Colm Holland is a writer, teacher and therapist, publisher of ‘The Alchemist’ in 1993 and author of ‘The Secret of The Alchemist’ in 2020.
2023 is the thirtieth anniversary of the publication of the English language edition of the global bestseller The Alchemist by the Brazilian author, Paulo Coelho. The memory of that event holds a special place in my life because I was probably the first person in Australia to read the manuscript before publication, when I was working at HarperCollins Publishers in 1993.
For those who are unfamiliar with the book or its author, I should say that it is the third best selling book of a living author in the world; with over 160 million copies sold in 70 languages and sits at the top of the charts with Harry Potter and The Da Vinci Code. Of course when I read The Alchemist for the first time, like everyone I had no idea just how successful this book would be; but what I did know was that it was going to be a life-changing book for many people.
I was so convinced of its sales potential that I persuaded my colleagues to abandon printing a small run of an expensive hard-cover edition, that would come later, and go straight to paperback and print thousands more than originally intended and give it all the publicity of a popular crime or romance author by an established author. The result speaks for itself, and considering I had never requested such a risky activity before, I was happy to be vindicated by the incredible sales that have gone on and on for thirty years.
More importantly to me, I also got the chance to meet Paulo Coelho on his first visit to Australia. The story of our encounter is re-told in my book, The Secret of The Alchemist, but I want to say here, that it was one of the most significant turning points in my life and not something I was expecting at the age of forty. Paulo informed me he was a magician, in the spiritual sense, and he was so grateful for my faith in his book he had spent a day of his time working his magic with the universe, so that whatever I truly desired in my life would come to pass; all it required of me was to decide what I really wanted.
To discover what happened next you need to read my book, except I will say the magic he performed has shaped my life and those around me for the better for the last thirty years. Nothing had prepared me for the changes that took place. Where I had previously lacked the courage of my convictions – I now found a new confidence to step out of my comfort zone and take the risks to achieve my dreams. Where I had held back by fear of rejection from allowing myself to be centre stage in my immediate world – I now pushed ahead and found I had so much more to give and it was gratefully received. And finally, where I had previously accepted ‘my lot’ in life – I was now able to shape my destiny and bring joy, wealth and happiness to others, and myself.
Two years ago I finally published my story, full of the insights and benefits I now know can be discovered by taking Paulo’s book, The Alchemist, at face value and enter a life based on the ancient principles of alchemy; the forgotten art of ordinary magic that can be part of anyone’s experience. The pain and joy of personal transformation is all there in his story and it resonates with almost everyone because it is a living myth for our time. Carl Jung asked himself the question one day, ‘What is the myth I am living?’ Is it a tragedy determined by fate or can I choose my own myth; full of adventure, wholeness and joy?’
The Alchemist is the hero’s journey; a metaphor for the journey we all take through life and how we respond to the obstacles and opportunities that we are presented with and the choices we make at each moment. The principles of the ancient art of alchemy provide a guide in the person of the alchemist, a central character in the story, who does not make those choices for us, but supports us at critical times when we need to face our fears and risk all, or so it seems, to move forward towards our treasure, which is the gold of the alchemists.
So whether you read Paulo’s book many years ago, or if you haven’t read my book, can I recommend them both to you if you are at a point where you feel the need to reassess your own myth, and decide if it’s time to rewrite your own story? May the power of unconditional love help you make the right choice.
My own creative journey as a writer is irrevocably linked to the story of my encounter with Paulo Coelho, but it was to be another twenty-four years before I would put pen to paper. In 2016; I was living on the Cote D’Azur and thinking about how my life has been a wonderful alchemical journey and how few people have written about personal transformation from that perspective.
My book The Secret of The Alchemist is the result of three years work that involved the application of the alchemical process to writing a non-fiction book that was part autobiographical; part a critique of the not-so-hidden alchemical references in The Alchemist; part a presentation of the history and processes of the ancient alchemists and part a treatise on the application of alchemical motifs that Carl Jung understood to be present in his own myth of Individuation. In that sense the success of my book is that I was able to use the same principles in the creation of a book that I lived my life by and taught to others in my online school.
The application of my alchemical spiritual process to book writing
My writing process went something like this: ( I should note that I was working full-time as a professional marketing consultant at the same time as writing.)
The Saturation Stage: (In four parts over a period of one year)
- I documented the stages of my own spiritual journey – before and after my encounter with Paulo. Then I chose the transformative moments and built narrative stories around them that are part factual and part interpretative.
- What followed next was a deep dive into the The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho to find the mythological motif of the Hero’s Journey as it relates to the alchemical principle.
- Next up was a lengthy study of ancient alchemy from multiple cultures and schools and a reworking of the key principles that were most relevant to my topic.
- Finally a wide reading of Carl Jung and his not-so-easy to summarise understanding of the psyche’s use of archetypes and mythology and his overarching thinking on the place of myths or fables in our own daily experiences.
The Combustion Stage: (Another year in the making)
- I would then commit to meditating on all the four parts within my unconscious mind as I went to sleep at night and then the moment I began to emerge from sleep in the morning and allowed myself to ‘see’, using my active imagination, the book taking shape in my mind’s eye in progressive stages.
- I would then find whatever time I could in the day to begin the first draft until I was satisfied I had all the components in place.
The Silence Stage. (Three months of waiting and another seven month’s writing)
- When the first draft was complete I sent my manuscript to a trusted professional editor who was spiritually sympathetic to my work and has years of experience in structural editing.
- I waited three months for her to complete the structural edit and when it returned I re-wrote the entire manuscript based on her recommendations. This required the swallowing of pride and the compromise of fixed positions in my mind and the result is a beautifully balanced work that Carl Jung would say was the goal of alchemy.
The Action Stage. (Another year to publication)
- I asked my unconscious for guidance on who to approach to publish my book and an old publishing colleague came to mind and sure enough my book became his company’s lead title for that month.
- Within one month my book was number one, two and four on Amazon.com for Twentieth Century Literature and stayed there in the top ten for three months and still appears in their top 100 out of hundreds of thousands of titles.
- Then followed months of publicity, interviews, articles and posts.
- Hachette Livre – France’s leading publisher translated my book into French and released my book across the French speaking world.
In conclusion, I have found that the spiritual principles that have guided my life for so many years are the same tools I should apply to writing. ‘The Great Work’ as the alchemists called it is the process I have outlined above and I am applying the same principles to my first work of fiction – a three volume historical series – based on the factual existence of Alchemy in Elizabethan England and woven into the fictionalised story of one of my ancestors whose life stretched across eighty years into the early part of the seventeenth century. I am using the same process to create an alchemical magic that I hope people will want to read. If you want to discover the story of my personal spiritual progress then you will need to read my book and I trust you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.