The Publican’s Tale




“The knowledge that someone believes in your ability to accomplish something is usually a catalyst to that achievement; a combination of encouragement, incentive and imbuement of duty, it invariably acts as a self-fulfilling prophecy.”


My fictional ‘Lord George Wilde’s Circus’ (© Drew Thomas 2014) took shape at a pace that makes it seem that it was there anyway and that I just had to find it.

The dynasty:

‘Lord’ George Wilde (deceased) b.1893 = Wilhelmina b.1894

‘Lord’ George Wilde b. 1924 = Mary (nee Tapley) b.1948

‘Lord’ George Wilde Jnr. b. 1972 = Amelia (Mel) Wilde b.1973

‘Lord’ Georgie b.1995 & ‘Lady’ Sarah b. 1997




‘THE SHOCKING SINS OF THE MOTHER-IN-LAW’ (Amelia Wilde 1) is now complete.

Future titles in the series:





Spiced Beef Casserole (Quick One Pot Method)

2014-03-13 16.13.39This is a deliciously different recipe for beef – and the best bit is that it is extremely quick & easy. If you were cooking this in a traditional method (a la Julia Child for example), you’d have to use 3 or 4 saucepans. This way you just use one pot – preferably a cast iron casserole – and the results are just as good. It’s an ideal weekend dish – quick to prepare then into the oven for as long as possible. Ideal for Rayburn/Aga type cookers too…


400g diced beef (stewing or braising) {Waitrose do 3 packs for £10]

1 tablespoon cooking oil

2 tablespoons plain flour

4 onions

200g mushrooms

1 red pepper

1 teaspoon chopped garlic

1 teaspoon chopped chilli

1 teaspoon wholegrain mustard

1 teaspoon ginger

1 teaspoon curry paste

2 tablespoons sweet chutney

1 tin chopped tomatoes

1 brown stock cube dissolved in 250ml boiling water


Heat oven to 220 degrees C (or use top oven of Aga/Rayburn – floor of top oven works well). Chop onions, pepper & mushrooms, put in cooking pot & drizzle with the oil. Put in oven (without lid) for 30 mins. Add beef and cook for further 20 mins. Remove from oven & sprinkle with the flour & return to the oven for 10 minutes. Stir/shake & cook for further 5 minutes.

Add all other ingredients, stir & return to oven for an hour. Turn the heat down to 150 degrees c & cook for a further 1-2 hours (or transfer to bottom oven of Aga & cook for further 2-3 hours).

A glass of red wine is an optional addition – or drink it while you’re waiting for it to cook…


A Day in the Life of a Writer…

My ideal day should consist of eight hours alone in my shed beavering away (with odd breaks for walking the dog, making coffee).

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My actual day consisted of getting up at daybreak (following a very disturbed night during which the bed collapsed during a dream about born-again christians advertising a combined ladyshave & dew claw remover) to drive seven miles to let out and feed some chickens I’m babysitting. Got back to the farm, intending to launch back into ‘Amelia Wilde & the Shocking Sins of the Mother-in-Law’, but couldn’t concentrate until I’d fixed the bed (with some hastily sawn blocks of wood and a grout bucket), by which time I remembered that I was also babysitting guinea pigs as well as chickens and had to drive back to tend to them. While there, on the way out, remembered that the dustbins needed to be brought in, jumped out of the car (closing the door so Shaggy Dog didn’t run into the road) and watched her stand on the central locking button, locking herself and the keys in the still running car. Meanwhile, my mobile (which was at least in my pocket not in the car) rang – the builder who has just started doing renovations to the Surrey money pit said he had found ‘something odd under the render.’ This is, incidentally, the builder I chose because he had a really lovely voice and hadn’t actually met him. When I asked ‘What, not bricks?’ he answered in a not-so-lovely voice that I had better get down to have a look or he was going to walk off the job. Just to put this in perspective, it’s a four hour round trip to the said house, which is problematic enough without the keys being locked in the car. An hour later, having eventually managed to coax Shaggy Dog to stand on the central locking button again (circus training past not completely forgotten), thus avoiding the humiliation of having to call a rescue service or geographically closest relation, who couldn’t have come anyway because she was dealing with a crisis spookily similar to the plot of ‘Single White Female’, I set off with a sense of foreboding as to what would be lurking under the render…



Roast Belly Pork – with perfect crackling every time!

This is a really easy way to cook this inexpensive cut of pork – & this quite peculiar way to get perfect crackling never fails. A 500g piece of belly pork should feed 3.


500g Belly Pork

2 onions – chopped

1 heaped tablespoon plain flour

1 chicken stock cube dissolved in 250ml boiling water

2 apples (preferably red skinned) – sliced with skin on.

1 tablespoon sage (fresh or dried)

Heat the oven to 220 degrees C. Put the belly pork in the sink and pour boiling water over the skin. Dry & repeat twice. Make sure it’s completely dry and place in over proof on top of chopped onions. Surround with apples, sprinkle flour around and put near top of the oven for about 30 minutes. Remove, add the stock and sage and cook for a further hour. Easy & delicious!

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Where does inspiration for settings come from?

I was asked the other day by a man who came to see if I was eligible for solar panels (shortly before he fell off the roof & decided I wasn’t) where my inspiration comes from. This was just after he’d told me that he and his wife like to – for enjoyment – hide behind the shed at the bottom of their garden and watch their neighbours cook (well, I think he said cook, but he was from Barnsley).


Inspiration for settings is easy – they’re all around. Here are a few of those that inspired The Hairdresser’s Tale:


Woodford Halse


Wimpole’s Tower (Felcher’s Folly)

valletta 3

Valletta viewed from Fortina Hotel

pallazzo 1

A Palazzo not unlike Palazzo Botigliani – Valletta


Onion & Sundried Tomato Bread

This is a really easy recipe for a bread maker & – as I’ve often been asked by people who notice I’ve got one if I use it – here’s the proof that I do.

500g bread flour (either white or mixture of white & malted grain)

1 teaspoon dried yeast

1 teaspoon rock salt.

1 red onion (chopped)

5 or 6 sundried tomatoes (those from a jar in olive oil are best)

270ml Milk & water (half & half) – luke warm

knob of butter


Put all ingredients in bread maker & put on ‘Large’ or ‘Large Dark’ setting. Easy!

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Mixed Bean & Chorizo Soup

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It’s a chilly misty morning on the farm, so I’ve decided to take a break from my research into oppression under the Ceaucescu regime in the 1980s (for Amelia Wilde & the Shocking Sins of the Mother-in-Law) to make some soup – after all, if an army marches on its stomach, a writer’s output is only as good as the balanced contents of his stomach. To be honest, though, the wood-burning stove in the Book Shed isn’t going yet and I need an excuse to stay in the kitchen by the Rayburn…

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I put some dried mixed beans in soak last night & they’re now simmering on the hob. I can almost taste the warming sustenance of this Mixed Bean & Chorizo Soup that’ll be ready for lunch time. It really is easy and if, like me, you’ve got a range cooker that’s on all the time, it makes good use of the oven & hob that would otherwise not be used much during the day.


1 cup dried mixed beans

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 onions

handful of mushrooms

1 red chilli

Chorizo (chunk about 2 inches long)

500g passata (or chopped tomatoes)

I teaspoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon Marmite

I brown stock cube dissolved in 500ml boiling water

Parsley (optional)

Soak beans in cold water overnight, then rinse, cover with fresh water then bring to the boil & simmer for an hour and a half.

Chop the onions, chilli, chorizo (with skin removed) & mushrooms & fry in the oil until really well cooked. (I actually drizzle the oil over them & put them in the oven of the Rayburn for about 40 mins). Add the beans (complete with cooking liquid), passata (or chopped tomatoes), sugar (to neutralise the acid of the tomatoes), Marmite & stock, bring to the boil & simmer for at least 30 mins, preferably more than an hour. The longer it simmers, the more the flavours will develop.

Serve with chopped parsley if desired. It will go really well with Onion & Sun-dried Tomato Bread.

The soup will keep for a few days in the fridge or will freeze really well.

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Right! Back to Ceaucescu…

Crispy Roast Duck Crown with Cranberry Gravy

When I was buying a Gressingham duck crown in my local butchers Marriotts on Saturday (this is a real butchers not the fictional one in The Hairdresser’s Tale ,although it is in same street in the same village) I overheard a lady behind me saying “I wouldn’t have the faintest idea how to cook that!” Well, Mrs Furbelow, as promised, here’s a really easy recipe. It only takes about 20 minutes to prepare and is well worth the effort. I cooked it yesterday for Sunday lunch and, even though it was in the oven for longer than planned owing to a quick dog walk turning into a long trek involving a pulsating marsh and a tale of near fatal shooting (about which there’s no time to expound today), it was still absolutely delicious…


Duck crown (or 4 duck breasts)

2 tablespoons oil

1 red onion (chopped)

1 cup cranberries (fresh or frozen)

1 tablespoon plain flour

2 tablespoons honey

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar (or red wine vinegar)

Quarter cup red wine

Juice & zest of 1 orange (or 2 tablespoons orange juice)

I brown stock cube dissolved in a cup of boiling water

Salt & pepper

Preheat oven to 220° C

Dry the duck crown thoroughly. Heat oil in a pan until smoking hot the fry the duck crown in the ready heated pan until the skin is well browned and crispy – even a little burnt! Move the duck crown to an oven proof dish. Put in the centre/top of the oven (cooking time 5 minutes for every 100g if you want the meat still pink, up to double that if you want it well done – if you’re using duck breasts halve the time).

Remove most of the fat from the pan you crisped the duck in and fry the onion over a high heat until caramelised. Add the cranberries until they pop then add a table spoon of plain flour – stir to cook. Add the brown stock, honey, balsamic vinegar, red wine and orange juice & zest. Cook, stirring, until thickened, then pour all over your duck crown and cook for the remaining time.

When cooked, take out of the oven and rest for 10 minutes before serving.



Second novel in ‘The Grass Is Always Greener’ series out now…

Baroness kindle

Second in a series of four novels inspired by a Gallup poll completed in 2009 showing that 700 million people worldwide thought that the grass was greener on the other side of the fence and wanted to move permanently to another country.

Diana De Gonia is the doyenne of Palazzo Botigliani in Valletta, Malta, as the British-born widow of the last Baron di Migarro. She opens it to the public on a daily basis, but is beset with problems, both financial and personal, as she fights to keep the grand house and its collection of artefacts safe from financial ruin and claims from pretenders to her late husband’s title.
Bound by a promise to her late husband to keep the place intact for his long-lost son and heir, she can’t help feeling trapped and desperate until evidence that the heir exists gives her hope of escape.
Assisted by a devoted Bulgarian sidekick and an enthusiastically destructive Maltese cleaner, she meets constant opposition from government officials, the bank, her late husband’s relatives and the weather, which alternates between extreme heat and torrential rain. Angry that the love of her life was taken from her, she soldiers on with her daily battle, but is unable to avoid yearning for life in the pub in England in which she spent her formative years. This yearning is made all the more poignant by the fact that, although the pub was bought by her husband years earlier as an investment, it must now be sold to finance essential repairs at the palazzo.
Diana travels to England to finalise the sale of the pub and to investigate the man who claims to be her late husband’s son and heir. Will the heir apparent prove to be genuine and, if he is, will he want to be saddled with the responsibility? If he does, will the irony that the pub has to be sold be too much for her to bear?