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In Memoriam: George Kearton


George Kearton: 1950-2022

With great sadness, I must report that George Kearton, author of SLP favourite The House of Stuart Sequence as well as various short stories published by the company, died last week at the age of 72.


George was one of our best writers, who contributed much to both Sea Lion Press as a company and Alternate History as a genre. His The House of Stuart Sequence is an ambitious and intelligent Alternate History that deserves to be long remembered. But even more than that he was a polite and decent man, who was a delight in all his dealings with us and who provided a huge amount of support and encouragement to younger writers on our forum.


He will be deeply missed by all of us here at SLP. Our thoughts are with his remaining family.


Our Managing Director, Tom Black, has the following to say.


"I can still remember my first conversation with George. Running Sea Lion Press usually means getting to know authors by email, a perfectly fine way of doing things of course, but occasionally a bit formal for some people’s liking. George was clearly one of those people, for he asked if we could speak by phone not long after we first made contact.


As the agreed time approached, I became a little nervous - George was the very first author to approach Sea Lion Press after encountering us ‘in the wild’ rather than being part of the existing AlternateHistory.com community. Would we meet his expectations?


I needn’t have worried. As became clear within moments of the call beginning, George was warm, funny, entirely unpretentious but never at the expense of his work as an author. He wrote for the love of it, and anyone who read his work could see it. That night I also spoke with his beloved wife Norma, whose loss I know was painful to him in the extreme. Norma was equally friendly and helpful as we worked through the evening to iron out the details of agreeing George’s work for publication.


In the years since that first conversation, George and I communicated regularly as Sea Lion Press published the not three, not four, but nine volumes of his House of Stuart Sequence. Whether discussing the cover illustrations by Jack Tindale (George was always very impressed and eager to thank Jack), or going over what unfolded in each latest volume, our interactions were a joy. Inevitably, I now wish we’d had more.


The House of Stuart Sequence, of course, relates to a different path for the British crown in the 18th century and beyond. It was a subject George had long been well-versed in. But not only a great authority on Scottish and Jacobite history, George was also a formidable generalist. In addition to the British Isles, he was able to weave imaginative tales of alternate North Americas, Asias and Africas as well.


When news reached the Sea Lion Press forums of George’s death, the response spoke to what a positive impact he had made on our community. He may not have come from the various websites it was drawn from in the first place, but he became a valued member thanks to his kindness, determination to offer useful feedback to other authors, and vast general knowledge - much of it drawn from experience gained during a life substantially less ordinary. He will be sorely missed - perhaps never more than when one of the many topics he could offer insight into is now discussed without him.


My thoughts and those of the whole SLP community are with George’s family and friends at this time. I have no doubt that he and Norma will find each other on the other side."


Shortly before his death, George conducted an interview with this blog about his work and what he was planning to do in the future. There is something dreadfully bitter about reading about the works he was planning that will now never be written but I enjoyed the insight that the answers gave me into George and so, in the hope of extending that insight, that interview is shared below, unedited, as a tribute to the man in his own words.


May he rest in peace.

 

Hello George and thanks so much for talking to us. First of all, how did you get into Alternate History and what appeals you about the genre?


The starting point was quite mundane. An otherwise unremarkable GCE ‘A’ level history lesson at Leigh Grammar School in 1966 Lancashire was livened up by two sets of remarks from our teacher, Mr Johnson (God Rest Him).


“Beware of all printed history books - they’re always written by the winners” was, I now realise, an exhortation to seek out other, dare I say ‘alternative’, information sources. Not an easy task in pre-internet days but one which, I subsequently realised, was highly enjoyable.


“The two most exciting words in the study of history are ‘what if’. The two saddest, especially if used retrospectively, are ‘if only’." These words were the starting gun! All the history I would read thereafter would be coloured by them. And, dangerously, a mantra of potential consequences started to emerge, starting with the American Revolution.


No American Revolution = possibly no French Revolution = possibly no Napoleonic Wars = a possibly slower pace of German Unification(which, possibly leads to a stronger Russia, more dominant in Eastern Europe) = possibly no Franco-Prussian War = possibly no World War One = possibly no World War Two.


Such potential changes, even without considering changes to Great Britain itself, were breathtaking and I avidly sought out all and any any works of fiction which told of such changes -- not, of course, that there was a lot about!


The appeal? Mental stimulation obviously but also a feeling that history as it had turned out was less attractive and vibrant than it could have been. I was, and still am, reminded of the words spoken by Peter O’Toole in the musical “Man of La Mancha” - ‘maddest of all is to see life as it is, not as it should be’.


You're the Author of the epic nine volume House of Stuart saga published through SLP. Was it always intended to be such a large story or did it grow in the telling?

The original intention was for a single volume (“The Year of The Prince”) telling of how the Jacobites could have been successful in 1745. By the time I was half way through however, I was realising that how the Stuarts might have regained the throne was potentially overshadowed by an exploration of what they might have actually done as rulers and what they would have to do to ensure their success was permanent.


I’d skimmed a stone into a lake and truthfully didn’t realise how far the ever-widening ripples would or could extend!


Thus, volume two, “The King Shall Have His Own Again”, which I actually started before volume one was finished. That, however, produced even more and wider ripples. Volume three took the story into the 19th century and by now, the ripples were world-wide.


I’ve always been angry with authors who leave their readers hanging in mid-air so there seemed little alternative but to tell the story on, however many volumes it took, and see where and how far it might go. In this decision I was greatly buoyed by positive comments, not just within SLP but also from a wider readership. Read on, however, for comments from two readers who, I don’t think, have “got it”.


(Note to potential authors who have read this far - “Mind the ripples”)


By now determined to leave as few loose ends as possible it was important to choose a finish date for this imagined history. 1945 was chosen for two reasons; it is a not insignificant date in our Timeline and it would/could/should have been the 200th anniversary of a Stuart Restoration. 1945 also, for many people , represents the start of our “modern world” and, as someone who believes the term “modern history” to be oxymoronic, I was determined not to take the story further. For some reason I feel uncomfortable changing the history I have grown up with and personally witnessed. Perhaps this is because I haven’t the imagination to introduce even more changes into the bizarre nature of life as it actually is in 2022 in our Timeline!


In terms of style, one of the things you note in the introduction is you wanted to have it read like a history book rather than a novel with 'For Want of a Nail' named as a stylistic inspiration. What about that style appealed to you and what has been the reaction to it?

As you note, my inspiration was Sobel’s classic AH work, “For the want of a Nail”. This has, as its point of departure, a different victor in a particular battle in the American War of Independence and everything Sobel recounts thereafter stems from this in a consequential manner. I admired the discipline of this and felt that the inclusion of invented dialogue would have weakened the storyline. Thus, there is little dialogue in “The Sequence”, quite deliberately. Equally, there are relatively few invented characters; a putative ancestor for my late wife in volume one and all blood members of the House of Stuart after “Bonnie Prince Charlie”. Those who marry into the House of Stuart however, are all historical personages from our timeline. I have taken massive liberties with their lifespan details of course and (SLP Staff) Tom Black, Edward Feery and Jack Tindale, none of whom can be described as fictional, also make cameo appearances.


Here, I hope, is my chance to have a rant about Amazon and their understanding and definition of alternative history!


The case I have in mind is that of the “Sharpe” sequence of novels, set in and around the Napoleonic Wars. They all appear, regularly, in the AH section of Amazon’s rankings and yet, for all his derring-do, Richard Sharpe does not affect historical outcomes one jot and might just as well be a mere spectator. His adventures are historical fiction but not alternative history and it appears Amazon don’t know there is, or should be, a difference.


Of course Amazon are not the only people who don’t get it; one reader wrote to tell me that the House of Stuart Sequence was “too fantastical”, inquiring, without an ounce of malice, whether I didn’t realise that the Jacobites had actually lost the battle of Culloden. This is perhaps a similar syndrome to that exhibited by the people who ring up Greater Manchester police to report a serious accident in Weatherfield’s Coronation Street. The other, rather strange, comment was from the person who accused me of writing “a Stuart Wank” - I am still awaiting a translation of that!


How close do you think the 45 rising was to succeeding in actual history?


The jury is still out on this one! Christopher Duffy, the doyen of present-day Jacobite historians, devotes space to an examination of the possibilities in his monumental work “The ’45” and his later reappraisal “The Fight for a Throne” also covers this ground.


Several things are, however certain - if you believe the history books.

The major opposition to the Jacobite invasion of England did not come from the British Government; it came from the Clan Chiefs serving with the Prince. In a proto-Nationalist way, they were happy with an independent Scottish Crown under a Stuart monarch. That had been secured at Prestonpans so why advance into England about which the Clans could not have cared less.


There were rumours that the Duke of Cumberland was leading a large Hanoverian army towards Derby but, it is generally acknowledged now, these rumours were just that, put about by Hanoverian agent Dudley Bradstreet. London was certainly in a panic; George III was preparing to leave for Hanover, the Bank of England was already engaging with the Jacobites and made sure that the invaders carried with them printing blocks for new promissory notes; this they did, new blocks having been etched in Edinburgh before the invasion started. A majority of the Councillors in the City of London were said to be preparing for the arrival of the Prince and his army and, throughout Kent and along the coast, weapons were being distributed to Jacobite supporters by local “Free Traders” (for which, read “Smugglers” - the Exciseman was viewed as a Hanoverian evil).


Best estimate is that the Jacobites could indeed have taken London - but could they have held it? That’s the true “what if” of the ’45.


What inspired you to write a story about that rising succeeding?


As has already been recounted in the SLP blog, my initial interest in the Stuarts was as subject matter for a forthcoming children's musical. As I researched more deeply I became more and more fascinated. Here was a ruling family who so often almost achieved something near to greatness only to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory. Not for nothing have historians dubbed them the unluckiest Royal family in history.


What are your plans for the future in terms of writing, now you have the House of Stuart story finished?

I am currently at work on “The Celtic Trilogy”.

Volume one - “A Nation Once Again” - will be published by Sea Lion Press later this year.

Volume two - “Too Much England” is plotted out and writing has started with a target deadline of next Spring.


Volume three - as yet untitled - is plotted out.


Despite my disdain for “modern history” I also plan to revisit the landscape of my short story “WN2” which appeared in the SLP anthology “Remain Means Remain”. There is a full-length novel lurking somewhere within it!

 
 

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