Today’s Question by the reader : Betsy

I do have one question about your book The Alchemist. The person who referred it to me is a LT. Col. in an Army over in Pakistan and said how you discribed the desert life was very much so. How did you know? Was it through experience? Curious… He has read the book 10 times now.

I had been to Egypt before writing The Alchemist. But to be honest with you much of the inspiration for the description of the desert came to me from tales of the Desert Priests, the Bible and of course Arabic tales.
Truth can be easily recognised as long as your heart is open to it. Hence of the miracle of literature – and my constant effort in letting myself be guided by it.


  1. Cristina says:

    In Italy lived in the last century a writer whose name is Emilio Salgari.
    He always lived in his town in Itlay, and died young, but he read much about exotic countries, so he wrote wonderful books for children about India, Malaysia, Pirates of Caribbeans, and so on.
    He wrote about pirates suche as he was a pirate.
    This just because his mind was perfectly alligned to the characters and the plots.
    His life shows us, such as for Paulo Coelho, the power of our mind.
    love Chris

  2. Saqib says:

    I have read this book, it has a nice description of desert, well frankly telling you to feel the desert you have to be in it then you can feel its magic, it is feeling which cannot be explained. you feel it in you running like blood in your veins.

  3. Betsy says:

    Thanks for taking the time to answer my question. It was greatly appreciated.
    My brother was staioned in Egypt and Iraq during the 1990’s. He too said it was very close to the mark about the desert.
    I suppose many have a respect for the desert life because you have to be strong to endure it.
    Once more thanks,

  4. sheng says:

    Yes I agree…It’s like giving advice to someone which is in doubt about a certain situation. You can think better what is right and best to do for the situation, than the person who’s confused with his situation. cheers!

  5. Carolena says:

    I love the Alchemist!! :D

  6. THELMA says:

    An interesting question, dear Betsy. Thank you.
    A wonderful, honest answer, dear Paulo Coelho, which made my heart feel honoured for knowing you.. The inspiration. ;]

  7. Savita Vega says:

    Again, your words are so encouraging, and so refreshing, Paulo. They are so contrary to what I have been taught, and yet they are everything that I WANT to believe. I once had a creative writing professor whose motto was “write only what you know.” By this, he meant, never attempt to write about any people, place or event that is outside of your realm of personal experience. If, for example, I had tried to write a piece that was set in the desert, never having lived in the desert myself (just visiting there would not have been considered enough), he would have insisted I throw it out and write something else. Similarly, historical novels, in his eyes, were the exclusive domain of historians – to be written only by those who are experts in the history and culture of a particular period.

    I took classes with this professor for four years and was still in his presence for another four years after that, so, the influence he had upon me and upon my understanding of writing was not small. He deeply impressed me. Even today I grapple with his declaration: Write only what you know! Part of me believes this, simply because I heard it so much, because it was stamped in my mind by repetition. And yet the world and life are so large – often I am drawn to write about things that extend beyond my personal experience. Trying to refrain from doing this is like being in a straightjacket. I struggle to get out of it. But I’ve been told that this straightjacket is for my own good, because if I try to write anything beyond what I know, it will never sound believable to the reader.

    You are an obvious example that this is not true. You write of the desert, never having lived there yourself, basing your description of desert life only upon what you have encountered in literature. I read a lot, but most often non-fiction. Frequently I read about the cultures and histories, the religions and mythologies of other times and other peoples. My mind travels a lot. But I am always hesitant to incorporate any of this knowledge into my writing, because it doesn’t come from personal experience: it is not “what I know.” But now, having read your statement, I am a bit less hesitant.

    Thank you, Paulo. You are a great teacher!