Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho (English translation: Alan R. Clarke)
Publication date: 1988
For this year’s Book Diaries, in a departure from my usual focus, instead of being inspired in a random fashion, I’m looking for inspiration that I can take to my writing. (See my general blog to find out why I’m doing this.)
An Andalusian shepherd boy has a recurring dream about treasure awaiting him at the Egyptian pyramids, and sets out on a journey across sea and desert to pursue his quest. Along the way he meets both friends and foes, loses his way and finds it again – and learns how to listen to his heart and stay true to his dreams.
- Read more information on Goodreads.
- Find the book in a library near you (worldwide).
- Support local bookshops (UK): buy the book from Hive.
What did I find out?
It may seem slightly prosaic to say that I was surprised to discover this book was only published in 1988. It’s held iconic status on the fringes of my consciousness for a long time now, and I’d convinced myself it had been written decades ago. OK, I realise that 1988 is nearly 30 years ago – so it’s not exactly yesterday – but it’s the year I went to university (and also the year my mother was the same age as I am now, which is not a little unnerving), and recently I’ve been struggling quite significantly with the recognition that so much time has already passed in my life.
So this realisation has given me an enhanced sense of the book’s message: that we need to follow our dreams if we are truly to fulfil our destiny. Just because I am older than I would like to be, and haven’t yet achieved everything I know I’d like to achieve in my life, doesn’t mean it’s too late. On the contrary: having that awareness that time is passing gives me an increased sense of urgency to get the hell on with it.
I’m still not entirely sure what my dream or destiny is, but I do know that the clock is ticking…
What do I now see differently?
Oddly, The Alchemist didn’t make me see things differently so much as reinforce something I’ve believed for some time but which I’ve recently been questioning. This is the emphasis on spotting omens to guide your path through life as you seek your ‘treasure’ (destiny): the boy regularly pauses on his journey to look for signs to help him decide what to do next, and it is by following the signs/omens that he is able to stay on track and pursue his quest to its successful conclusion.
While I don’t believe in waiting for an external power to tell me what to do, I do believe – very strongly – that what we call omens, signs or ‘messages from the universe’ are in fact indications of what is going on in our subconscious, or our gut. When something is truly important to us, when we know deep down what we are seeking, we see reminders of it everywhere: the trick is to look out for these reminders, and to recognise them for what they are when they appear.
This quote from page 96 of my edition (HarperCollins, 2012) sums it up for me:
He knew that any given thing on the face of the earth could reveal the history of all things. One could open a book to any page, or look at a person’s hand; one could turn a card, or watch the flight of the birds… whatever the thing observed, one could find a connection with his experience of the moment. Actually, it wasn’t that those things, in themselves, revealed anything at all; it was just that people, looking at what was occurring around them, could find a means of penetration to the Soul of the World.
The reference to opening ‘a book to any page’ in fact describes exactly what I am trying to do with the Quick Lit Fix: helping people tune in to their subconscious desires by connecting with random words that will have a unique meaning for them because of their own unique life experiences. Recently I’ve been doubting whether this is just a load of ‘cod psychology’ – but reading this novel has made me realise that it is not, and that I am not alone.
It seems that The Alchemist has acted as my own omen for staying true to my purpose. How about that for synchronicity?
How will this inspire my writing?
I’ve been trying for a while now to write up a more detailed exploration of how I use books to help me tune in to my subconscious and stay on track with what I want out of life. This had fallen by the wayside, but I recently decided I’d have another crack at it. Reading The Alchemist, as you’ll see from the preceding paragraph, has reminded me that this is important to me, that it is not a waste of time, and that I need to keep at it. So I will recognise my ‘omen’ for what it is, and make a renewed effort to continue this work.
Secondly, as the novel is described (on the cover of my edition, at least) as ‘a fable about following your dream’, it has re-ignited another latent idea of mine. In my last post I stated that I would start going to my local open mic night again, with the ultimate aim of performing my own work. I now recall that I once had the idea of writing alternative fairytales or fables – and it might now be fun to give these a try, with a view to performing them at Voicebox.
A musical interlude
This track came to mind before I’d even finished reading the book. It’s from one of my favourite bands of all time, and expresses the sentiments of the novel perfectly, thus presenting another beautiful example of synchronicity.