Posted in Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

How To Find Beta Readers

Following my post yesterday about how I’ve used beta readers to help me fine-tune my next book, you may be wondering how I found such a fine band of willing volunteers!  If so, read on…

How do you find beta readers, willing to give up their time to help you further your writing project? Well, you just ask. “But who do you ask?” I hear you cry. “And why would they want to do it?”

Who to Ask

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Just back from beta reading – to be published 21 June 2014

Best not to choose friends and family, who might be tempted to tell you what they think you want to hear – that it’s the best thing they’ve ever read. Worse still, they might hate it – not great for the relationship!

If you belong to a writing circle, commenting on each others’ drafts is probably something you already do – but if not, make the suggestion. You may find others are keen to do this, but just didn’t want to appear egotistical by being the person to raise the idea!

Equally, if you belong to a book group, ask for volunteers there. After all, people attend because they enjoy reading, and those who aren’t writers themselves may be pleased to be invited.

I recently read a short book called The Beta Reader by Elizabeth Eyles, who kindly offers to match up writers with beta readers. If you’d like to take advantage of her generosity, I’d suggest the decent thing to do is to buy and read her book before you do so. (I didn’t realise this until she’s volunteered to beta read Quick Change for me – she’s obviously practising what she preaches!)

Who I Asked

I found most of mine by putting a call out for volunteers on a private Facebook forum that I belong to – the Alliance of Independent Authors. This is the not-for-profit organisation that brings together the best self-publishing authors from around the world – i.e. those who take their writing seriously and aim for professional standards.  I’m well known there because I edit the group’s advice blog, so I quickly had a list of volunteers. But it’s such a supportive group that I’m sure that anyone else would have had the same response, had they put up an engaging pitch for their manuscript.

The international element of the group is a bonus because it means I’ve had beta readers from other countries. I’m conscious that I’m a very British English writer, and I want to maintain that feel to my work, but without puzzling overseas readers with unintelligible Anglicisms.

In addition, I called on an online friend whose flash fiction I’ve enjoyed, Helena Mallett, author of Flash Fraction, a clever collection of 75 stories each 75 words long. As one of the stories featured a GP at work, I also called on my friend, Dr Carol Cooper (also a member of ALLi) to check it for accuracy. She’s not only a GP, but also a medical journalist, non-fiction author and novelist (where does she find the time?!) Her excellent debut novel, One Night at the Jacaranda, by the way, is currently on special offer on Amazon UK for only 99p for the rest of this month.

Why Would They Do It?

Cover of Opening Up To Indie Authors
My latest book, co-authored with Dan Holloway, helps indie authors interact more effectively with the book trade

Volunteers who are not authors will be

  • interested in seeing what goes on behind the scenes of producing a book
  • flattered that you value their judgment enough to entrust them with your precious manuscript
  • be glad to have a sneak preview of your book before it’s published

The last two of those reasons also apply to volunteers who are authors. In addition, this group of people will be:

  • interested to see how another author’s work looks pre-publication
  • pleased to feel that they are helping an author friend produce a better book
  • possibly hoping you’ll return the favour

My Experience of Beta Reading

I’ve been a beta reader for several author friends and have always found it very satisfying to feel I’ve contributed to the fine-tuning of their books:

  • I’ve picked up factual and grammatical errors that might have slipped through until an eagle-eyed reviewer complained post publication
  • I’ve highlighted confusing plotlines.
  • I’ve spotted repetitive words and phrases that the author hadn’t realised were cropping up so often as to become funny, e.g. so many characters rolling their eyes that it was starting to sound like an affliction

All of these things were very easy to fix, and the authors were always grateful. It’s also rewarding to receive an acknowledgement in the book when it’s finally published and a free copy of the book (signed, if it’s a print edition). After all, who doesn’t like seeing their name in print?

Go For It!

If you still need justification for asking, bear in mind that if your beta readers enjoy your manuscript, they may be persuaded to post up early, positive reviews when your book is finally published.

I hope this overview gives you the courage to seek beta readers for your own books. Good luck and happy writing – and reading!

In case you missed it, I wrote another post about beta readers here:

Why Beta Readers Make Better Books



Posted in Reading, Self-publishing, Writing

Why Beta Readers Make Books Better

That tongue-twister heralds news of my new flash fiction collection, Quick Change, due for launch later this month.

Cover of Quck Change flash fiction collection
Due for launch as an ebook on 21 June 2014

It’s a nerve-wracking time for any author when their precious manuscript is packed off for final editing and proofreading before publication. This week that’s what’s happening to Quick Change, the collection of flash fiction that I’ll be publishing as an ebook later this month. By the power of the internet, the final draft has zoomed across the ether to the other side of the country, for my editor Alison Jack to give it her expert treatment.

Last week it was the turn of the beta readers to read an earlier version of my manuscript. No, that doesn’t mean I’ve written my book in Greek.

What Are Beta Readers Anyway?

Beta readers are volunteers who read a manuscript prior to publication to alert the author to anything that might be improved. A great beta team will pick up inconsistencies and glitches that might spoil the flow of the story, e.g. a character whose name changes, an unbelievable  plot detail, or excessive use of the author’s favourite words.

  • One of my lovely beta readers spotted that I apparently have an obsession with recycling bins: the frequency of their appearance in this book has now been reduced. Or you could say, I’ve put out the bins.
  • Another reader pointed out that Belisha beacon should be capitalised because it’s named after the first Baron Hore-Belisha, a former British Minister of Transport. Well, did you know that? By the way, I can understand why they plumped for his second name.
  • One person alerted me to a recent change in the law that had made one scene in my book illegal. It was news to me. (And I bet that’s intrigued you – but no plot spoilers here, sorry!)

Interestingly, none of my eagle-eyed friends spotted the blind man that I had checking his watch. That anomaly only jumped out at me when I was inputting their suggested changes to the copy.  Which only goes to show that you can never have too many people checking over your work before you hit the “publish” button…

Publication Date Alert

I’ll be sending out a special newsletter to my blog subscribers nearer the launch date, Saturday 21 June, along with a free bonus story. To receive this alert, do either of these things:

  • If you don’t already subscribe to my blog,sign up here, and I’ll send your free bonus story with the next newsletter.
  • If you don’t want to join the blog subscribers list, but would like to be alerted when Quick Change is published, please add your email address here.

(If you’re already a subscriber to my blog, you don’t need to do anything – I’ll send you the newsletter anyway.)

In the next day or two, I’ll be posting here about how to find beta readers – useful for any authors reading this post, but also an interesting insight for non-authors behind the scenes of book production. In the meantime, I’d like to say a big thank you to my fabulous beta readers and editor by posting their links here:


Posted in Events, Self-publishing, Writing

A Busy Bee on the Busy Words Blog

Photo of the front of the shop plus the Daffodil next door
The delightful independent bookshop the Suffolk Anthology nestles beside the famous Daffodil restaurant

As just one of a flurry of events that have kept me busy during the last few weeks, I recently had the pleasure of being guest speaker at Cheltenham Writers’ Circle, at the invitation of historical novelist Edward James. Edward also attends my Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance, which meets every third Tuesday of the month at the wonderful Suffolk Anthology bookshop.

About Edward James

cover of The Frozen Dream by Edward James
Edward James’ prize-winning novel explores a little-known period of Tudor history

I’d first come across Edward a few years ago, when he won a prize awarded by publishing service provider SilverWood Books and ebook distributor Kobo, which I’ve just enjoyed reading. It tells the story of a little-known historical episode when Tudor explorers attempted to find a north-east trade-route passage via the Arctic to China. His prize was to have his novel beautifully produced by SilverWood, and as you can tell from this stunninng cover, they did their customary great job. (You can find out more about his book on the SilverWood website here.) 

Amongst Friends

When he invited me to speak at Cheltenham Writers’ Alliance about my own writing and publishing activities, I didn’t expect to know anyone else there, so it was a pleasant surprise to see in the audience the lovely bookseller Sallie Anderson from the Suffolk Anthology bookshop and Dr Terri Passenger, a trustee of Read for Good (formerly Readathon), the wonderful children’s reading charity that I used to work for.

My Talk

Edward had asked me to talk about my books and writing, and about the self-publishing process. Fuelled by coffee and Kit-Kats all round, I managed to talk for nearly two hours, with lots of show-and-tell of my books, and plenty of questions from the audience.

Afterwards, Edward kindly invited me to be interviewed on his blog, so that members who were not at the meeting, and anyone else who was interested, might catch up with what they’d missed. He’s now posted the interview on his website, and it includes my answers to the following questions:

  • When did you decide you wanted to be a  writer?
  • What did you do before you became a full-time writer?  How did  it contribute  to your writing?
  • Tell me about some of the things you have written.  What is your current project?
  • What made you decide to self-publish?
  • Can you describe your writing day?
  • You convene two local groups of ALLi.  Can you tell me about ALLi and how it can help self-published authors?
  • You have  a lot of other activities including the Hawkesbury Festival.  How did that come about?
  • When you spoke to Cheltenham Writers’ Circle you told us about Beta Readers.  Could you say something here for those of us who were not at the meeting?

Could you give us some links  to tell us more about your work?

If you’d like to read my answers, click this link to read the interview on Edward’s Busy Words blog.

Edward’s blog also includes interviews with a range of interesting authors and bookish types, and I was delighted to discover one of them is Helene Hewett, proprietor of the Suffolk Anthology bookshop, which brings us neatly full circle to where I began this post!

Group shot of authors in doorway of bookshop
Helene Hewett is immediately behind me in this group shot of author friends in the Cheltenham Authors’ Alliance, in this jolly shot by Angela Fitch Photography. (Unfortunately this was taken before Edward joined the group.)


Posted in Personal life, Writing

Remembering Forget-me-nots in the Sophie Sayers Village Mysteries

My contribution to the Authors Electric collective blog this month
Visit their website to find a different post by a different author,
every day of the month (I post on the 30th)

Photo of Debbie in a bluebell wood
I’m also very partial to bluebells (Photo: Angela Fitch Photography)

As a novelist, I like to think I make everything up. 

While the standard disclaimer appears on my copyright pages declaring each book a work of fiction, little details creep in from real life.

Snippets and snapshots are dredged up from the ragbag of my memory.

Sometimes this is for no apparent reason, such as the recycling bins that appeared in three separate stories in my flash fiction collection, Quick Change. I didn’t even notice the repetition until one of my beta readers asked why they kept cropping up. For fear of seeming obsessive, I replaced one bin with a bonfire, which made for a much better story.

Other times I manage to wrestle the reasons from my subconscious after I’ve finished writing the story, such as the forget-me-not motif that runs throughout my Sophie Sayers Village Mystery series.

In the first novel, Best Murder in Show, Hector, the local bookseller, remarks on the colour of Sophie’s eyes. She’s in fancy dress as Virginia Woolf on a book-themed carnival float, while he’s playing Homer, togged out in a toga.

“Your eyes are the wrong colour for Virginia Woolf,” he tells her. “Hers were grey. Yours are forget-me-not blue.”

As the series progresses, forget-me-nots become a symbol of all that Sophie stands for. (I won’t spoil the plot by explaining what that means.)

The Roots of My Fondness for Forget-me-nots

Only after weaving this motif into the story did I realise my affection for this humble little flower dates back much further. It originates in the unlikely setting of a suburban London garden most unlike Sophie’s home in the idyllic Cotswold village of Wendlebury Barrow.

arrangement of book cover, candle and vase
Forget-me-nots in my grandmother’s treasured old vase

You see, forget-me-nots flourished in my grandmother’s back garden, in my childhood home town of Sidcup. Visiting after school, I’d skip up her garden path, admiring the low clouds of tiny blue flowers edging the concrete path beneath her washing line. Often I’d pick a bunch to present to her on my arrival, complimenting her on how beautiful the garden was looking.

Compared to the carefully cultivated garden of my other grandmother – the one I picture when I write about Sophie’s Auntie May’s cottage garden – the forget-me-not grandmother’s garden was sparsely planted. The only reason those flowers appeared there in such profusion was that she often didn’t bother to plant much else. With no competition, they quickly took over the flowerbeds. My grandmother may even have regarded them as weeds.

To my childish eyes, with their sky-blue colour and fairytale name, they were as precious and exotic as the very best hothouse roses.

I’m very glad that Sophie likes them too.

A Growing Fancy for the Little Blue Flower

Since writing them into Sophie’s stories, I’ve started to acquire forget-me-nots all around my writing desk – fake ones, of course, so they last all year round. The latest addition is a vintage pottery candleholder decorated with forget-me-not transfers, a must-buy at the local Guides’ jumble sale. Seeing my little forget-me-knot collection every day spurs me on to write more and makes me happy.

What Next for Sophie Sayers?

save the date notice for Hawkesbury Upton Lit FestTheir manifestation in my current work-in-progress, Murder by the Book, came to me in a flash, and I’m very pleased with how it’s worked out. Set between New Year and Valentine’s Day, this fourth Sophie Sayers adventure will be launched at the Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival on Saturday 21st April.

But I’ll have to wait till book five, Springtime for Murder, before I can allow the real flowers to blossom in Wendlebury Barrow. Oh no, hang on, I mean fictitious ones.

Roll on, spring, I’m ready for you, real or not.


Reviews of “Best Murder in Show”

Cover of Best Murder in Show
Available in paperback and ebook

A cracking example of cosy crime” – Katie Fforde

Buy now on Amazon UK ~ Buy now on Amazon US

Order at your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1-911223-13-9



“I saw clear and pressing potential for a series when I was halfway through Best Murder in Show, and I wanted to be in that bookshop having coffee with Sophie serving me.”  – Rosalind Minett, commenting on the Authors Electric blog 

“You’re not allowed out of the house until you’ve finished the next one” – a neighbour’s comment

“Did I like Sophie Sayers? I liked her so much I want to meet her!” – David Penny

“I want to read all the books in the series and I don’t even read!” – daughter of a friend

“I wanted to pick it up and carry on reading, and I found it very easy to keep reading. I even took it on the train, which I don’t really do now. I really did enjoy it.” – Facebook comment

“I was a bit wary of your book. Nothing worse than enforced politeness. Couldn’t be further than the truth. Your book is terrific. Great use of language and vocabulary and storytelling. I really want to read through the night! Well done and thank you and so sorry I didn’t buy it earlier.” – message from a friend


(from Amazon or Goodreads unless otherwise stated)

A cosy, enjoyable read – Helen Hollick (Vine Voice)

Maybe not a ‘murder mystery’ in the sense of Christie and Co – but certainly a cosy read! As a villager who looks forward to our annual village show (hopefully sans corpse!) I appreciated the background to this delightful little tale. Maybe read it a little tongue-in-cheek, don’t take it seriously as a murder to solve, but smile and enjoy! We need more novels like this – quick and easy to read while curled up with a mincepie and glass of wine. Thank you Ms Young – more please!

From the Mystery People website – by Christine Hammacott

This is very much a cosy crime book, with an engaging heroine, an enigmatic secretive hero, and a cast of eccentric but mainly lovable characters peopling the village. The plot is clever, with an unusual murder method and honestly placed clues throughout the book. In this first book, the author has created a delightful community that it will be a pleasure to return to. If you like your crime cosy, with a touch of romance, you will enjoy this. An excellent holiday read and perfect for the summer. (Click here for the full review on the Mystery People website.)

Will get others in this seriesChrissy

Nice summer story

A great discovery for lovers of the quirky, cosy mystery novel“Suffolk and proud”

I bought this for my mum as she really likes Midsomer Murders, Agatha Raisin and Father Brown. This is it’s own thing but fits into that cosy detective genre. I’m told it is quirky, humorous, serious, and has a great plot, with oddball characters. This is the first of four in the series so far. The book is about two hundred pages long so not challenging and could make a great transfer to television. Sadly this author isn’t hugely known yet so we couldn’t get it from the library, but worth buying.

Will look for more from this author!Caro57

Great plot and characters.

Thoroughly entertainingPB

I was enthralled. The characters and the setting are charming. If you like M C. Beaton you will enjoy this. Can’t wait for the next one.

Very enjoyable  – Dale Walters

I liked Sophie right from the start – what a lovely character. The story is great – different from the crime fiction I usually read, but I found it compelling. I am now off to get the second book in the series

Most enjoyableClaire Jones 

A most enjoyable book with a warm, engaging central character and a beautiful village setting. Loved it. A really great read. Sophie is warm and engaging and the village setting is beautifully evoked. There is much more to this book than just the solving of the crime, and I can’t wait to read the rest of the series and see how thing progress for Sophie. A most enjoyable book.

Perfect for the summerCarol Westron, on Mystery People’s Promoting crime blog

It is very much a cosy crime book, with an engaging heroine, an enigmatic secretive hero, and a cast of eccentric but mainly lovable characters peopling the village. The plot is clever, with an unusual murder method and honestly placed clues throughout the book. In this first book, the author has created a delightful community that it will be a pleasure to return to. If you like your crime cosy, with a touch of romance, you will enjoy this. An excellent holiday read and perfect for the summer. (Read her full review here)


Most enjoyable. I look forward to more in this series.

Five StarsAmazon Customer

This is a great book and I cannot wait for the rest of the series. Highly recommend if you like a good story and a smile.

Bloody Brilliant Sandra Pugh

I loved this book. Sophie is such a likeable young woman. I live in a village and can relate to the characters and some of the situations in the book. I can’t wait to start reading the next one.

Lovely Characters and a Well-crafted PlotSusan Grossey

I have never lived in a village but now – for the first time – I wish I did! (That’s despite the murder…) Debbie Young paints a seductive and humorous picture of life on a small scale (I love the cheeky jokes), with clearly delineated characters and a well-structured plot – I didn’t guess the ending at all. The bad news is that every woman will now want a Hector in her life. The good news is that this is the first in a series, and I am heading straight to the second book to see what happens next to Sophie.

A Thoroughly Enjoyable ReadLynne Garner

A thoroughly enjoyable read which reminded me of the TV shows Rosemary and Thyme, Agatha Raisin and Miss Marple. Today these are classed (apparently) as ‘cozy crime’ or ‘cozy mysteries’ due to the lack of explosions, car chases and gratuitous violence. It’s a well written book which contains some lovely descriptive writing and strong characters. Some of which I’m sure most of us will recognise in some form or another from our own lives.

It’s not often that I enjoy a book enough to make me want to get the next in the series, but on this occasion book number two (Trick or Murder) is already downloaded and waiting for me on my Kindle.

Amusing and lighthearted read which I enjoyed from beginning to endJo

Endearing cottage characters with sunny warmth and gentle humour. Likeable village folk, (and some not so nice), come under the protagonist Sophie’s observing eye. Village life in all its foibles and a nasty chance for a spot of murder! Amusing and lighthearted read which I enjoyed from beginning to end.

Gentle humour, cosy mystery and a warm village communityThe Bookbreather

Debbie Young writes beautifully and her characterisation is spot on. Sophie Sayers’ observations of the characters inhabiting her new home village had me giggling out loud a number of times. The murder mystery was gently intriguing and the ending very satisfying, for our heroine at least. Recommended to all who love cosy crime.

Lovely easy readAdrienne Burton

Love this book. I had no idea what to expect but I liked the characters and the story line. It was an easy read, perfect for my tired brain at the end of a day. I went on to read the rest of the series and hope there are more coming.

Jolly good show!Stella

This is actually 4.5 (but best to round up, right?) The “cast” were great, lots of wonderful characters and an excellent portrayal of countless shows I have attended. And I laughed out loud at the bit where they declare that the show must go on and the victim will get an honourable mention – “As what?” our heroine asks, “best murder in show?” But I had to deduct half a star simply because I actually found Sophie a little annoying, and Hector too a bit. The baddie was great though (I can’t say if male or female because – spoilers!) All in all it’s a good start to a series and it will be enjoyable to see the village unfold further.

Fun readLottie Lewis

An enjoyable, fun read, with a marvelous cast of interesting and eccentric characters, this cozy murder mystery is a lovely escapist refuge from the mundanity of everyday life. Beautifully observed, colourful and original writing brings this intriguing tale to life. Fans of this genre will love the gentle humour and the warm fuzziness of a charming story to go with a nice hot mug of cocoa and a crackling fire on a cold winter’s night!

The death of the beheaded queenKrystyna

A great view of village life. Great characters but the plot seemed to flounder in places, almost as if it was being expanded too much. Would have read better if some things had been more concisely written. But nevertheless a good read. Floats, beheaded queens, murder and large egos all mixed into a very gentle cozy.

Quirky English murderSue H

If you love England’s villages, you will find the characters believable with a big dash of humor. Would love to read the whole series.

I’m glad I didSilver Surfer

I have to admit I hadn’t read a ‘cosy crime’ book before picking this one up at an Alli writers meeting. I am more the Jack Higgins type so I ventured into it with an open mind. I am glad I did….the opening murder scene at the village show had all the hallmarks of a fast start and a new female amateur detective on the case…but no…Debbie Young took us into a local world of various dubious and suspicious characters each of which could have been the killer seen through the eyes of a ‘newbie’ to the village life ….if indeed there was a killer? Our heroine’s arrival in the village was obviously written with the author’s experience of her own village life and her use of descriptive prose kept my imagination alive to the end. I feel I know this village quite well now. The ending was a surprise and well crafted. I would never have guessed it in a million years.

The Rose-Scented MurderCelia Boyd (warning: contains plot spoilers!)

I think it was Laurie Lee who compared the Cotswolds to a great slab of butter, through which a giant has trailed his fingers. The plain, the tops can be bleak, windswept and featureless, but those finger-trailed valleys are delicious, tree-lined, stream-cleansed and wild flower-garlanded.And the tourists have found those valleys with names that resonate—-Little-Stick-in-the-Mud, Floundering-in-the-Water, and Mesmerising-in-the-Marsh. And Debbie Young found Hawkesbury Upton and rechristened it Wendlebury Barrow and is developing a completely new genre—the Rose-Scented Murder.

Why do we Brits love Whodunnits? It goes back a long way. “Murder will out!” says Chaucer’s Prioress, and two hundred years later there was the groundling-breaking Tight as Andronicus (You have to be to sit through it) and then Maria Marten, Sweeney Todd and in the last century more serial killers than you can shake Hercule Poirot’s cane at. But in Wendlebury Barrow, it’s a better class of homicide.

Sophie Sayers has inherited a dear little cottage, the home of her travel writer aunt, now deceased, it transpires, naturally, thank Goodness! Then there’s Hector, the bookshop owner with whom she naturally falls in love, even though he might be gay.Sophie is both naïve and knowing so we frolic in her humour, both intentional and artless. The third character is the Village in all its human manifestations. There’s Billy who is usually drunk, the sort of Gloucestershire yokel who can always direct you to the Ladies with a friendly leer, and Carol, needy shop-keeper who has a Malopropism for every occasion. Hector dresses as Homer to drive the Pendlebury Writers float in the show—-very appropriate for a Homersexual. The Hippocratic Oath becomes the Hippopotamus Oath—-no change there then.

And the murders are as cultured as the Malopropisms. The hated Drama Queen dies from multiple—no I mustn’t spill the bees. She’s been sewn into her Anne Boleyn costume, post execution, a frequent occurrence in deepest Gloucestershire

But All’s Well that Ends Well. Best Murder in Show concludes with the realisation that Hector isn’t gay, just another writer. Will-He, Wont-He will surely permeate the remaining six books in the series. I cant wait!

Sweet“Kindle customer”

Very lovely to actually spend time in a real English village of the past, at least for this American. Will probably continue to read the series simply for the characters.

Nice English Village Cosy“hotdogcrafts”

I enjoyed Sophie and most of the village residents. I am anxious to read the next book in the series.

Never a dull momentMyrtle Wilson

I loved this book. There were so many interesting characters, the plot was well thought out and Debbie writes with such a sense of humour- I had a chuckle on every page!

Cure for StressFred Dobb

Like Wilt or Stonely Village without the coarse bits. enjoyable and relaxing with a few laughes thown in. recommended as a cure when stressed.

Cosy Crime DelightCarol B

This is one of those stories where I kept saying just one chapter more, as the hands on the clock crept toward midnight and then past it before I finally finished reading. Although I’d worked out bookshop owner Hector’s secret, I hadn’t guessed who had done the murder- the body discovered in the opening chapter. I’m definitely looking forward to reading the next Sophie Sayers story.

Fun and light-heartedClau

Fun and lighthearted, this is an entertaining read. As this is the first book in a series, there was a lot of time devoted to presenting the characters, which made the solving-crime bit be somewhat relegated to a second plane. As the background has now been dealt with, I have high hopes for the second in the series.

Homer et alEvonne Hutton

A fun, quirky story about a small village with very large characters! It certainly tickled my funny bone! Will look forward to reading more from this author

Mysterious deaths, barmy villages, dreams of romance and a lot of fun for the readerMark O’Dwyer

When the least-liked woman in Wendlebury Barrow collapses inside a headless Anne Boleyn costume while tied to the rail of a float in the village show, newcomer Sophie Sayers, like all the other villagers, accepts the verdict of death by natural causes.

She’s more consumed by doubts about how her great aunt May died: was she murdered by ancient neighbour Joshua who keeps appearing without warning in the garden? And what exactly are Hector the bookshop owner’s mysterious business activities?

“What had begun as a simple proposition – to live in a rent-free cottage, in a pleasant stable community while pursuing the writing ambitions that I’d held since childhood – now seemed fraught with traps, difficulties and dangers”.

By Chapter Four, “The Alphabetical Shop”, I was so intrigued by a heroine who shops for “just the essentials” – shortbread, cake, chocolate, wine – at Carols’ shop where you find the postcards by the plums and The Times by the turnips, that I had accidentally spoiled several pages with, umm, coffee and food stains.

But I had to read on, regardless of meal times. Who wouldn’t want to jump into the next chapters when they’re titled “Reader, I Left Him”, “The Cream of the Bookshop”, “Writers Afloat”, or “Beware of the Wardrobe”.

By gifting us with Sophie Sayers and Wendlebury Barrow, Debbie Young entertains with barmy characters, blooming gardens, cliques within community groups, and dreams of romance in an apparently bachelor-free village .

Along the way readers are also treated with the perils of writer’s block (falling asleep in the garden, in Sophie’s case), fun with cliches, and joyous little book references such as when Hector gives Greene’s “Travels with my Aunt” to Sophie.

You can get your hands on “Best Murder in Show”, “Trick or Murder” and “Murder in a Manger” right now on Amazon, of course. But asking for them at your friendly local (or village) book shop would also be appropriate for a novel in which a very entrepreneurial book shop features prominently.

Disclaimer: I learnt about the Sophie Sayer’s mysteries when asking if their author would perhaps review a book of mine. Unknown to her, this caught my eye, and it honestly isn’t my fault that enjoyed it and look forward to the next ones.

A very welcome surprisePhil and Raine

Cosy crime is not a very familiar genre for me. However, that said, I liked the idea of this book and decided to give it a try, so glad I did. There are a number of things I enjoyed about this book. The setting of an English village was very appealing and quite reminded me of some of the Midsomer Murders in the locations. But this is certainly no copy of anything. The story is original and I thought very witty. I sensed that the author was a fan of that great English institution ‘The Good Life’, for two things struck me in connection with that old television program from the 1970s. I won’t mention these two here, as I don’t want to in anyway give the game away. The main character is an aspiring author and so there is much information given within the text detailing life and experiences of being a writer, all of which are superbly accurate. The character are all well drawn and I felt pulled into their world. For me, there was just the right of humour and a recurring joke which had me chuckling out loud, not something which I do very often. I am looking forward to the next book in the series and hoping that it will be as good as this one.

Looking forward to the next oneDab Reader

This was my first venture into the cosy mystery genre and I loved the story. Although a city person myself I have lived in a village and can relate to it’s quirks! I liked the characters and the build up to the murder. All in all, a great light read.

Miss Marple’s Young ApprenticeLondon Lass

This cozy mystery is reminiscent of the drily humorous Miss Marple detective stories, with the added bonus of being bang up to date. 20something writer Sophie Sayers moves into an inherited cottage in the Cotswolds. Her imagination soon runs riot, as she begins to wonder if any of the colourful characters in the village might be cold-blooded killers. Is it any wonder her suspicions are proved correct? The murder, when it finally happens, is gloriously over the top – and it is only thanks to Sophie’s heightened sense of paranoia that the case is solved.

Best Murder In Show brings back to life all those joys of living in an English village – Mike Stone

I am not a village dweller, being addicted to the sprawling pollution that is London. But Best Murder In Show does bring back to life all those joys of living in an English village that I used to know. Glos Wendlebury Players, the floats, the fancy dress, the garden paths, the home made bread, floral scents on evening air, the local PC plod, Land Rovers, romance, characters ever chatty, the village school, the sex starved heroine, and murder in the air – this book is very well written and a great read.

Book muse Recommended Read logoReview on Bookmuse Book Blog Jill Marsh

With a cast of eccentric characters such as the quirky local shopkeeper, the amiable drunk, the lecherous amateur dramatist, the bookseller with a secret and the writing group which fines members 10p per cliché, this gentle crime caper is lively, funny and the perfect antidote to watching the news. What’s more, it would make the ideal Radio Four serial or BBC Sunday evening programme.

  • You’ll enjoy this if you like: The Janice Gentle books by Mavis Cheek, Agatha Raisin mysteries, Lilian Jackson’s cat mysteries.
  • Avoid if you dislike: very English settings, cosy crime.
  • Ideal accompaniments: Scones and honey, ‘special’ tea and summer birdsong through an open window.

(Read the full Bookmuse review here.)


A worthy addition to the Cotswold cozy crime fold – Rebecca Lang

Debbie Young’s Best Murder In Show is a worthy addition to the Costwold cosy crime fold. Her protagonist Sophie Sayers proves there’s nothing restful or retiring about village life (despite what she might initially think), where murder and mayhem prove to be only a turn of a page away. Death, drama and dastardly deeds (intertwined with some unexpected romance) await the mystery genre’s latest would-be sleuth in this, the first of a promising series. I really enjoyed this tale and look forward to more of Sophie’s adventures.


Murder in an English villageHelena Halme

f you like cozy mysteries set in the English countryside, this is the perfect book for you. Lovers of Agatha Christie will rejoice with the murder that occurs at a village fete, and the burgeoning romance included in the plot. The pace is nice and slow, yet you find yourself returning to the pages of this competently written novel any free moment you have!


An easy and satisfying read Martin Brown

I can’t decide if this book is amusingly charming or charmingly amusing. Debbie Young infuses her quirky sense of humour into this story of a young woman, returning to a typical small English village, having inherited a cottage from her celebrity author aunt. She is confronted by the usual array of village people (but no native Americans, and no YMCA) and there is a suspicious death. The mystery is just one part of this lovely story about Sophie coming to terms with her new environment. An easy and very satisfying read.



A gentle stroll through the village – Monica Mac

This was a light and fun read, the first book by this author I have read.

Sophie Sayers finds herself permanently living in a village, after inheriting a cottage from her great-aunt May who was a famous travel writer. Hard shoes to fill and the fact that she looks like her aunt doesn’t help. It’s fun reading about how Sophie tries to settle into making things work in a different setting to what she is accustomed to. Sophie is kind of “finding herself” and she tries hard to figure out what she wants to do and how best to achieve it. She is also getting to know the villagers, with all their little quirks. Oh yes, there is a dead body involved along the way as well, just to add to the excitement of life in the village.

Other than the obvious drawback of everyone knowing your business, it sounds like it would be a lot of fun living Sophie’s life.

This was a recommended read from me.


A fun slice of village life – Ellie

Best Murder in Show is a lovely, fun read. The village in which the book is set is full of quirky and engaging characters. For me the book came alive on the arrival of the charismatic Hector and it was then an enjoyable romp to the end. A perfect summer read. I was given a free copy of this book for the purposes of providing a review and look forward to more from Debbie Young and Sophie Sayers.


Summertime fun with a devious discover – Mari Howard

Here’s a really cosy Cosy Mystery, set in a believable Cotswold village and guaranteed to appeal to nostalgic readers. Curl up with Best Murder in Show and a mug of cocoa, and delight in the summery scenes of village life with a twist!

Debbie Young’s debut novel stands on the solid ground of her Flash Fiction books, published over the past few years, and maintains the warm humorous gaze at English village life, in the best of all possible traditions. The story opens with a sketch of the discovery of something untoward at the annual Village Show, on a hot, sunny, summer afternoon. The kind of afternoon which is set with blue sky, a few fluffy clouds, bright flowers, and the gentle buzzing of bees.

As a writer, and village resident deeply involved in local life, Young has ample experiences to draw on to describe the various local clubs and groups, the shop as centre of rumour and exchange of news, and the “newcomer”. Our newcomer here is Sophie Sayers, aged 25, full of anxious optimism and seeing herself as the writer to step into her famous, now deceased, Aunt May’s shoes, as well as the cottage she’s inherited.

A good start for a series of mysteries for this young 21st-century Miss Marple to inherit, and a fun holiday read.


A charming romp through village life! I loved it! – Francis Guenette

If you want a charming romp through the village life of Wendlebury Barrow spiced up with a taste of mystery, romance and bit of mayhem, Best Murder in Show is the book for you. Main character, Sophie Sayers, is a delight. An aspiring novelist, she is determined to remake herself nestled in the cottage her aunt has left her in Wendlebury Barrow. Her mind filled with the words of her ex-boyfriend – you will be murdered in your bed – she sees disaster around every corner. But not one to shy away from her new life, Sophie plunges in with both feet. A well-formed group of secondary characters and a parade for Village Show Day round out the fun. I’ve just read that author Debbie Young is hard at work on another book about Wendlebury. I can’t wait. The book is worth the read just for Young’s description of gardens and hedgerows!


Already looking forward to the next in the series – Ava D Reader

A super little murder from Debbie Young. I’ve long been a fan of her short stories, but it feels like she’s really found her genre in the literary realm of cosy village murders. A likable heroine, a cast of colourful village characters and a nice intriguing murder to solve. What’s not to like?

I read this the day after the 2017 Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival (organised and run by Debbie) and it was the perfect way to keep the warmth of the festival going.

My only complaint (and it’s the reason I didn’t give 5 stars) is a small one – the size of the print. I was just about OK if I wore my reading glasses, but I loaned the book to my partially sighted mother and she needed her spectacles and a magnifying glass. the fact that she persevered is testimony to how much she was enjoying the story, but a slightly larger font would be much nicer. Of course this wouldn’t be a problem with an eBook, but eBooks aren’t everybody’s cup of tea.


Eccentric and engaging characters in a cosy mystery – Lucienne Boyce

A lovely first novel from Debbie Young, author of witty short stories. The book has a lovely setting and Sophie and Hector are characters you really care about. The opening set up is very good: unusual, eccentric, and entertaining, and the story goes on to live up to its opening. The writing is an easy-flowing, accessible style with a warm and sympathetic narrative voice, and the book is well observed with some nice comic touches. I look forward to reading the next Sophie Sayers Mystery. Disclosure: I was a beta reader for the book, and this is my honest opinion of the completed novel.


Cosy mystery or comic mystery?Shepline

Debbie Young’s debut novel (she is the author already of various anthologies of short stories and non-fiction) is billed as a cosy-mystery – I would suggest the term comic-mystery – there are so many slight, humorous

Perhaps unsurprising for a novel that comes from the pen of an author who is also active in the Alliance of Independent Authors (I half-expected there to be a direct mention at one of the many village meetings!) and who is the founding director of the Hawkesbury Upton Literary Festival, this is a murder mystery that exudes literary and other bookish references. Take the Sophie Sayer’s name for instance. I’m really hoping that Hector Munro might become her Lord Peter Whimsy.

The story begins at the village show, a highpoint in any yearly calendar, and in the shocking discovery of murder in a manner reminiscent of those pre-opening titles moments that anyone who has watched Death in Paradise will be familiar with. The story winds back two months to Sophie’s arrival in the village to live in the house she has inherited from her aunt (has another murder taken place here too?). If I can leverage any criticism of this mystery is that much as I love reading the excentricities of the Cotswold village life I did at times want to move on to the murder and solving thereof the mystery a little bit quicker.

Sophie though, is a character with her own backstory that is not as simple as you might think (don’t all detectives have a troubled backstory?) and she must grapple with her own insecurities and life as she stumbles through her own over-active imagination about what the villagers might be like and be capable of before she can solve the mystery at hand. Surely Carol, the gossiping proprietor of the village shop who is every bit a Susan Carter out The Archers, is capable of killing people, or if not has the motivations to do so.

I shall look forward to seeing where Sophie’s next adventure takes us.


Cosy, fluent, easy reading – D N Worthington

Leaving her unrewarding boyfriend for an enviable cottage that she’s inherited, the heroine quickly involves herself in village life. Her deceased aunt has thoughtfully provided for her in a variety of ways, but is there murder involved? None of our heroine’s fears are justified but then there really is a murder, most unexpected and ingenious.

This really is feel-good writing. The heroine is an attractive personality, easy to identify with; there’s an intriguing male around; a little mystery to unravel here and there and a range of varied village characters. The plot unfolds well, but it is the fluency of the writing that really impresses. For cosy mystery murder lovers, this is a gem. My prediction is that the author has found her true niche and that a long list of village stories will now follow with an increasingly dedicated readership.


A beguiling mystery – Ali Bacon

Being well acquainted with this author’s excellent short stories I was well up for a cheery few hours in the company of her new heroine Sophie Sayers who, as the book opens, has been bequeathed a country cottage by her aunt and is hoping to carve out a career as a writer. The opening certainly didn’t disappoint with a hilarious village show rounded off with the discovery of the obligatory corpse on one of the carnival floats. But is it really a murder? Sophie’s past experience makes her hyper-sensitive to any hint of crime and the reader looks on with some scepticism as her hackles are raised by everyone from a harmless-looking neighbour to the malapropistic village shopkeeper. Then there’s the love interest in the form of toga-clad Hector, book-shop owner and Sophie’s boss, who sets hearts a flutter despite compelling evidence that ladies, unlike books, are certainly not his bag. From the point of the murder we go back to Sophie’s earlier arrival in the village which allows us to learn about its customs and characters and her own aspirations. Although there are a few red herrings to keep us guessing I found myself impatient to get back to where we had begun but in the end Sophie’s nose for crime doesn’t let her down and the denouement is as deft and funny as the opening with a satisfactory tying up of loose ends to finish off with.

Sophie herself is highly congenial and I particularly like how she interacts with the memory of her aunt and their affection for one another. A beguiling look at village life with a murder thrown in for good measure. I’ll be interested to see what Sophie gets up to next.


A light, frothy concoction you won’t be able to put downVesuvio

I am not a cosy mystery reader but having really enjoyed two of Debbie Young’s short story collections I decided to give it a go and was not disappointed. Confined to the sofa with a broken ankle Best Murder in Show was the perfect antidote – lighthearted, witty, full of wordplay and a great cast of characters. Sophie Sayers is a charming, naive and slightly ditsy heroine, suspecting everyone of murder and then unmasking the real culprit more by accident and design. Young writes with a light touch and a sharp wit that had me chuckling out loud and turning the pages.


Blue Ribbon Mystery – Crime Fan

This is a thoroughly enjoyable cosy mystery, full of comedy, wit and a touch of wisdom too. Sophie Sayers is an ‘innocent abroad’ in the English village context when she takes possession of her late aunt’s cottage in Wendlebury. She is quite unaware that she is also a disrupter of the status quo of village life as she goes about the mundane tasks of settling in. She is a likeable lens through which the reader learns about the eccentric villagers, most of whom are suspects in a devious murder at the annual show. Sophie made me smile a lot, sometimes chuckle and sometimes shake my head. She misinterprets what she observes, cannot see what is in plain view and solves the mystery quite by accident. Young writes fluent, readable prose that kept me turning the pages. Best Murder in Show is a wry, clever, good-hearted novel which I warmly recommend. I was lucky to receive a copy to review in advance of publication.


Gentle, cosy mystery – very enjoyable! – Maria Staal

This is a gentle cosy mystery that I very much enjoyed reading.

The characters are well described and interesting. Village life is often an important part of a cosy mystery and that is no different in this book.

Feathers are going to be ruffled, specially when the village fair brings out competition and egos. The heroin is trying to find her footing in her new chosen home and is soon part of it all.

I’m looking forward to reading more about Sophie Sayers in the future.


Warm and witty – KS303

I should first say that I have been lucky enough to read a review copy of this book. I have also read some of Debbie Young’s other books, of short stories, and I would say that the style I’ve become familiar with is definitely present here (a good thing!). Warm and witty, the description of English village life is excellent, and I particularly like Carol from the village shop – I think everyone knows a Carol. I enjoyed getting to know Sophie, who is an engaging character, and the love interest – although definitely there – does not take over the book. Instead, we see Sophie getting over her old no-good boyfriend, settling into life in her late aunt’s cottage, in a small village where everybody knows each other and, consequently, each other’s goings on. She is key to uncovering the central story of the murder, the method of which is unusual and imaginative (I shall say no more than that), which I like and I hope sets the tone for future books in the series.


A lovely entertaining read – Anita Davison

I have been looking forward to reading this novel and I wasn’t disappointed. The character of Sophie is engaging from the first page, with all the flaws and insecurities of a twenty-something having finished a relationship and striking out on her own. She comes to live in the cottage she has inherited from her travel writer Great Aunt May where she hopes to embark on her own writing career.

Sophie throws herself into Cotswold village life with enthusiasm, from helping to organise the village show, to the writer’s group which fines anyone for using a cliché – an idea I am tempted to use myself as, like Sophie, I had no idea how many pop into my head. By the end of the book I could probably afford coffee for two and flapjacks at Costa.

Sophie is incredibly nice, so much so, that when she receives oblique insults from the resident snob, the strange old man next door and the village letch, she doesn’t respond in kind but lets them wash over her.

Her Aunt May’s death is not viewed as suspicious by anyone in the village, but for some reason, Sophie has a nagging feeling that someone might have done away with the old lady and she looks for culprits everywhere. There were a couple of incidences where I wanted to yell in her ear ‘Well isn’t it obvious?’ but that was the fun of the book – that to Sophie it wasn’t.

This being a cosy, Sophie’s fears become a self-fulfilling prophesy [more a figure of speech than a cliché] and a murder does indeed happen during the village show.

A feel-good, entertaining read with some clever word play that made me laugh, this is the type of book which makes you anticipate a quiet moment so you can get back to it. Perfect in a sun lounger with a cool drink by your side. Well done to Debbie Young on such a fabulous debut novel. I eagerly anticipate more in this series in which I hope the lovely Hector features.


Best Murder in Show  – Intheamazone

A lighthearted, very enjoyable “cosy” mystery. More character introduction than actual mystery with a transparent plot but very enjoyable nonetheless. I understand, from the author notes, that this book is the first in a series of books featuring Sophie Sayers, a very agreeable character. A pleasant way to spend a relaxing hour and I look forward to reading the next in the series.


Warm and witty. Already looking forward to the next one! – Keats Babe

I love Debbie Young’s writing. It is full of warmth, witty characters and wonderful humour. This is her first novel (do read her short stories – Marry In Haste is a lovely collection for example) and it introduces us to Sophie Sayers, named after Young’s favourite crime writer (mine too!) Dorothy L Sayers. This is a real page turner, and a proper feel good book – Debbie Young is an author whose aim is to make you smile, and in this book there are characters to make you giggle and clever lines worthy of Dorothy herself.

I would love to have given this 5 stars for the pure escapism the author gave me, but it is described as cosy crime, and in this first book of a series I look forward to getting into, the crime is more a backdrop to the character development and the plot that is most definitely romantic rather than very mysterious or suspenseful. But that is a small gripe.This is certainly a series to watch out for.


Fun and witty read you’ll want to pick up – Amie McCracken

For an entertaining, fun, and witty read you’ll want to pick up this Sophie Sayers book. I couldn’t put it down because the characters are real, the twists are humorous as well as shocking. In a little village story, with a wide cast from the nosy shop owner to the village drunk, everyone with their varied differences comes together for the summer show. The story is injected with comedy amongst the crime and you will have trouble not falling in love with the flawed and adorable Sophie.


A highly recommended read for all fans of classic mysteries – David Penny

Debbie Young is best known for her short stories, full of wit and with a clever look on life. Best Murder in Show is her first foray into longer fiction, but she has managed to bring all the aspects that make her writing so enjoyable to this, the first in what I hope will be a fun series.

Sophie Sayers, young, too innocent for her own good, and escaping a failed relationship arrives in sleepy Wendlebury Barrow to inherit her aunt’s cottage. She is expecting life to be quiet, until there is a murder during the local village show.

The book contains a surfeit of suspects, much clever word play, and a plot that will keep you reading long after you should have gone to sleep.

A highly recommended read for all fans of classic mysteries.

Buy now on Amazon UK ~ Buy now on Amazon US

Order at your local bookshop quoting ISBN 978-1-911223-13-9