Paulo Coelho: I honestly don’t know why The Alchemist did so well

Paulo Coelho IWC

Paulo Coelho IWC

Author Paulo Coelho talks to Metro about the success of his novel The Alchemist, being the second most influential person on Twitter behind Justin Bieber and his new book Aleph.

What’s Aleph about?

My experience on the Trans-Siberian Railway. I was thinking: ‘I’m already a very successful author, I don’t need to do anything,’ and was feeling something was wrong. I travelled for three months. I started in London in 2006 and ended up in Vladivostok – just to get in contact with my soul.

Did you learn anything about yourself?

You’re always learning. The problem is, sometimes you stop and think you understand the world. This is not correct. The world is always moving. You never reach the point you can stop making an effort.

Were there any revelations along the way?

Of course. Just from meeting people – a taxi driver, for example – or finding a book. I’m open to life and during this period I was open to new experiences. When you don’t follow the rule your parents impose – ‘don’t talk to strangers’ – you learn.

Do any experiences stand out?

I met a reader, 21 years old, who insisted she had many things to talk to me about. We met on the train and there was this connection between her, me and my books. I was old enough to be her grandfather but there is no age limit for people to act as a catalyst in your life.

People seem to experience spiritual revelations in exotic locations – can you have one on the way to work?

Of course. I don’t take the Trans-Siberian every day but I try to give every day the opportunity for these experiences. If you’re open to people on your way to work, it can happen. Or you can choose to be totally inwards and think only of yourself. You have to live in the moment.

What do your readers expect from your books?

I don’t know. I never write books with this question in mind. I only write to understand myself better. I talk to my readers on social networking sites but I never tell them what the book is about. Writing is lonely, so from time to time I talk to them on the internet. It’s like chatting at a bar without leaving your office. I talk with them about a lot of things other than my books.

Do you have any writing habits?

It’s as Lewis Carroll said: start at the beginning, go to the end, then stop. That’s how I write. I write quickly. I don’t try to show how intelligent or how cultivated I am, I just try to share my soul. Sharing is part of life.

You came to writing later in life – why did it take you so long?

I wanted to write when I was young but people said it was impossible. Then my parents locked me in a mental institution – they said I was crazy and would never make a living from writing. I learned you need to cross some bridges and destroy others. I was never going to live up to my parents’ dream that I’d be an engineer. My turning point was a pilgrimage in 1986 to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I was 40 and had a dream of becoming a writer but I was postponing it, thinking I’d be defeated. I walked for 56 days, then thought: ‘Now is the time to start writing.’ Success didn’t come overnight. It took years for my books to be translated and The Alchemist was rejected by publishers. You need to fight for what you believe.

Why has The Alchemist done so well?

That’s the one-million-dollar question. I honestly don’t know. It’s a metaphor for my own life and by writing about it I touched a nerve with other people. It’s the most translated book by a living author. I could never dream it would be that widely read. I don’t know why and I don’t care to know – it would break the magic.

You’ve been called the second most influential person on Twitter after Justin Bieber – are you tempted to use your power for evil?

Everyone is responsible for what he or she writes. You can have destructive trolls but, if you are convinced about what you do, you don’t care what they say. This is important for a writer.

Do people send abusive tweets?

I don’t have many trolls. When you write an article about anything, trolls use the comments to attack. They feel frustrated – but haters are losers. It’s not good to feed this aspect. It’s more intelligent to be constructive.

Do you read reviews?

I read and save them. I have more than 40GB of reviews – good and bad. I’m never bothered by a bad review or I’d have stopped writing 15 years ago. Praise or criticism only lasts three or four days.

Why do you save them?

Eventually, after I die, people will still read my books and maybe someone will want to write about the times of my work so they’ll need to read what I’ve experienced. It’s not a rose garden.

What’s been your most extravagant purchase?

When I was a hippy, I spent all my money on an air ticket to Europe. I bought an aeroplane in 2006 and travelled like a fool that year just to use it. Recently I’ve stopped travelling – but still have the plane, just in case.

The Alchemist is one of 25 titles that form World Book Night on Monday.

Published in the Metro, a London free paper that litters the streets.

I wonder why these hacks always ask such brain-dead puerile questions? I guess because they are used to interviewing brain-dead celebrities about their worthless lives and they would not have anything interesting to say. It would help if the hack read the books, did a little background research, actually knew something about the subject. But on the plus side not as bad as many of these dumb interviews.

Who is Justin Bieber? Does anyone care?

Last month Montegrappa celebrated their centenary, 1912-2012, with the launch of the Alchemist pen, a collaboration between Montegrappa and Paulo Coelho. A limited edition of 1,987 pens to mark the year The Alchemist was published.

The Alchemist is one of the Top Ten most read books in the world.

Aleph was published in hardback last September in the UK. It is now available in paperback.

On World Book Night a million books will be given away. Twenty-five titles. The Alchemist is one of the titles that will be given away. Other titles include: Pride and Prejudice, The Player of Games, A Tale of Two Cities, Rebecca, Small Island, The Book Thief.

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