About Writers’ HQ

An illustrated history of Writers’ HQ

Act 1

Two smol writers

Writers’ HQ is an idea that started with a frustrated Sarah trying to run away from her VERY LOUD family for five minutes’ peace to write. And boom, a monthly writing retreat fuelled by caffeine, biscuits, sandwiches and gold stars was born.

When Jo arrived at that first Brighton Writers’ Retreat – an equally time-starved, height-challenged, sweary, and tea-obsessed writer – the future really was a done deal.

Gather the nerfherders

We know all too well how hard it is to hold down a job, a family, and deal with the imposter syndrome and guilt that comes with trying to carve out time to write.  And through those early retreats in Brighton, we quickly found a whole load of writers who felt the same and were desperate for some help.

There are plenty of lovely, sparkly writing courses out there. But most of them come with a whopper of a price tag and require taking time off work, which just isn’t feasible for most scruffy little writers. And so we decided SOMETHING MUST BE DONE.

Act 2

ACE and beyond

In 2016 we wrote a ten-gazillion page application to the Arts Council and were awarded a development grant to bring our procrastination-busting, arse-kicking, profanity-laden, low-cost writing courses to the great big world of the Internet. So now you can access all our literary awesomeness from the comfort of your laptop with our suite of online courses. Booyah. Thanks, Arts Council England, you’re ACE.

Anything to avoid actual writing

Once our grant period was over, we realised that we had a never ending stream of messages from people asking for retreats in their areas. So we thought “fuck it it’s not like we don’t have enough to do” and found a whole bunch of super awesome early-career writers to run retreats all over the country.

Act 3


Over the last five years WHQ has grown and mutated in ways we couldn’t even imagine right back in them there early days (like, five minutes ago). In that time, we’ve helped our writers produce over one million words, drunk over 10,000 cups of tea, and said “fuck” at least 5,000 times.

Also in that time, Jo and Sarah have written a whole bunch of stories, had a whole bunch of rejections, won a couple of wordy prizes, and popped out some sprogs.


Cue rousing score

We’re not bestselling authors (yet!) but we are as deeply embedded in the journey towards literary greatness as you, and dagnamnit we’re not leaving you behind.

We’ve also seen our retreaters get published, get long listed, get short listed, win some stuff, and write some more stuff. Most importantly, you guys are writing. And finishing stuff. And editing. And then writing more. And more. And feeling good about it. And that’s really the point.

The Inner Sanctum

Sarah Lewis

Twitter: @fictionalsarah

Founder of original Brighton Writers Retreat. Constantly trying to escape her family to write while simultaneously reaching new heights of procrastination. Sarah writes endlessly and is never satisfied. She graduated in the top 20% of her MA creative writing class at UEA, won the David Higham Award, won an Arts Council grant to complete her first novel under the mentorship of critically acclaimed author Peter Hobbs, was one of the NWS10 talented early career writers, and gained a rarely given special mention in the BBC Short Story Award and then got completely sidetracked by Writers’ HQ and helping other writers sort their shit out. Procrastination level: 100!

Jo Gatford

Twitter: @jmgatford

Jo is also a human who procrastinates about writing by writing about writing. Her novel White Lies won the Luke Bitmead Bursary and was published by Legend Press in 2014. She’s also had a bunch of short fiction published, nabbed a (different) Arts Council grant to write the (shitty) first draft of her next novel, is attempting a screenplay adaptation of the first book, and is currently elbow-deep in an MA in Shakespeare because she’s a literary badass/masochist. Jo runs the Brighton Writers’ Retreat and is the queen of editing, swearing on social media, and flip-chart facilitation.

Our top-drawer regional reps

Amanda Staples

Bristol Writers’ Retreat

Amanda has the usual pile of writing she can’t look at even with a pot of tea and a whisky chaser. Since 2016 she’s sent a lot of short stories to a lot of places. Some got into magazines and anthologies. She’s self-published a recipe book and finished a novel (hated it, started another). In 2017/18 her play was staged in Croydon and Bristol. ​She has performed at Bath Lit Fringe Fest, Bristol Lit Fest, Talking Tales and Writers Unchained events in Bristol. When not writing, she’s felting, pom pomming, or reading.

Twitter: @scribestaples1

Alexa Radcliffe-Hart

Cambridge Writers’ Retreat

Alexa is a writer and editor who has worked closely with short story writers at The Word Factory, and has taught courses and workshops for Swanwick Writer’s Summer School, Alt.Fiction, and Jersey Festival of Words as well as various secondary schools.

Twitter: @Radcliffe_Hart
Website: www.servicestoliterature.co.uk

Alex Clark

Cheltenham Writers’ Retreat
Alex writes short stories, and has half a novel in the back of a cupboard somewhere. Her work has appeared in Prole, Shooter Literary Magazine and Litro Online, amongst others. She runs Cheltenham-based flash fiction night ‘Flashers’ Club‘. She spends a lot of time in her veg garden, especially when she should really be doing something else.
Twitter: @otheralexclark
Website: www.theotheralexclark.wordpress.com

Poppy O’Neill

Portsmouth Writers’ Retreat

Poppy runs the Portsmouth Writers’ Retreats and is a writer of short stories and nonfiction with a novel in the pipe-line. She’s studying for an MA in creative writing at the University of Chichester. She’s been long listed for the Bristol Prize and the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Her first book of children’s nonfiction will be published by Summersdale in spring 2018.
Twitter: @P_O_Neill
Website: www.poppyoneill.wordpress.com