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Eccleshall writer whose stories took the nation by

By Staf Newsletter  |  Posted: January 24, 2013

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WHEN Angela Hargreaves put pen to paper in the midst of suffering crippling arthritis she had no idea of the storm she was about to create.

For the Eccleshall resident found solace in writing during the height of her condition, which left her in constant pain and struggling to walk.

When she completed her work of fiction about village life, called Rotten Row, she published it as an ebook on Amazon, hoping a handful of people might read it.

However, for some of her neighbours it seemed there was a fine line between fact and fiction as they believed themselves to be characters in the book and promptly stopped speaking to her.

And the outrage sparked headlines as national newspapers printed the story - leaving Angela in shock. 

“It is unbelievable,” she admits as we chat at her home in the heart of Eccleshall.

“I have always loved writing and have collected ideas and snippets over the years. I had this idea for a collection of stories and wrote when I was unwell, a bit here and a bit there. I didn’t think it would have much impact.

“Nothing is original so as a writer you do draw on life but the characters are completely made up and are in a made up village

“If people are seeing themselves in it there nothing I can do about it.

“It is a little book of short stories, which start off quite bleak but as they go on they get lighter. That was how they were meant to be. They were never meant to upset anyone.

“There is a philosopher who said that once you have put a book out it is no longer yours. That is like Rotten Row.

“But I must say I have had tremendous support from some local people.”

Angela was born in Lichfield and describes her childhood as a normal 1950s one.

She left the area when she was 15 to stay with friends of the family in Bridgnorth. She got a job in a hotel in Newport where she learned book keeping.

A year later she got a job as an au pair in London. She saw it advertised in The Lady magazine and loved every minute of it, not least because it meant she had somewhere nice to live in the middle of the capital.

After a year and having saved cash from bar and cashier work on the side, she moved on and rented a studio flat. She enrolled with an employment agency, which led to office work but she struggled.

“I could not get the hang of typing,” she laughs. “I took shorthand and typing lessons but had no coordination. Nevertheless I was never short of work.

“I worked for a film company at one point. I met many famous people, including the Attenboroughs. I was once also sent on a temp booking to Paul McCartney's recording studios.

“I was never without work but those were the days when it was possible to walk out of one job and into another and work was fun. In fact life was fun generally. There was no thought of house prices or pensions and planning for old age before actually living.”

She also enjoyed plenty of other roles, including working for Selfridges on the launch of Revlon Charlie perfume and at motor shows on stands, press room and hospitality at the NEC.

She met her first husband and they lived in Highgate. Angela then got a job at Whittington Hospital, which she describes as the “best job she ever had”.

She was a clerk, responsible for statistics and data on the maternity and baby wards. She used to write all the births down by hand in a huge book. Sadly, computers eventually took over and Angela found herself redundant. She became a doctors’ receptionist in West Hampstead instead.

Shortly afterwards the couple moved to Bentley, near Farnham in Surrey and, looking for a new challenge, Angela set up and ran a cleaning company called Spic & Span and a funeral catering service. Spic & Span featured in the TV docusoap The Village, which ran on BBC2 during 1990s about life in the village of Bentley.

Around the same time in 1996 she wrote her first book, called Hard Times, but never did anything with it.

After seven years in Bentley, Angela moved back to Staffordshire. She initially lived in Admaston and got a job in the admissions office at Good Hope Hospital in Sutton Coldfield.

Soon afterwards she separated from her husband and moved to Eccleshall. She did some temporary jobs in retail and as a gardener and then found a position as an administrator at a children's charity in Stoke-on-Trent.

She met second husband Martin and they married in 2006. A year later, however, things started to go wrong.

“I was really enjoying life having met Martin,” she says. “But I became ill and was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis in February 2007.

“I had to walk with sticks and my husband had to help me get dressed. In fact he had to look after me most of the time and then go to work.

“I had to plan a route around the house when I was alone to ensure I wouldn’t have to walk too far to get anything. I had no strength, not even enough to open doors. All my limbs swelled up.

“I had always been a very fit person. When I became ill I was doing a three-year course in interior design. I couldn’t go to the workshops or go out with the camera as I needed to be doing so I had to give it up.

“It shows you never know what is around the next corner.

“Thankfully, a new medication helped Angela get her life back. The anti-TNF has transformed her health and means she is no longer in pain – and can wear heels again.

“I couldn’t get shoes on and was buying clothes from the back of Sunday supplement magazines. I’m 57 but felt 87,” she explains.

“To not be in pain anymore and to walk around is wonderful. And of course to be able to wear high heels again is pretty good too.”

Despite the controversy surrounding Rotten Row Angela hasn’t been deterred from writing.

She intends to publish Hard Times, which has sat unread for the last 16 years, this month and will be interested to see what reception it gets.

And she still loves being in the heart of Eccleshall.

“I usually move house every few years,” she says. “Eleven years in Eccleshall is the longest I've lived anywhere.”

Name: Angela Hargreaves

Age: 57

Home: Eccleshall

Occupation: Writer

Car: Citroen 2CV

Music: Jimi Hendrix

Hobbies: Writing

Paper: The Guardian

Holiday destination: Devon

Food & Drink: Anything vegetarian & tea

Book: Anything by Muriel Spark

Pin-up: Martin Shaw

Love/Hate: Family and friends, animals, architecture, kindness, art, London/Injustice, cruelty, greed, bullying and violence

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