There have been some questionable attempts at writing about GEM Skues. The latest, the most authoritative by far, confirms just how questionable these attempts have been. G.E.M. Skues. The Man of the Nymph slaps them all aside.
Ten years researching, the celebrated historian (witness FM Halford and The Dry Fly Revolution), Tony Hayter leaves no source, snippet, side-line, secret or stone unturned. Or theory, wrongly set in stone, corrected.
Example? The popular belief that the work on nymphs made by Skues (pronounced Skews, not Skew-ys, according to his great-nephew) was incomplete. That it took Frank Sawyer’s wired depth-charges to round things off. In fact, Skues was careful never to reveal exactly the depth his nymphs sometimes were. Not even during the famous 1938 Debate which Hayter records in scrumptious detail. But not before he had scrupulously traced the origins of his spat with diehard dry-fly purists, back to when Halford had a ‘hypnotic’ effect on the younger Skues.
Why does this book stand tall above others? Because it‘s the work of an historian who is able to paint a meticulous historical background crucial to truly understanding Skues, the ‘man’. It’s the findings of a relentless investigator, a master at laying prying fingers on voluminous unpublished correspondences revealed for the first time – along with primary sources never before used. In particular, Skues’s tellingly personal ‘Notions’ commonplace books in which he scribbled down his most intimate thoughts.
Layered with rigorously researched references and revelations, this biography will be enjoyed on many levels. Historical novel, thriller, detective story – and, yes, romance. Hayter gives a keyhole insight into the secret loves of this shy (balding) solicitor, who wrote that his “ugliness” resulted in him “adopting the conclusion that lady killing is not my vocation”.
In a study of the ‘pain of rejection’, Hayter reveals that there were actually women in this confirmed bachelor’s life. Two, in fact. One he enjoyed admiring in a cathedral, the other in a church. Neither with any desire to show him affection, only the back of their heads. Or, if he sneaked forward a few pews, a profile per chance. Clearly, not nymphomaniacs.
G.E.M. Skues, The Man of the Nymph
By Tony Hayter
Robert Hale London