10 questions: John-Michael O'Sullivan, author of The Replacement Girl

Today's featured Unbound author (and therefore stablemate of my upcoming noir thriller East of England) is John-Michael O'Sullivan, who's here to talk about his book The Replacement Girl. No messing, it's straight over to John-Michael for the 10 questions treatment:  

1. Who are you, and what’s your book about?

I’m an architect and journalist, born in Ireland but now based in London. I write about photography, fashion and design for the likes of Esquire and The Observer. And for the past five years, I’ve been working on a book about Barbara Mullen, one of the top models of the Forties and Fifties.

JMOS author pic.jpg

2. Why should folk read your book? 

We tend to take fashion at face value. And that’s particularly true when it comes to models: there are very few books about them, and those that do exist are largely collections of beautiful pictures, of beautiful people, in beautiful clothes. So this is a whole history that’s never been explored. It’s the story of how a profession that barely existed at the start of the 20th century became one of the most exciting, sought-after careers in the world — and the story of the women who became its first stars, a generation of pioneers whose attitudes and aesthetics still shape our notions of beauty today.) 

Most of all, it’s the story of a remarkable character; a girl from working-class Harlem who was catapulted into international society, and who’s always displayed a remarkable knack for being in interesting places at interesting times — from Mad Men-era Manhattan to Paris during couture's golden age, and from Forties Hollywood to life amongst the Sixties jet-set.

3. What’s the appeal of your book?

Quite simply, Barbara! Her story offers a perspective on the world of midcentury fashion that no-one ever thought to explore, from the point of view of a group of women whose opinions were never sought. Also, there will be some beautiful pictures of beautiful people in beautiful clothes.

 Barbara Mullen

Barbara Mullen

4. Sounds great! Where/when can I get hold of a copy?

We’re currently crowdfunding the biography through Unbound, with the aim to publish next year. We’ve just passed the halfway mark — so technically we’re on the home stretch!

5. Describe a typical writing day, or at least a typical day with some writing in it:

By day, I work in a design studio. So writing is the thing I do late at night, slumped on the sofa — or early in the morning, tapping notes into my phone on the Tube to work.

6. Pick one book about writing. What it is and why have you chosen it?

Toni Morrison’s Playing in the Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination — a wonderful exploration of how society shapes language, and of how that affects us both as writers and as readers.

7. Pick three books that have influenced or inspired you as a writer: 

Hermione Lee’s spectacular biography of Virginia Woolf; Norman MacLean’s Young Men and Fire: and Francis Spufford’s I May Be Some Time, which traces Britain’s obsession with polar exploration across the centuries.

8. Pick three desert island books.

The ones I go back to again and again are Graham Swift’s Waterland, Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence — and, ever since I was eight, Alison Uttley’s A Traveller in Time.

9. Any words of writing wisdom?

Always read your text out loud. If it survives that test, it’s safe for the real world . . .

10. Let’s make a movie of your book. Give me the high-concept pitch: 

Love. Hate. Glamour. Betrayal. Success. Tragedy. Frocks.

Social media contacts: 

Twitter: twitter.com/1972projects

Instagram: instagram.com/1972projects

Unbound URL: unbound.com/books/the-replacement-girl

Huge thanks to John-Michael for his time and input. It's well worth having a look at the project's Unbound page, not least for the great array of pledge levels and extras but also for some more incredible photos of Barbara Mullen. Hopefully, you'll be inspired to support the project and make this book a reality! 

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