Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop 2017!

Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop 2017 graphic

Join in the merry fun right here…

Hello! I’m joining the Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop from Melbourne, Australia!

I’m Cassandra O’Leary and I live in Melbourne, Australia, in the bayside area. I live with my spunk of a husband and two mini ninjas, Mr 8 and Mr 6. I write romantic comedies, contemporary romance and women’s fiction. You’ll find me dreaming of Italy and Spain, drinking coffee, buying shoes on the internet and oh yes, writing!

For international readers, Melbourne is a city of about 4 million people, down south on the continent of Oz, multicultural and amazing, with gorgeous parks and beaches. It’s been voted the world’s most liveable city over and over again. Are you jealous yet? Truth be told, I love to travel and I’d probably like to swap places with most of you and visit where-ever you live in the world.

A little about my writing… I love to write stories about women with real-life issues but who face life with both bravery and humour, and of course I adore a handsome, caring hero. So far I’ve released one full-length novel — my award-winning debut with HarperCollins UK in 2016, Girl on a Plane, a contemporary romance/romantic comedy about a sassy Irish flight attendant and the smouldering hot Aussie CEO she meets in first class.

I’ve released short fiction in anthologies including Chocolate Truffle Kiss, a fun and sexy novelette that’s currently free for my newsletter subscribers.

My new release is a festive romcom novella that’s out now in time for Christmas… Heart Note.

About Heart Note

Heart Note is the first book in my planned Spritzer Chicks series set in and around a perfume counter in a large department store. Yes, I was a ‘spritzer chick’ or perfume promotions girl many years ago, then I also worked on cosmetics counters as a beauty advisor and sales assistant for several years.

I’ve drawn on some of my real-life experiences of working retail, but I’ve added fictional hijinks plus a big dash of humour and romance. Lily the sassy redhead perfume counter manager *may be* similar to me in some ways! But I never fell in love with a smokin’ hot Greek-Australian security guard on the job…

Reviewers love Heart Note!

I’m now working on another novella in the Spritzer Chicks series, to be titled Cupid’s Bow. And I’m working on a couple more novels to (hopefully) complete next year too.

Check out my Books page for details and buy links.

A Holly Jolly giveaway from moi!

As part of this awesomesauce event, I’m offering a very nice giveaway prize/gift that I’d really like to keep for myself! It includes a perfume miniature to match the perfume theme in Heart Note.

Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop 2017 prize pic

The Prize:

  • Heart Note ebook download x 1 copy
  • Miniature 4ml bottle of J’Adore eau de toilette by Christian Dior
  • Revlon Colorstay Ultimate Suede lipstick in Couture (Christmassy bright red shade)
  • Gold sparkly fabric make-up purse
  • Heart pendant in rose-gold tone metal & matching chain
  • A signed postcard
  • Girl on a Plane heart-shaped chocolates!

How to enter:

**This giveaway is now closed. Congratulations to my randomly selected winner, Christi Green. I have emailed Christi about how to claim her prize. Happy holidays everyone!**


  1. Sign-up for my author newsletter — complete the form on this website with your name and email address.
  2. Comment on my Facebook page (see the pinned post) or on this blog post with the name of your favourite perfume or other scent, like jasmine flowers.

I’ll pick a winner and contact them by email after the close of the Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop, around 15 December or just afterwards. The winner’s name will be published on my Facebook page and they will need to supply their postal address to receive their prize (postal address won’t be published).

Grand prize giveaway

Make sure to enter the main giveaway for this event by visiting the Holly Jolly Chick Lit Hop Facebook group. Check out the giveaways on all the author pages and follow the directions to enter the Grand Prize giveaway of 3 x $100 Amazon gift cards!

Note: This giveaway is not sponsored by or otherwise associated with Facebook.

Cassandra’s words version 1.0

cassandra-oleary-aboutMy name is Cassandra O’Leary. Charmed, I’m sure. I am a writer, reader, Melbourne girl, professional communications specialist and a postmodern mummy. If that makes me sound busy, it’s because I am. Got to keep all those balls in the air… If 2013 has been an amazing and challenging year, then I expect 2014 to be more so. More everything.

In 2013 I met a long term challenge to myself to write a novel. Not only did I achieve that goal, but I rediscovered a love of words and writing fiction for the love of it. I entered the global So You Think You Can Write competition run by Harlequin Books. Although my romance novel wasn’t selected as a finalist, I had so much fun with it that I plugged on and actually was selected for an online pitch to an editor in New York. Not bad for a first attempt I reckon! In fact, I am about halfway through writing my second novel.

Will Cassandra’s words ever be published? I would have to possess the foresight of the Cassandra of myth to know the answer. But one thing I can tell you, just quietly, it’s going to be an adventure. I’m going to keep up the challenges to spur myself on. So I guess the ending to this beginning is just a request to read and enjoy my words in this space for mind dumps and random ramblings.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014

The Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 encourages readers and reviewers to discover more books by Australian women. I have decided to take-up the challenge and focus on reading a range of romance and contemporary fiction by Australian women.

AWW 2014 badge

Australian Women Writers 2014

Although in 2013 I was not officially signed-up for the challenge, I discovered a group of wonderful writers (new to me) including Rachel Johns, Amy Andrews, Helene Young, Kylie Ladd and Ally Blake. In 2014, I will aim to read and review at least ten books as part of the challenge. #aww2014

Romance reading binge: it’s not fattening

I can feel myself falling into the abyss again. No, no need for alarm, it’s not an emergency (although I do have a penchant for emergency services type uniforms on tall, dark and handsome young men). I have just fallen into a romance reading binge once again. As per the title, it’s not fattening, so why not?

I started the year by reading Easy by Tammara Webber. This was a touching, young adult read about a college student and the dating scene that can sometimes be fraught with danger. The college student world that the author depicted was quite realistic, down to the detail of kegger parties and consuming copious amounts of coffee to stay awake for early lectures. But without revealing a spoiler, the heroine learns a few tough lessons about trusting so-called friends and falling into relationships based on what is easy, rather than right. Highly recommended reading.

I’ve also been reading a couple of Australian women authors, in preparation for the 2014 Australian Women Writers challenge. I’ll work on writing a couple of reviews in the next few weeks.

Then on a visit to Big W today I decided to buy myself a little present. The romance shelf was calling me with her siren song…buy me, buy me. I can’t wait to get started soon. Harlequin Mills & Boon, what fun. Ally Blake is a great Aussie author too.


Confessions of a writing contest junkie

This blog post was originally published on the Melbourne Romance Writers Guild site on 14th February 2016. However it has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day. Did I plan that badly? Sigh…

I’ve been entering writing contests for just over two years. I did the maths in my head and realised in that time, I’ve entered about 15 contests. I know I may have a minor writing contest addiction problem.

What’s a writing contest?

This is what my family and friends asked me when I first entered one in mid-2013. I hardly knew the answer at the time, having just decided to get serious about creative writing for the first time in (mumble, mumble) years.

For the uninitiated, writing contests are run by publishers and writing organisations such as Romance Writers of Australia and offer the opportunity to:

  • win a prize, sometimes cash, often a publishing contract
  • gain feedback from fellow writers or editors
  • develop your writing, working to specific guidelines
  • finish something, in time for a contest deadline
  • grow your network of writer contacts
  • avoid the ‘slush pile’ of unsolicited manuscripts
  • get your work ‘out there’ in front of key editors, agents and publishers.

Romance novel contest leads to madness…

My little problem started in 2013 when I joined Twitter and started following authors I admired, then a few publishers. I stumbled across a little thing called So You Think You Can Write or #sytycw in Twitter hashtag speak. This is a global writing contest run by Harlequin, one of the biggest romance publishers in the world. A publishing contract was on offer for the winner, but not only that, a squad of fifty editors were on hand to provide tips and feedback.

I asked myself, “Could I write a romance novel?” and despite never having tried before, I answered, “Why the hell not?” I started to write, and I loved it. Was it mad to try to write my first novel in three months? Of course it was, but I’m so glad I did it.

This contest taught me so much about writing, it’s not even funny. I participated in online ‘boot camp’ activities such as writing a 100 word pitch and a synopsis, having work critiqued by other aspiring writers. I was also selected for a first page critique by an editor, which was so valuable it should have been sprinkled with gold dust.

I also had barrels of fun interacting with the other entrants on Twitter and Facebook, and made heaps of writer friends. Some of them formed the core of an international online writing group I still hang out with.

Twitter pitch opportunities

Twitter pitch contests such as PitMad (Pitch Madness) or #pitmad hosted by author Brenda Drake, offer writers the chance to pitch their book in 140 characters or less. Try it! It’s really hard and will make you crazy! Editors/publishers and agents watch the tweets over the course of a day and favourite the ones they’re interested in. Then writers can send it manuscripts or queries in the requested format. Warning: this contest can be really fun and addictive!

Also, look out for regular Manuscript Wishlist or #mswl tweets and other specific calls for manuscripts.

Publisher ‘open call’ contests

Publisher contests offer the chance to post a pitch or blurb relevant to a particular call for submissions. Some examples are the Entangled Publishing blog wishlists or the recent Tule Publishing ‘Pillow Talk’ contest for the new Eros imprint.

The Harlequin Community runs regular writing challenges and series contests e.g. the recent ‘Blaze Blitz’. I know several writers who have fast-tracked their way into book contracts through these types of smaller, more specific contests.

So, follow publishers on Facebook and Twitter, subscribe to their blog pages and keep an eye out for those opportunities. Get to it!

Romance Writers of Australia contests

I was recently chatting to some other emerging authors and realised that the Romance Writers of Australia contests are probably the most helpful thing I’ve done to improve my writing. I started with the First Kiss contest (and was a finalist!) then entered the Valerie Parv Award twice, not making the finals but doing pretty well, also the Emerald Award and Ripping Start were good learning experiences.

I haven’t entered any of the published author contests…yet. I can’t wait until I can.

International romance writing contests

Last year I entered (and came third!) in the Lone Star contest, run by Northwest Houston Romance Writers of America.

LS Sealwhite(1) finalist (1)

My Lone Star contest 2015 finalist badge – any excuse to re-blog about this!

Most of the US state-based chapters of RWA run contests, many open internationally. The Golden Heart is the big contest for unpublished authors with a full manuscript ready to go.

In return for a small entry fee, you gain feedback from authors more familiar with the US market, your specific sub-genre or simply offer a different perspective. You might not always agree with the feedback but it can be an eye-opener. For example, if that anonymous US judge is reading this, I still don’t agree that ‘British’ English is wrong or distracting…

See the Romance Writers of America website for details or check websites such as Stephie Smith’s writing contest list for contests coming up across multiple genres.

What I’ve learned as a contest junkie

  • They’re fun! The online contests especially have a sense of community and excitement.
  • They offer great insights into your work. You might have to sit back and mull over some of the feedback for a while, or even rant a little if it’s negative, but it’s all a learning experience.
  • They don’t hurt. I was slightly terrified of entering a US contest. I thought, small fish, big pond, they’re going to hate me and I’ll do terribly badly. I was wrong.
  • They give you something to shoot for. A deadline, a goal, a reason to think of a new idea, all of these reasons are gold.
  • They could raise your profile. If you’re working away in your writing cave, getting ready to submit a manuscript, a writing contest credit on your website or in your query letter may help you get noticed (I’m hoping).

As I wait patiently (crazily) to announce something related to another international writing contest, I’m toying with entering (you guessed it!) another writing contest.

It’s the circle of life for a writing contest junkie.

Wobbly pencils image

10 real answers to the question: How is the writing going?

One of the most common things people ask if you’ve ‘come out’ as an aspiring writer, is “How is the writing going?” They are generally trying to be friendly or chatty, I understand. Really, I do.

So why is it that sometimes it feels like that question is prying, trying to access the murky depths of wobbly writerly weirdness that is the mind? Or my mind, at least. I only ask because I’ve been asked the question about eleventy billion times.

The polite and reasonable answer is, “Good!”–even if it’s not entirely true. Even the most polite questioners usually have no idea of receiving an honest answer. But I’m going to attempt it now. Are you ready? Good.

Here’s my list of ten possible real answers to the question about how my writing is going.

10 real answers to the pesky writing question (instead of “Good!”)

  1. I’m writing like an absolute machine. Seriously, it reads like a robot has written it.
  2. I’m up to draft number seven and I’m not sure of the main character’s name yet. She won’t ‘speak’ to me. I think she hates me.
  3. There’s some sort of theme underlying all the references to cupcakes and coffee in my manuscript, but I can’t work it out. I’ll just go for a coffee break…and maybe buy a cupcake.
  4. My kids are demanding things like food and clean clothes and that I actually respond to them when they speak. How is a writer supposed to concentrate in such circumstances, let alone write a sexy scene? (Secret tip: ABC for Kids is awesome)
  5. Well, let’s see. I have a half written scene open on my laptop, which I stare at and then read some Facebook posts. Then I look up exotic locations on Google Maps and imagine my characters there. Then I close the laptop.
  6. It’s all flowing at the moment, it’s like magic. Don’t talk about it or you might jinx it.
  7. There’s this half-written manuscript on my laptop that’s annoying me, because I just realised where the bad guy’s drugs are hidden. I haven’t been working on the story for over a year, and I have another manuscript to finish right now. Weird.
  8. I wrote for two hours and I think I have one good sentence. That’s okay, I’m counting that as winning.
  9. Coffee. I need coffee. Someone bring me coffee.
  10. I think this is alright. I just read over the earlier chapters and they are even interesting. Kind of. A bit of editing and it should polish up nicely.

AAAARRRRGGGH! Editing! Don’t even talk about it.

Oh, and one more bonus answer before I go.

11) I’m scared to open my manuscript right now. I wrote a blog post instead.

Image courtesy of tigger11th at FreeDigitalPhotos.net