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Miss Mary Rose – progress on the Battle of the Solent

on Jul5 2017

I’ve been very busy working on Mary Rose Unbroken.


This week I’ve had to relook at the overall structure. I like to work in word tables, so that I can move section / scenes around really easily. But this leads me to some bizarre acts in chronology, and even though this piece intertwines two time periods, both still need to be chronological for it to work.

I’ve sat down and re-read one of my sources to check whether what I have ended up with is what I wanted it to be when I started. Needless to say, in my enthusiasm of combining timelines, I have gone awry. This has entailed a lot of fixing which has helped with deleting extra scenes.


I am aiming for a 60 min first act, 45 min second. At the moment my poor audiences’ bottoms will be falling to pieces. Both acts are way too long.

In order to help with time, I killed off a character this week. It’s a shame, I really liked her, but she added nothing to the story which couldn’t be worked in another way. She was light relief if you like. So she disappeared, as did her 1,000 words or so.

I find killing off characters quite stressful at times, and there have been more than one instance when I’ve had to go back to a previous draft and bring someone back to life.


Today I’ve been looking at the Battle of the Solent. This is where Mary Rose (spoiler alert) sinks. The scenes around this hadn’t worked for me, or others who have been privy,  so I’ve sat back and thought about what I could do instead. What I don’t want to end up with is a whole lot of people slumping to the floor with a giant aargh. It needed to be much more subtle, and given the number of people who lost their lives, moving.

Today I’ve used a description of the battle from the shore. Originally this was contained in a performance poem I wrote in 2013 (or thereabouts) when I was Henry, overseeing the day’s machinations. I loved the language and rhythm of the piece, but it was far too long for this new piece of theatre, and also, Henry has enough to say all ready. I’ve given the majority of it instead to Catherine Parr, his much younger wife of the time. I’m really happy for this solution at the moment. Tomorrow – who knows?

Check, check and check again

My final task of the day is to look at the blue highlighted sections throughout the piece. I leave markers where I need to go back to as, for example, I need something to pull the timelines together, I’m not sure of a fact, or the pace drops. I’m hoping to clean-up all the factual queries by the end of the day, which should give me a clear run tomorrow at writing a different battle sequence which needs more work (there’s a theme there!).

I also need to get my facts together as best I can as I have arranged for an expert eye to start fact checking for me, one of the original divers no less! More on that to come . . .

And, also today, I went for a lunchtime dip in the sea.

Boat in the solent

A calm July day on the Solent, perhaps similar to the day Mary Rose sunk?

Making your characters sing

on Jun13 2017

It’s been a good writing day today. I’ve been working through sections of my Mary Rose play asking questions of each scene. For example, what’s the point of this? Who is leading the action? Who is making a decision?

That’s quite difficult to do – the first time I did it for a piece of writing I nearly cried as I couldn’t answer myself. Now I know the questions are coming,  I am ruthless about cutting as I write, so theoretically the answers should come quicker.

But I was surprised today to find that the central story has moved to a secondary character, and not the character I thought it belonged too. So this means a whole night of pondering if I like this development, if I need to change it back, if I need to develop this further.

I think that this has happened because I’ve ignored my number one rule of having a tight plot structure before I started. Rules were meant to be broken right?

These characters though, they’re tricky.

I learnt today that two of them are distant cousins. I hadn’t seen that coming, but it explains their bickering. I also learnt my protagonist has a hobby that I hadn’t dreamt of, and my antagonist can make me cry. I think this means they’re working well.

How should you go about checking out that your characters work?

There’s no simple fix, and there’s also a million articles and blogs online that’ll offer advice.

Here are a couple of my check points which I’ve picked up from all over the internet, workshops and my own head:

  • Do they speak with their own words and pattern?
    (As in, they don’ all sound the same)
  • Do they have a life before and after the play?
    (Working out what they do at other times of the day gives you a better idea of who they are)
  • What would have happened to them today if this plot hadn’t dropped on top of them?
    (Are they the type of person who will create drama, or will drama find them?)
  • What do they value?
    (Do they hang out with people who tell the truth, or have money, or   . . . what?)
  • How do they respond to people who are not like them?
    (I forgive some people who annoy me, others I don’t. It’s to do with whether they ft into my value systems.)
  • Is their best friend more interesting than them?
    (I always felt the Harry Potter books would have been even better as a Hermione Granger or Ron Weasley series)
  • What happens if their sex is flipped, are they still believable?
    (This is a super technique to see if you’re writing stereotypical tosh. Trust me, it works. Make females male, and males female. Ouch.)
  • And finally, can their name change?
    (If it can’t, if they have to be that name, I know my job is done.)

Let me know if these are useful to you! And, once again, thank you Arts Council for making this happen!




Bringing time together

on Jun7 2017
Struggling with Mary Rose
I’ve been really struggling with the timeline for the play, and how to make that work. Originally I thought about the whole piece as Tudor, and then as contemporary, and then as act one being Tudor and act two contemporary, and then reversing that and then . . . I was exhausted.
I  watched a show recently which told one story in the first act, and then the truth in the second. I didn’t enjoy that structure as it felt – to me – that I had been manipulated too much. All writers manipulate their readers, and doesn’t a reader chose to be manipulated, isn’t that what they pick up a book for? It’s the same with shows – we want to be scared, or emotionally attached, or on the edge of our seats. The trick is entertaining your audience and taking them on that journey without them thinking that they have been manipulated – you don’t want them to be aware in the moments of experiencing the work, of the writer.
It is so complex, and while it would be simpler to choose one time period and work within it, I can’t help myself needing to use two. At the moment I am going for interlinking both. I’m excited by the conservation, I’m excited by the build. All I need to do is to bring them together with cunning dexterity.
(On the plus side, there’re some absolutely cracking moments in there!)

Lovely lists

on Dec13 2016

I’m not talking about shopping . . .  I am talking about writerly things.

Long list – long wait.

I have been long listed for Theatre Fest West’s playwright award. I had to send in twenty pages, and then wait ages, and was then told I was long-listed. Yah! This meant I had to send in the remainder of the play for perusal. I don’t know how many plays are on the long list. When I entered I wanted to be long-listed, that was my objective. And now? I desperately want to be shortlisted. Those that do – a mere three – get to work with a director and actors for a day and prepare the piece for a rehearsed reading. How cool would that be? Then the winner gets their show staged at Salisbury Playhouse.  So now I want to be shortlisted – but am not holding out much hope. I used tonnes of swear words as it is about relational aggression and teenagers. After working at a senior school for a few years, I heard it all. It can be horrible. Really tough. And also rather wonderful. But the question is, will the audiences of Salisbury be ready for my language. Hmm. We’ll have to wait and see. But I hope so. And I really hope I find out soon (if it’s a yes!).

Select few – short wait

I applied for a writer in residency role recently. And, brilliantly, I received an email today inviting me, as one of a select few, to an interview next week. I have to prepare a proposal of what I’d do if I am successful. I’ve just written pages and pages of ideas down and realised that I’ve planned out a full-time role rather than a residency. I can’t help myself, I’m super excited.

Auditions – Ambition

Then there’s the list of the people auditioning for Ambition – that’s the musical I was commissioned to write for Hampshire Music Service. Those auditions are next week.

Christmas – Santa and more

We all know what those are!

To get back to my home page, all you need do is cross your fingers and toes that Zella Compton gets on even shorter lists!




AMBITION – the most exciting project EVER !!!!!!!!

on Dec1 2016

I’m not really one for exclamation marks, but I am so excited about this project.

AMBITION has long been one of my ambitions.

(To write an all singing, all dancing, all shiny as you like, musical.)

Hampshire Music Service commissioned me to write a musical. I’ve been working on the book – that’s what the script part is called – since early 2016. I then met with a composer who works for HMS, called David Cefai. When we started working together (the day of the leave the EU vote), David had tremendously long dreadlocks. Then one day he turned up with them all shorn off. That was quite surreal, luckily he didn’t lose his musical strength (that’s a reference to Samson there, in case you don’t get it!).

Working with a composer

David and I worked together, I gave him outline lyrics, he composed. Some of the songs I have an original idea sound files for – when I was writing the lyrics the tunes popped in my head (I’ll try to figure out how to upload those – they’re truly awful). David made sense of them, and created other tunes, and made a magical score. He tweaked the lyrics to fit the music and introduced me to concepts such as the middle eight. I’ve always been in awe of people who can hear a tune and then play it, and sing to it, and make it better. It’s an amazing skill, and David would switch between instruments as he worked. Sometimes we made a chorus and then he’d send me a sound file of the verse later, sometimes we edited lyrics to fit, sometimes we argued, mostly we laughed.

Writing lyrics

That’s been a strange journey as I’ve never written song lyrics before. I have written poetry though, and I could feel the similarities. I learnt from David that you need to focus strongly on the idea behind the song, which was very hard for me to do as I like to to tell stories in my poetry – as I did in my original lyrics. Lots of my lyrics got cut, and that’s fine. As you work on projects it’s really important to edit, and reshape and stand-back and work out what really works, and what is vanity.


I’ve run a couple of workshops with the book, and one with David for the music. I think that’s really important as a creator, to share your work, and listen to honest feedback. If it’s slow, or doesn’t make sense, or difficult in another way, sharing your work helps ease out those sticky moments. And you also learn what does work, where the laughs come, where the characters have emotional resonance, where your writing has hit the spot.

The plot

Ambition is about a boy band and its management. It’s a year in the life. I think it will resonate with audiences, we’re all well versed in this type of story about manufactured pop. But, Ambition is deeper than that – it asks what you’d give up for your ambition? This is an interesting topic especially in the new political environment in which we find ourselves.

Want to be involved?

There is just a whisker of time left for young performers to apply to audition (until Sunday 11th Dec). Search facebook for Musical Theatre Project: Hampshire Music Service, to find out the details. Or, put the dates in your diary to come and see it Spring 2017. 12 May, Berry Theatre, Hedge End. 13 May, New Theatre Royal, Portsmouth.

To get back to my website, click Zella’s ambition came true!

Theatre and fringes: what a ride.

on Jun8 2016

How to be a Girl! enjoyed its debut at the New Theatre Royal. It sold out the studio space and was moved to the main house. Imagine that. The feeling was immense, looking at the empty auditorium prior to performance.

I sat in the dress circle for the show, and tears flowed down my face at the first laugh. I knew I had written a comedy; there were some very dark moments in rehearsal when I doubted my skill. The cast were amazing, they puffed up on that stage, I could really see how the audience response affected them. There was a lengthy Q&A afterwards with lots of gushing (how wonderful!!!), a few questions and one dis-liker (who I can’t stop thinking about . . .  what’s that all about?).

A week later we went from a Matcham stage to a pub with a performance area of 2.5m by 2.5m. That was Brighton Fringe where we sold out both shows. And got an official review – I will post about that another time. Again the cast did a fantastic job of taking a show designed for a studio into another space.

What have I learnt from this process?

Make sure that there is sufficient storage on your memory card to record the show.

Check out space before booking it.

You can make a profit.

Rehearse your cast with Q&A questions (It worked beautifully getting them to think beforehand)

Take a hanky.

Nothing will prepare you for the loss when it is over.

Feedback is amazing.

The review from Brighton put as a recommended show. I’ll take that! Here’s the opening: Here is a show that serves up a large slice of satire, washed down with a good dose of humour, by ten young teenage girls, ably directed by Helen Jones with a script carefully crafted by Zella Compton. This show is a clear indicator that we live in a culture that teaches girls to judge their worth based on their appearance rather than their abilities.

Looky-look at the poster

on May17 2016

I love the poster for How to be a Girl! which was designed by ASR Graphics in Southsea.

It’s been really exciting working with NTR on this project, especially seeing this poster on the front of the theatre. I spent a morning popping flyers into coffee shops and the like – seems to have worked as the poet laureate for Portsmouth told me that she’d heard about the show from a local Barrista! Hopefully it’ll draw a crowd when it goes to Brighton Fringe too.

Show dates on poster

Pretty in pink!

A sad farewell

on Jun17 2015

After nearly a year-long tour, Five Beaches (a play about D-Day) finished its run in Southwick earlier this month. It was a fitting finale, as the village from which D-Day was launched paid tribute to the fallen, 71 years later. The past months have been an amazing journey, from Five Beaches debut in the D-Day museum in Portsmouth (on remembrance Sunday), through performances at the Great Hall in Winchester, Explosion Museum and many, many others.

Thank you Uncle Arthur

I wrote the play based on a conversation I had with my Uncle Arthur about his role on D-Day. He was in the Navy, transporting men across the Channel. He told me some horrific things, and some beautiful ones as well. I combined his story with other veterans’ words to make Five Beaches. I wanted the audience to feel that they were there, on the beaches with the soldiers. I wanted the audiences to laugh, and to cry but most of all to feel. That’s why I made it an ensemble piece – so there weren’t nay distractions with actors coming and going. It needed to be flexible to all locations, so there are no sound effects other than those which the actors make themselves, and there are no lighting cues etc. The power has to come from the cast and the script.

Highlights of the tour

The cast and director have been wonderful. Good natured, hard working, dedicated, adding so much more to it than I could ever have imagined. They’ve all been on their own journeys, as a team and individually, as I have. For me, there are several amazing highlights. The first is definitely audience reactions. I can’t believe the power of the piece, my husband had a tear in his eye every time he saw it. Bless him, he came to most of the shows. The cast had people openly weeping at every event which tells me something about the importance of live drama. How it can grab you by the balls and not let you go.

My second highlight is watching the cast develop in confidence and attitude and – well – everything. They’re all school boys – from Bay House Gosport – and they have done a wonderful job. I like to think that they realise what they have taken from the production. I can see it! A terrific moment was one of the cast mentioning that it’s his favourite play from all the years he’s been at school (he’s just finished hi A’Levels). That means an awful lot to me.

The third is back to audience reaction (again). Five Beaches was meant to be shown at two locations. It wasn’t – its tour grew and grew because we were invited by audience members to take it to their events. How amazing to be part of something like that.

And last on today’s list is Uncle Arthur’s sons and their families came to the last performance in Southwick. Apparently he never really talked about his involvement, what he did and saw. 


And now Five Beaches has finished in its current format. The cast are going their separate ways and I am writing other projects. My emotions are mixed about it being over. It’s been a fab ride, but a tiring one.

If you’re interested in the script it’s currently available from resources4drama. To get back to my website, click on my name.





More about Girl in the Hood (for you Holy Trinity!)

on Mar24 2015

I wrote Girl in the Hood (GITH) because I had set-up a story-telling festival. The theme the festival was updated fairy tales, and I’d asked all the acts to write new pieces. Thus, I had to write something myself.  The play was originally a monologue which I performed, seated. My wonderful friend and dance teacher worked with me on pace, and gesture so that I could portray all the characters in a manner suitable for the audience (which, aside from 100 or so strangers, included my children, husband and parents. Nerve wracking or what?).

I’ve always been taken with the idea of Red. It’s the cloak. There’s something very gallant about Red, dashing, risqué. And who would wear their fine coat through the forest?  Only someone with rebellion on their mind. But I have never liked the multiple endings where Red is always saved by a man.

Girls kick-ass

It’s a constant given that women are rescued by men, isn’t it? That was the background to my childhood. It took me into my teens to realise that women can – and mostly do – look after themselves. (I worked in Greece in my late teens. One night a friend, a tiny, Swedish girl who looked like she belonged in Middle Earth with the Elves, walked home drunk. She was an easy target. Petit, off her head, alone. A man attacked her, he ended up in hospital. Not because she was rescued by a handsome stranger who just happened by at that moment, no, the attacker ended up in hospital because the petit Swede was also a martial arts champion. Girls: learn to defend yourselves. Boys: don’t rape.)

When I set about writing Red I wanted to keep the traditional structure – ignoring mother’s advice, being alone in a dangerous place, the consequences of choice, but dealing with the situation on her own terms.  I also really liked the challenge of representing three generations of females in a family. The grandmother, in a gated community / care home yet expecting her bottle of sherry, the mum sitting on the sofa watching telly (albeit we meet her very briefly), and Red  . . . sent out on her nightly errand.

Make them squirm

More than this, I challenged myself to build a well-known plot, in its traditional sequence, but keep people on the edge of their seats. I wanted the audience to be there, on the streets, panicking at the buzzer, in the darkened room. To know what was coming (mostly), but still to care. And then to show them that Red could do what she does, that her Grandmother wished her to do the final deed. So women – whatever their age – are forgiving, and violent, and brave, and clever, and stupid and every other word that you can think of because we are amazing individuals and should never be constrained by characters in a fairy story – into old, ugly, evil hags, or beautiful, innocent, good princesses.

Break a leg all you wonderful GCSE-ers.

To get back to my website, all you need to do is click on I’m a feminist because I believe in equal opportunities for men and women. Mind you, the front page is rather out of date, so maybe you’d be better off reading through other posts instead.


on Apr27 2014

I have written several monologues, if you are interested in using any of them, please get in touch by commenting on this thread.


Henry and Mary (10 mins)

Henry watched the Mary Rose sink from the walls of Southsea Castle. Constrained verse.


Arthur (7 mins)

The first wife of Arthur Conan Doyle (author of Sherlock Holmes) bemoans her husband’s inattention.


Painting doom (6 mins)

A dead painter speaks to merry makers at his graveside.

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