Interview: Hannah Powell-Smith
2019-06-01 · by Natalia Theodoridou
Hannah Powell-Smith makes narrative games about fantasy politics, flawed characters, and fraught relationships. Often, ghosts are involved. Find her work at Choice of Games, sub-Q Magazine, and hannahps.itch.io, and find her on Twitter at @hpowellsmith. Hannah is the author of our June story, “Dead Lake Crossing.”
This interview was conducted via e-mail in May of 2019.
sub-Q Magazine: “Dead Lake Crossing” is not your first piece in sub-Q. In fact, some of the themes that were present in one of your previous pieces, “Nine Moments in Fairyland,” recur here: a protagonist who is bound to an entity that captivates them in return; the very human appetites of inhuman figures. What is it about these themes that makes them compelling to you? Has the way you approach them shifted over the years?
Hannah Powell-Smith: I’ve been writing about ghosts in various ways for a long time, and keep returning to them. In a couple of trunked novels, I included ghosts that weren’t able to communicate and were more monsters to deal with than anything else. But in my Choice of Games game, Blood Money, I thought more about how ghosts and inhuman creatures might perceive the world around them, and their similarities and differences to the living. In “Nine Moments in Fairyland,” the fae creature is driven by the desire for possession and is just fascinated by humanity, while in “Dead Lake Crossing,” the ghosts are pulled to the living world’s energy. I enjoy exploring what might draw an alien or magical creature to a human host and mind.
sub-Q Magazine: Have you ever found yourself surprised by your own work or its evolution?
Hannah: My Choice of Games work in progress, Creme de la Creme, is much lighter in tone than most of my other work, which often leans towards sadness or bloodthirstiness. I wasn’t expecting to dive into a high society, finishing-school narrative, but I love the process of making relatively low-stakes issues (will you wear something traditional, fashionable, or revealing to the ball? Who will you dance with?) as tense and meaningful as life or death situations. I’m always up for writing complicated familial, friendly and romantic relationships, and this setting means I can bring that to the foreground.
sub-Q Magazine: Speaking of your interactive novels with Choice of Games, how did you find the experience of working on Blood Money in comparison to shorter IF? Most rewarding/most challenging aspects of longer interactive work?
Hannah: Longer-form plotting and pacing is the most challenging part for sure. Not only are you working to make the pace peak and trough at the right points, you’re also thinking about how the plot will look to someone who has played different paths or developed different relationships. It’s the same way for a shorter IF, but when it’s so much longer, it explodes and can become absurdly complex. At the same time, that’s part of the fun. I find it really rewarding to provide a range of experiences and explore different possibilities through playthroughs – and hopefully surprise and delight players even after playing multiple times.
sub-Q Magazine: Any games or IF you’ve enjoyed recently?
Hannah: I recently enjoyed Weyrwood by Isabella Shaw with Choice of Games, a Regency fantasy of manners with fae. Lord Winklebottom Investigates by Cave Monsters is a delightful point-and-click game about a Victorian giraffe detective. And Sunless Skies by Failbetter Games is just stunningly well-written and put-together.
sub-Q Magazine: What are you working on right now / what’s next for you?
Hannah: Creme de la Creme is my upcoming Choice of Games game about attending a finishing school and uncovering dark secrets while trying to claw back your family’s reputation. Unofficially, I call it my trash socialite game because all the characters are disaster aristocrats who are (largely) doing their best. I’m also working on a mobile YA urban fantasy game and some other work I can’t talk about at the moment … the freelancer way! I’m also eyeing up various game jams and wondering about cramming them into my schedule.