a stand-alone short story and each story is a step further into the darkness and light of a novel where the Egyptian fishermen, the beggars, the café’s servers, the prostitutes and the downtrodden homosexuals become the grotty heroes of the everyday.

Stories from this book have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best of The Net, and over the years all the stories were published in US, UK, Indian and Canadian magazines and anthologies. 

The book is based on participant observation. That is, for years I was a parasite lurking around the harbour at night, wanting to be with those who were unwanted, working at a harbour café. What I saw and felt I turned into this book. And whether their world is filled with wholesome pride and magic or is nothing but an itchy little scab, that’s for you to decide. 

You can find more information about the book on the publisher's website here

From Made by Sea and Wood, in Darkness

She knew them from Café Papaya, the harbour-side café where all the Egyptian immigrants who worked on the caïques liked to spend their mornings, smoking and drinking the coffee Angie made for them, now and then telling her stories in their heavy accents: they were simple stories about the sea and the fish, told slowly, in a few, tired words, and even on the rare occasion they spoke of the Aegean’s black squalls and night-fogs, their eyes remained passive. But in the evenings, those who stayed ashore liked to smoke hashish and go to the café to drink beer and ouzo, and their tales were confusing, dreamlike. Then Angie would see their eyes glisten strangely and she would listen, and listen again as they told her of their fishing village that stands where the Nile becomes the sea, a village with a thousand wooden caïques, marked with symbols and painted with large female eyes with long eyelashes or the eyes of eagles. With beer and hashish inside them, their ramblings rattled of the caïques of Ezbit El Burg, so many that even the great river that used to be a God wasn’t wide enough for them. And as night fell on the harbour of Kavala, their money spent, their beer bottles empty on the table, the drunk ones had nothing but threads of memories to hang on to, and they would call out the name of Allah and their hard faces would soften with sweet hope: then the waitress knew that the time had come for them to murmur their caïque-dreams and remember old sea-voyages to Falasteen, and down and beyond the Red Sea, when they first saw the shores of Sudan and Habasha, of Yaman, of Djibouti and Alsomal. The young girl listened to their stories with large, impressionable eyes, she listened and learnt. And it was in one of those waitressing nights that Angie had asked if she could join them on a voyage, to live one of their stories.

Wednesday 3 February 2021

Rebecca Lowe, "Blood and Water"

Rebecca Lowe is a journalist, poet and poetry events organiser, based in Wales, UK. Her climate emergency poem ‘Tick,Tick’ was a Bread and Roses Spoken Word 2020 Award winner. Her poetry has been featured on BBC Bristol, BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Workshop and BBC Radio 3 and featured in many anthologies including Black Bough, Three Drops from A Cauldron, Merrimac Mic: The River Widens (Massachusetts, USA), Red Poets, Blackheath Countercultural Review, and Ymlaen/Onward! anthology of radical Welsh poetry (Culture Matters, 2019). Her first collection of poetry, Blood and Water, was published by The Seventh Quarry in November 2020. A further collection, Our Father Eclipse, is due for publication with Culture Matters in April 2021.


About Blood and Water

Blood and Water is Rebecca Lowe's first full-length poetry collection. With poems spanning more than a decade, change and identity form an overarching theme, from the title poem describing the wonderment and bewilderment that comes with having a new baby to the later, more self-assured work which encompasses themes of empowerment and vulnerability. Tender and searingly honest, her work takes in Celtic folktales, mythology, climate and the natural landscape to create a celebration of life in all its rich variety, pain and beauty.

Writing about her work, Rebecca says: “We can fall into despair, or we can dare to hope. Those really are our only options. The future is a blank page, and it’s up to us to choose how we fill it. We need to speak up boldly and wisely, with radical passion and revolutionary compassion. We need to write new, better words into the world—words like equality, peace, sustainability, and justice. Because words create worlds.”

You can find Blood and Water on the publisher's website here.

Below, you can read three sample poems from the collection. 

From Blood and Water


Soft, white hands caressed me into being,
Moulded and patted, arms marbled with cold,
Lips parted, snowflakes caught them, as she
hunkered down against the weight of my bulk,
Rolled me downhill to where I stood, anchored
by the efforts of her love.

She ground me rocks for a smile, jagged,
Coal eyes burned pinprick memories
of dead pines needled against white clouds,
Her breath blew a frosted trail, as she
laughed at my comical carrot nose,
My scarf which slid beneath her grip,
Whispered wings through the snow.

We posed for selfies, her arm around my
pristine waist, I grinned, the words frozen
on my lips, stupid in love – when she left
in search of warmth, my branch-arms reached 
to claw her back, twig-tangled and wretched.

Through the snow, her footsteps carve 
her distance; I stand, implacable, stiffly smiling
to please her – what else can I do?

And when she sleeps, under a silvered moon
I cry soft, wet tears to the immaculate stars,
My ice-heart melts.

Dyfatty Flats

A bowling green mapped incongruously upon the scrub,
Weeds subdued to stubble; cigarette ends, glass bottles,
A broken mannequin lies abandoned behind boarded-up shops
Above which the sky hangs long and heavy,
Weltering rain through purple bruises,
The sun closes her eyes through streaks of silver,
The sound of a river
Crying itself to sleep.

First Kicks

Not a kick at first
But a beating of wings,
A heart’s flutter,
Not a shouting into being
But a murmur, a whisper
Of assent.

On the screen
She is grainy, grey,
Her fingers translucent,
Clasped, in prayer,
Her pixelated face
Stares back through 
Layers of time,

Her skin, a spider-skein
Of threads, still weaving
To vein, corpuscle,
Tender fontanelle – 

We gaze across 
An ocean’s distance,
Farther than we
Have ever travelled,
Closer than we
Will ever be again. 

Monday 1 February 2021

Tina Otito Tamsho-Thomas, "Someone Is Missing Me"

Tina Otito Tamsho-Thomas is a published writer, poet, spoken word artist, writer-in residence, playwright, Black Writing Development pioneer and Human Rights Advocate. Her unique, forthcoming memoir Haunted By The Truth explores identity, adolescence and belonging. Her poem ‘Like Never Before’ was runner up in the Black Artists On The Move, Virtually Living, International Poetry competition 2020. Her work can be found in several anthologies including Red: Contemporary Black British Poetry, Sexual Attraction Revealed and Brown Eyes. Her poetry collection is Someone Is Missing Me, published by Fly on the Wall Press. 

About Someone Is Missing Me

Akulah Agbami, Artistic Director of Sheba Soul Ensemble, writes: “In this highly readable, sorely needed collection, Tina Tamsho-Thomas tackles subjects close to many people’s hearts. There are personal poems and political poems; poems designed to make you grin and others to evoke remembrance of horrors past. Some poems catapult us to the heart of Jamaica, or stir us in our front rooms: as we sip our tea, we are encouraged to expect ‘cake, not crumbs.’ Others teach us how we can mend a broken heart. Some poems deal with emotional, complex questions, such as excluded, absent fathers and the continuing colonialist onslaught on Africa. Someone Is Missing Me celebrates the enduring spiritual relationship between Tina and her excluded, Nigerian father. This collection is guaranteed to empower Black women who seek out her wisdom and is an exhortation to re-position ourselves, to assume our rightful stature.”

You can read two poems from the collection below. 

From Someone Is Missing Me

Dancin in Sepia Dreams

Standing in the shadows
his silhouette calls. I run to him; 
he is not there. I call his name; 
his name echoes on the wind.

It’s warm and sunny, I feel safe,
we embrace, his shadow 
my shadow. I hold him.

He takes my image from 
his inside pocket, a sepia 
negative, I am ten months old.

He has never seen me but
knows I am his daughter.
I have his hands, cheekbones, 
I am tall, proud, head held high. 

The sand is sepia, it is 
warm and sunny, we 
dance together, 
my shadow his shadow.

We dance together for the 
first time. In sepia dreams 
we dance together. In 
sepia dreams together we are. 

Positively Thinking

So you think I’m a mixture 
and my being is a plight,
but aren’t we all a bit mixed up?
So there you are – you’re right.

My mother’s European
Irish, English, French blood too,
her father was an army man,
a soldier through and through.

First, he fought in Africa,
robbed her minerals and gold,
ensured the Empire’s dominance
through Colonialism’s hold.

Then he served in India
for his country and his king,
looted her rich culture,
man, he didn’t leave a thing.

With India divided,
her warm blood upon his hands,
he then oppressed the Irish,
supported Black and Tans.

Next, he fought the Germans,
thirty-nine to forty-five,
to rid the world of fascists.
just to keep his race alive.
He hated every foreigner
who came into his sight,
kicked the Arab and the coloured
to prove might was white.

My devout Catholic Granny
was born on Irish soil,
the church instilled the fear of God,
to keep its women loyal.

At eight she was a worker
in an English corner shop.
with no formal education,
she was worked till she dropped.

When granddad came to court her
she succumbed to all his lies, 
marriage to an army sergeant
meant strict, regimental ties.

Life was hard for grandma Maggie,
thirteen children born in all,
granddad wasn’t just a racist 
as my mother recalled.

Mad Sam - his army nickname,
was also sexist through and through,
when home from kicking foreigners,
kicked his Maggie black and blue.

Of all their growing offspring,
most of them survived,
kept his prejudicial bigotry 
kicking and alive.

They were narrow-minded hypocrites,
who shared the values of the church,
pious at the altar, in the 
foremost pews they’d perch.

The youngest of the family,
a shy girl meek and mild,
grew into the woman who 
would mother this Black child.

The church condemned her as a whore 
for loving a Black man, the family 
screamed their rage profane,
imposed a racist ban.

So I never met my father,
who knows who to blame,
denied his baby daughter,
on me he had no claim,

So, I’m certainly a mixture
from Europe’s melting pot of hate,
a product of a system
that produced this racist state.

But one thing is for certain,
I’m not a mixed-up soul,
conceived in love, both parents
made me absolutely