The Secret of The Alchemist

The Secret of The Alchemist by Colm Holland is the first book to expose the real meanings buried within the bestselling The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. In this article, Colm gives an insight into the ‘magic secret’ and how it changed his life beyond all recognition.

by Colm Holland

Over 20 years ago, I was part of the team that published The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, with sales to date of over 86 million copies in 70 languages. When I met Paulo, however, he was an author unknown outside of Brazil, with books published only in Portuguese. I read the story of Santiago the shepherd boy, who follows his dream of finding treasure in the desert, and instantly knew – because of my own spiritual journey up to that moment – that it would become a global sensation. I persuaded my colleagues to give the book the highest level of marketing spend we could afford and the rest, as they say, is history.

When I met Paulo in person, in those early days soon after the book was released, he said he wanted to thank me with a gift, in gratitude for my passion and vision for his book. The gift was not what I expected, and you can read an account of our magical encounter in the excerpt to follow. The magic gift he gave me was to change the course of the rest of my life and ultimately led to my writing The Secret of The Alchemist, which is my account of the deep and life changing spiritual lessons I discovered – including ‘the secret’ – buried within Paulo’s novel.

As I began to dig for this secret, I unearthed a new courage to face my fear and follow my dream, and within a short space of time I managed to do so. But the road to that newfound success did not come cheap – it required a complete transformation of my inner self.

On the other hand, the effect was to restart an inner spiritual journey that I had put on pause for many years and led me to begin to value the uniqueness of what I had to offer the world – I found my inner treasure. Most importantly, I discovered that Alchemy is all about transformation toward true empowerment and draws upon the greatest power of all: to convert seemingly insurmountable obstacles into life changing experiences.

Our chance of successfully living our lives with true fulfilment are often hampered by any number of obstacles – visible and invisible. My best example of overcoming an obstacle to my living life to the full – and believe me, there are plenty to choose from – is when I discovered my inner child in the cupboard of my unconscious.

When I was a toddler, I had a real-life Harry Potter experience of spending time locked in an understair cupboard. The consequence was an angry and frustrated inner boy who was controlling my thoughts and emotions as an adult. His power was so great that he had my life set on a path of self-destruction.

By using the process outlined in the ancient wisdom of Alchemy, as interpreted by Carl Jung – another devoted alchemist – I found a way to give voice to the inner boy and give him the attention and love he had been denied. Slowly and gently, I experienced a healing of the pain he had encountered and finally, instead of being an obstacle to my emotional progress, he became my greatest asset. It’s that boy who became the writer I am today.

My greatest weakness became my most treasured strength. This is the power of spiritual alchemy, and it is within reach of anyone looking for greater power and control over their thoughts, emotions and their life. It requires one very special ingredient: the power of unconditional love that surrounds and is within us, leading us on to fulfil our dreams. This can be your experience too, and to assist you in unearthing and believing again in your dreams, I have made this blessing for everyone who reads my book:
“As you read The Secret of The Alchemist, I have asked the magical power of Love to give you everything you need to be the alchemist in your world.”

Colm Holland, 2020

What follows is an extract from the preface to The Secret of the Alchemist by Colm Holland.

In 1993, I was a member of the international marketing team at one of the world’s leading publishers in Australia. On Fridays of every week, I received a pile of manuscripts in the mail from our editorial department in San Francisco. It was my job to review and decide which upcoming books we should distribute ‘down under’.

These books were part of our New Age list, and back then there was only a fledgling market for these in Australian bookshops. The best sellers of the day were mostly sports biographies, gruesome crime fiction, action thrillers and racy romance novels. How times have changed.

In one such pile of esoteric manuscripts, I was struck by the cover art of a title called The Alchemist, a novel by Paulo Coelho, a then-unknown Brazilian author. The notes to the book explained that this was the first English translation of the original Portuguese text. The cover design was a strikingly colorful and naive drawing of a one-eyed figure in traditional Arabian dress and a young pilgrim against a purple background.

I instantly found it mesmerizing. So much so, in fact, that I broke my rule of not taking work home at the weekend and slipped the manuscript into my briefcase as I closed the door on another long week in my office. It was after lunch on Sunday afternoon when I remembered the manuscript. I set myself up on my garden chair under the shade of a large gum tree in our backyard at home in Sydney to read a few pages.

The sun set and the light faded on the final page of the manuscript as I completed the read in one sitting. There was no doubt in my mind I had just read a book that would become an international bestseller. Here was a simple story of a young shepherd named Santiago who is able to find a treasure beyond his wildest dreams. Along the way, he learns to listen to his heart and, more importantly, realizes that his dreams are not just his but part of the ‘soul of the world’.

The following Monday, I was on the phone to my colleague in California (waking him at home at seven o’clock in the morning). “Hi Colm,” he muttered, “It’s great to hear from you, but can’t it wait at least until after I’ve had my first coffee?”

“I want twenty thousand copies in paperback, and a backup print run of at least thirty thousand ready for when that sells out.” I could hear him gasp and half choke on a mouthful of coffee.

“Tell me more about Paulo Coelho.” I ignored his pleas for consideration. I was convinced we were sitting on a once-in-a-lifetime literary phenomenon. My colleague turned on his coffee grinder, and over the noise he began to explain that Paulo was a well-known author in Brazil. His books were in Portuguese, and The Alchemist was a local success. Our firm had bought the world rights.

“The plan is to release a small print run in hardcover and see how the English language market responds,” he explained. “How many do you want? Two hundred or three hundred copies?” He was used to those sorts of numbers from Australia. Without hesitation I told him, “I want twenty thousand copies in paperback, and a backup print run of at least thirty thousand ready for when that sells out.” I could hear him gasp and half choke on a mouthful of coffee.

“Colm, are you serious?”

“You’ve read the book. You know I’m right!”

“OK, I’ll see what the rest of the English-speaking territory thinks of your assessment. Now hang up and let me take a shower, or I’ll be late for the office!”

My colleague had published hundreds of books and was skeptical of outlandish sales predictions and print runs. Publishers quickly lose money from that sort of unreasoned behavior. However, he was a man of his word. He called me back three days later and said we were going to print one hundred thousand copies – and that most of my global colleagues agreed with me that this book had a great chance of selling well.

Within the first month of publication, the entire quantity had sold out of the bookstores and the book has since gone on to sell over eighty-five million copies worldwide. The Alchemist has been translated into more than eighty languages and remains a New York Times bestseller twenty-five years after its initial publication. Paulo has more than twenty-eight million Facebook followers and fifteen million Twitter followers. Like millions of people, including broadcaster Oprah Winfrey, President Bill Clinton, actor Will Smith and more recently the singer Pharrell Williams, The Alchemist has influenced my life. For me, the influence came not just from reading the book, but from meeting its author.

Paulo Coelho had become an overnight literary sensation across the world. In Australia soon after publication, he received his first English language review and was invited to keynote at the annual Adelaide Writers’ Festival, where he was greeted with huge acclaim. On his way home to Brazil, Paulo and his wife Christina stopped by Sydney and graciously invited Naomi, our head of publicity, along with me and our respective partners, to a thank-you meal.

I was excited for two reasons. It was only the second time in my career that an author had taken the trouble to thank me like this personally, and to spend time with such a creative spirit was an unmissable opportunity.

“Where are we meeting tonight, and how many are going?” I asked Naomi, as I stuck my head inside her office the afternoon of the meal.

“I’ve booked the Waterfront for 8PM, and it’s just the four of us with Paulo and his wife. He said to book the best restaurant in town.” Naomi smiled.

“Wow! That’s very generous.” I was especially pleased there would only be a small group of us. So often, author dinners were dominated by a host of must-be-invited company executives.

“And Paulo said he has a surprise for us both,” Naomi said with a wink. My sense of anticipation was growing by the second. “I can’t wait. See you there!”

I had no doubt we had just witnessed a moment of true sincerity which was infinitely more valuable than any material gift…

The evening was everything I had hoped for. The six of us chatted and shared stories together over a wonderful meal as if we were lifelong friends. Paulo was a warm hearted and generous host, and obviously very in love with his wife, Christina. He took a genuine interest in each of us, asking about our families, our hopes and aspirations. The three hours flew by, and I was sad when things started to draw to a close. I had completely forgotten about the surprise Naomi had mentioned.

“Before we all depart, I want to express my sincere thanks to my two new friends, Naomi and Colm,” Paulo said as he reached inside his jacket for a small gift-wrapped box. He placed the present in front of Naomi. “This,” he exclaimed, “is a small token of thanks for all the care and attention you gave me and Christina in Adelaide this week. I asked God, and Christina, what you would like. I hope they got it right.” He smiled his famous boyish grin.

For once Naomi was speechless, and I detected a tear in her eye. The table was silent as she carefully unwrapped the box to reveal an amazing diamond dress ring. She was genuinely shocked and as she struggled to hold back her emotions, it seemed exactly what she would have wanted. Naomi was the one of the best publicity managers I have ever worked with. She went the second mile on a regular basis for all her authors. It was as if Paulo’s gift was given on behalf of the hundreds who had failed to say thanks so generously.

I was shaken out of my joy for Naomi by Paulo’s voice, which I suddenly realized was directed at me. “Colm, what can I say?” His words hung in the air. His smile turned to a more serious look as he continued. “I heard about that early morning phone call you made to California, and the belief you placed in my book. If you’d not done that, we would not be sitting here tonight. I was unknown outside Brazil and you helped to change that. For this I will always be grateful.”

Now it was my turn to be speechless. When I made that call to California, I had believed I was simply doing my job and that this truly was a great book. I also knew that others would agree with my judgment and, without feeling smug, it was good to know I had been right.

“Thanks Paulo,” I finally managed to say, “but I can’t take the credit for the fact that you wrote a wonderful book.”

“Even so, Colm, you caught the vision of what I had written, and so I have asked God how I could thank you.” Now he had me guessing. I caught my wife’s eye, and she looked as clueless as I felt while we waited to hear God’s answer. Would he reach into his jacket a second time and produce a mystery gift?

Paulo’s focus was unchanged as he continued to look me in the eyes. “I’ve spent many hours asking God what I should give you, and I was told to spend a whole day of my time to call on the universe to give you everything you need to become the alchemist in your world, so that whatever you want will come to pass.” He paused for a moment as if he was recalling the miracle he had performed. He continued, “All you need is to decide what you want.”

He fell silent and it was as if something tangible and yet invisible had been called into being right there at the table. I had no doubt we had just witnessed a moment of true sincerity which was infinitely more valuable than any material gift. Almost, dare I say, as if God had just spoken.

Paulo broke the mystical moment he had just created. He stood and began to shake our hands and said they must be going, early flights to catch and thanks for a wonderful evening all round; and he was gone.

I was in a daze. We congratulated Naomi on her beautiful ring and made our way home. As we drove along the freeway, I remember asking my wife Ann what she thought about what Paulo had said. She wisely replied, “It doesn’t matter what I think, it’s what you think that counts.” And that was the problem. At that moment I had no idea what I thought, except that something completely unique had just taken place. What if Paulo was right? What if he had performed a miracle on my behalf, and the universe would give me everything I needed to achieve whatever I wanted?

My very next thought was, “What do I really want in my life?” The answer came instantly from deep within my soul: “I want to fulfill all my dreams.”

Find out more

Author Colm Holland spent twenty-five years working in sales and marketing in the publishing industry. He was a member the Harper Collins team which published Paul Coelho’s The Alchemist in 1993. Colm teaches the art of alchemy in everyday life, and he has devoted his life to true empowerment through inner transformation. He lives in Somerset, UK.


The Secret of The Alchemist by Colm Holland, published by O-BOOKS, RRP £9.99

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