I’ve written once or twice about my attempts at a novella or novel (I’m still not sure how it will end up – it began as a short story). About a week ago, reading a short bio of my blogger friend Iulia Halatz on the blog of the literary collective Sudden Denouement I saw she said she was much influenced by W Somerset Maugham, which tempted me to pick up his “masterpiece” – Of Human Bondage. It’s a long book for me; I’m about two thirds through now at about chapter 80.

Autobiographical?

Without reading anything about the novel it seemed to me to be largely autobiographical and seemed in many ways to be similar to my attempts at a longer story. I have said more than once that my fictional writing is not entirely fiction, my factual writing is not always strictly true. Somerset Maughan said “Fact and fiction are so intermingled in my work that now, looking back on it, I can hardly distinguish one from the other.”

That gave me some hope.

The necessity of personal experience

One of the things which has struck me forcibly is that his descriptions of his main character’s (Philip’s) times in London, around the turn of the century, indicate that it was not substantially different to ‘my’ London of around half a century later, despite two world wars. It is of course a lot different now. Perhaps the biggest difference between Somerset Maugham’s fictional London and mine is the attitude to the ‘gentleman’, the professional and the tradesman.

Initial boredom

As for his novel, I found the first 25-30 chapters – about Philip’s school days – boring. I think a chapter or two would have done. However, after that his times in London, Heidelberg and Paris, and the attempts at art, accountancy and medicine, I found fascinating and it is clear that the author was writing from experience. It reinforced my belief you should only write from experience, laying creativity over that; no amount of research can substitute in my opinion. I’ve been to both Heidelberg and Paris more than once but could never set a story in either; even my small reference to a visit to Paris in my tale wouldn’t be there if I had never been there and knew the event written about could have happened (it could not now).

What I have gained most from my reading of Somerset Maugham so far is an idea of where to go in my story and if it leads where I think it might lead it could well become a novel rather than a novella.