Aspiring children's author found dead with unopened acceptance letter from publisher on doorstep, inquest told

Helen Gradwell is believed to have accidentally overdosed at her home in Bolton

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An aspiring author lay dead at home for four months while a letter from a publisher accepting her first novel sat unread on the doormat, an inquest has heard.

Former teacher Helen Gradwell was found dead in her home in Heaton, Greater Manchester in April after neighbours raised the alarm. 

The inquest at Bolton Coroner’s Court heard that it is likely the reclusive 39-year-old died around four months before her body was discovered, as there were Christmas decorations still up around the flat and her two pet dogs were found dead in the same room.

Ms Gradwell was found face down and was badly decomposed. She was wearing pyjamas and it is thought she was sleeping on the sofa as there was a quilt and a pillow.

She suffered from intense “hemiplegic” migraines - which were so severe they could cause temporary paralysis down one side of her body -  and pathologist Jonathan Pearson said it was likely she had accidentally overdosed on painkillers. 

He told the court the decomposition of her body made it difficult to be completely certain how she died but there was no evidence of assault by another person. 

Toxicology tests also found high levels of the powerful pain medication Tramadol in her body, he added.

He said: "It is the only evidence we have of something abnormal that could explain the sudden death.

"I accept entirely it is not conclusive, but on the balance of probabilities it is the best evidence we have to explain the death."

Ms Gradwell had trained as a teacher but was forced to give up her full-time career when the migraines took hold. Instead she began tutoring and had been secretly writing her novel. 

She was unmarried and lived alone. Her family said she had distanced herself from them so they were unaware that she had taken up writing. 

After the inquest, her stepmother, Bronwen Gradwell, told the Bolton News Ms Gradwell had sent a synopsis and the first three chapters of her book - which her family believe she completed - to a London publisher.

Mrs Gradwell said: “We know it must be out there somewhere. If we found it, we would love to publish it and donate the proceeds to animal charities.

"At her funeral donations were for the Destitute Animal Shelter. Animals meant everything to her — they were her world."

Assistant Coroner Timothy Brennand recorded an open verdict saying there was no evidence to suggest she had meant to take her own life. 

He said she had recently purchased new clothes and had left no note - but what made him think her death was accidental was her well-documented love of her two dogs. 

“To my mind, she would do nothing that would put the lives of her dogs in peril," he concluded.