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, won some prizes, decided to do an MA in Shakespeare rather than write her next book, and is now using Writers’ HQ to extend that deadline even more- Wait… Shit. Jo runs the Brighton Writers’ Retreat and is the queen of editing, swearing on social media, and flip-chart facilitation.

Natalie Reilly

Twitter: @roughlynatalie

Natalie joined the inner sanctum in 2017, basically to stop us getting sidetracked (“Oooo, shiny thing. Let’s do this, not the thing I’ve said I’ll do 25 times.”) and kick our arses. She’s our head of social media and customer service so now you know the face behind the help button and our (in oho) excellent memes. When she’s not getting us to do everything we should be, or making herself lol whilst creating social posts, she’s studying for an MA in Digital Media, Culture and Society at the University of Brighton. She also writes but has to be reminded that she is a writer, and is a maker of amazing lettering too.

Alexa Radcliffe-Hart

Twitter: @Radcliffe-Hart

Mostly known as Lexi (screw you, Amazon), she has been writing and procrastinating with Sarah since the Brighton Writers’ Retreat days but officially joined the gang as the Cambridge rep in 2017. Then at the end of 2018, she jumped from the corporate mainstream into our inner sanctum to wrangle all our lovely new reps and expand our retreats until we have fully taken over the world (mwahahahaha). When not doing her marketing thang, she writes short stories that are beginning to find their place in the world. This year, she promises she will finish the novel she started at those first retreats in Brighton.

Our top-drawer regional reps

Aakriti Kaushik

Birmingham Writers’ Retreat

Aakriti is a PR professional and ex-journalist. She mostly writes about technical subjects related to STEM, engineering and electronics in her current PR life. Having trained as a journalist with The Hindustan Times, India’s leading national daily, some of her non-fiction work has focused on gender and women issues. She is currently working on her first fiction novel. Aakriti is also an accredited mindfulness meditation teacher, with a special interest in teaching MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) techniques, and a strong advocate of yoga.

Twitter: @aakritik

Alex Clark

Cheltenham Writers’ Retreat
Alex Clark is a short story writer, novelist and poet. She spent the first half of her working life as an industrial archaeologist and stonemason, and often uses atmospheric buildings in her fiction. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lighthouse Journal, Prole, MIR Online, Shooter Literary Magazine, and anthologies by The Fiction Desk. She is currently editing her first novel. When not writing or parenting, she can most often be found in her vegetable garden.

Twitter: @otheralexclark

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

Lauren James

Coventry Writers’ Retreat

Lauren James is the Carnegie-nominated British Young Adult author of ‘The Loneliest Girl in the Universe’, ‘The Quiet at the End of the World’ and ‘The Next Together’ series. She started writing during secondary school English classes, because she couldn’t stop thinking about a couple who kept falling in love throughout history. She sold the rights to the novel when she was 21, whilst she was still at university studying chemistry and physics.

Twitter: @Lauren_E_James

Lucy Wilson

Carlisle Writers’ Retreat

Lucy loves to write stories, poetry and prose, but comes from a background in film. For her directorial debut, ‘The Sycamore Gap’, she won an RTS award for best writing and best film. She continues to write various short films and has had her short stories, poems and articles featured in various online magazines.

Twitter: @lucyrose.creative

Melissa Stirling Reid

Glasgow Writers’ Retreat

Melissa is a curious writer, reader, and photograph-taker who lives by the sea and drinks more tea than water. She recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing (ooh, fancy) and is currently revising the coming-of-age novel that she began as part of that. Her work – both fiction and creative nonfiction – has been published several places, including being broadcast on BBC Radio 4. During her PhD, Melissa founded Quotidian Literary Magazine, and since 2015, she has been teaching Creative Writing to undergrads and masters students at Strathclyde. She keeps an observational blog which is sort of a love letter to the ordinary.

Twitter: @melissasreid

Melissa Welliver

Buxton Writers’ Retreat

Melissa is a Speculative and Children’s Fiction author represented by Peters, Fraser & Dunlop. She has been Longlisted for the Bath Novel Award twice, and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of Manchester. She lives in the High Peak with her Golden Doodle, Maude.

Twitter: @Melliver

Monica Dickson

Leeds Writers’ Retreat

Monica writes short fiction and is working on making it longerer. Her stories have been read out on radio (East Leeds FM), published online (Ellipsis, Spelk, Dear Damsels and others) and printed in lit mags (Salomé, Firewords). Her work has also been shortlisted for the TSS Flash Fiction 400 competition. She lives with her husband, two daughters and a tendency to overthink everything.

Twitter: @Mon_Dickson

Natasha White

Milton Keynes Writers’ Retreat

Natasha is a ghostwriter of private autobiographies for Life Book UK and the proud owner of many half-started notebooks. During term time she can be found trying to coax teens out from behind their smartphones and into the school library, where she works to instill a love of reading. She enjoys short stories and has started writing her own collection, but admits that she can often be found cleaning frantically or staring at shiny things instead hitting her word count.

Twitter: @nwhitecreative

Paul Macauley

Brighton Writers’ Retreat

Paul Macauley is a writer, director and maker of things like stories, theatre and short films. His play ‘Bug Camp’ won the New Writing South Award for Best New Play at Brighton Fringe. He hosts a podcast on creativity speaking with writers, artists, musicians and others to inspire and encourage people to make stuff. Right now he’s writing about four different things (five including this, but now this is done so: tick. Next!)

Twitter: @paul_macauley

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 has an MA in creative writing at the University of Chichester, and has been long listed for the Bristol Prize and the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Her first book of children’s nonfiction was published by Summersdale in spring 2018.
Twitter: @P_O_Neill

Valerie O’Riordan

Manchester Writers’ Retreat

Valerie is a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Bolton, where she teaches fiction and cultural theory, and drinks too much coffee. She also writes short stories, and is working on a novel. Her fiction has been published in Tin House, The Lonely Crowd, Unthology, LitMag and other journals, and she’s an editor at The Forge Literary Magazine. She needs more sleep.

Twitter: @somefiasco

Veronique Kootstra

Edinburgh Writers’ Retreat

Veronique Kootstra is from the Netherlands but for over sixteen years has been living in Edinburgh. English is now the language she writes, and dreams, in. She writes short stories, flash fiction and is determined to finish her first novel in 2019 after a few (she lost count) false starts. She is slowly getting better at telling her inner critic to zip it even if she doesn’t always listen. Her work has appeared in The London Reader, 404 Ink literary magazine and The Scotsman as well as in online publications. When she’s not writing you can usually find her in the cinema.

Twitter: @vkootstra