about us
an illustrated
history of
writers' hq
WritersHQ-HomePage screen
about writers' hq
Writers’ HQ has been helping writers love their writing
and finish their stories since 2012.

Writers’ HQ is run by Sarah, Jo and a team of badass hand-baked writers who believe that all stories – your stories – deserve to be told.

What started as two friends making time and space to write has grown into the most word-slinging, tea-drinking, story-writing, biscuit-dunking, procrastination-busting, support-giving writing community around, with thousands of writers getting their words onto paper and into the world.

We might be kinda accidentally big now, but our mission is the same as ever: to change the world for the better by telling the stories that matter.

Tl;dr your stories matter.

Doodle of a rocket flying into space

2012

Writers’ HQ was born when a frustrated Sarah tried 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.  BFFs forevah ❤️ ❤️ ❤️ 

2014

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.

Sketch of a light bulb and flower
Sketch of two eyes

2016

After a mild delay of Sarah inconsiderately having another baby, 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. Our little Brighton community was suddenly a cosy global community of literary awesomeness. Eek and woop. Thanks, Arts Council England, you’re ACE.

2017

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.

Sketch of a large city with sun and clouds
Sketch of flower in a bottle with infinity symbol on it

2019

We’ve always believed in the power of stories to enhance lives, minds, communities and worlds and in 2019 we got SERIOUS. Srs. Srsly. We declared a climate emergency, ran a transformational weekend for writers working on the climate crisis, and launched our Writing In The Time Of Climate Change course. We also launched our Sponsor A Writer scheme to give access to writing help to marginalised and underrepresented writers. So woke, much snowflake. 

2020

Oh god 2020 arghghghghghghgg.

In March 2020 we stopped running our real life retreats and hoofed everything online because wow pandemic madness. 

Almost overnight our chill little corner of the internet was… not so chill and not so little anymore. Our community e x p l o d e d from a few thousand to many many MANY thousands and holy moly it’s been a trip and a privilege and an honour and all those things.

Sketch of coronavirus particle
Sketch of a heart

2021

Since the beginning 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 millions of words, drunk over 20,000 cups of tea, and said “fuck” at least 8,500 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.

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 actual humans
front of house

SARAH LEWIS

@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

@jmgatford

Jo is 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.

behind the curtain
natalie reilly

Natalie joined Writers’ HQ in 2017 to stop Sarah and Jo getting sidetracked by shiny things. She’s the social media and community manager, and face behind the excellent memes. When she’s not keeping WHQ shit together, or making herself laugh at her own jokes, 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.

poppy o'neill

Poppy joined WHQ Actual in 2020 when our membership base got out of control and we needed help with customer services. She had previously been running our Portsmouth Writers’ Retreats (until the pandemic hit and ruined EVERYTHING). She 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.

our awesome gang of author types
Lexi Radcliffe-Hart by a bookcase
Lexi Radcliffe-Hart

Lexi runs the Cambridge retreat and can be seen on screen for journaling, 60-min novelling and online retreats. In a long term relationship with WHQ, she writes and procrastinates over short stories and promises this year, she WILL finish the novel she started at those first retreats in Brighton.

Melissa Stirling Reid
Melissa Stirling Reid

Melissa runs our Glasgow retreats, along with many of our online workshops from Journaling, to Flash Face Off, to the Mini and Weekend Retreats. She has a PhD in Creative Writing from Strathclyde University, a fondness for stories featuring sandwiches, and she writes fiction and creative nonfiction, occasionally sharing words over at: www.somethingnoticed.com

Kathy Hoyle
Kathy Hoyle

Kathy runs our Coventry retreats and also hosts online Weekend Retreats, Mini Retreats and Flash Face Off. She holds a BA (hons) and an MA in Creative Writing and has a passion for Flash Fiction, Short Stories and jammy dodgers all of which fuel her soul equally. She says she will write a novel one day but nobody believes her. You can find her procrastinating over on twitter @kathyhoyle1.

Veronique Kootstra
Veronique Kootstra

Veronique runs the Edinburgh retreats and also hosts online Weekend Retreats, Journaling and 60-min Novelling. She writes short stories, flash fiction and has recently finished her first novel. When she’s not writing you can usually find her in the cinema or on Twitter @vkootstra

Aakriti Kaushik
Aakriti Kaushik

Aakriti runs the Birmingham Retreat. She is a PR professional and ex-journalist, writing about STEM, engineering and electronics, and gender and women issues. She is currently working on her first fiction novel. Aakriti is also an accredited mindfulness meditation teacher, and a strong advocate of yoga.

Alex Clark
Alex Clark

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 in Lighthouse Journal, Prole, MIR Online, Shooter Literary Magazine, The North, and anthologies by The Fiction Desk. She is currently editing her second novel, a Gothic-tinged story of queer love and addiction set on an island in the North Sea. When not writing or parenting, she can most often be found in her vegetable garden.

Paul Macauley
Paul Macauley

Paul co-runs the Brighton retreats with Jo. He 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. 

Valerie O'Riordan
Valerie O’Riordan

Valerie runs the Manchester Retreat. She 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.

Monica Dickson
Monica Dickson

Monica runs Leeds retreats. She 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.

Natasha White
Natasha White

Natasha runs the Milton Keynes retreats. She 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 instil a love of reading. She can often be found cleaning frantically or staring at shiny things instead hitting her word count.

Amanda Staples
Amanda Staples

Amanda runs the Bristol retreat. She has the usual pile of writing she can’t look at even with a pot of tea and a whisky chaser.  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.

An illustrated history of Writers’ HQ

Act1: 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.

Act2: 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.

Act3: Mutate!

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.

Epilogue: 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.

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Our top-drawer regional reps

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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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row color_scheme=”alternate” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Alexa Radcliffe-Hart

Cambridge Writers’ Retreat 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. 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. Twitter: @radcliffe_hart[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row color_scheme=”alternate” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column fade_animation_offset=”45px”][vc_column_text]

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 Website: www.theotheralexclark.wordpress.com

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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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row color_scheme=”alternate” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column fade_animation_offset=”45px”][vc_column_text]

Kathy Hoyle

Coventry Writers’ Retreat

Kathy is an ex trolly dolly who took to writing because it was preferable to staring at the walls in hotel rooms.  She has since gained a BA (hons) and an MA in Creative Wiring and loves to write gritty short stories and flash fiction.  She is working on a novel , powered by jammy dodgers and endless mugs of tea.  She has been shortlisted for The Exeter Short Story Prize, the Fish short Memoir Prize, the Ellipsiszine Flash Fiction Collection Prize and the Spread the Word Life Writing Prize. Her work has appeared in various litmags such as Virtualzine, Cabinet of the Heed, Lunate Fiction and Reflex Fiction. She is Pushcart Prize nominee. Twitter: @kathyhoyle1[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row color_scheme=”alternate” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column fade_animation_offset=”45px”][vc_column_text]

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 Website: www.somethingnoticed.com[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row color_scheme=”alternate” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column fade_animation_offset=”45px”][vc_column_text]

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 Website: www.writingandthelike.wordpress.com[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row color_scheme=”alternate” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column fade_animation_offset=”45px”][vc_column_text]

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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row color_scheme=”alternate” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column fade_animation_offset=”45px”][vc_column_text]

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 Website: www.paulmacauley.net[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row color_scheme=”alternate” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column][vc_column_text]

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 Website: www.poppyoneill.wordpress.com[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row color_scheme=”alternate” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column fade_animation_offset=”45px”][vc_column_text]

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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row color_scheme=”alternate” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column fade_animation_offset=”45px”][vc_column_text]

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[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row] [vc_row disable_element=”yes” padding_top=”0px” padding_bottom=”0px”][vc_column width=”2/3″ fade_animation_offset=”45px”][vc_column_text]

A history in words

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. 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. 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. 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. Over the last five years WHQ has 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. 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.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/3″ fade_animation_offset=”45px”][vc_column_text]

A history in pictures

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