"The Archer" - A conversation with Paulo Coelho

Chris Schluep on November 17, 2020

Paulo Coelho is one of the most widely read authors in the world. His books have sold 320 million copies and been translated into more than 150 languages. He is, of course, the author of The Alchemist, but he has published a book a year for decades now. It's a remarkable run. 

His latest is The Archer, which is an allegory about a young man seeking wisdom from an elder, and the practical lessons imparted along the way. I caught up with the author (on Zoom), along with Paul Bogaards, Executive Vice President at Knopf, to talk about the book. Bogaards volunteered his own thoughts on the book, describing it as "A book of affirmation. A book about not surrendering. A book from the heart."

"And focus," added Coelho. "Focus and perseverance."

Here is part of my conversation with Paulo Coelho. 

Chris Schluep, Amazon Book Review: How did the book come to be?

Paulo Coelho: Well, I used to practice archery—for 20 years or more—when I lived in the Pyrenees, in the mountains. And it is fascinating. Once you do it the first time, you get totally addicted. And one day I was in the middle of nowhere, and I crossed a place—and there was the French army there. And I had my bow. I had everything. And I said, my god, I’m going to have a problem. I had a permit. I even had a permit to hunt, which I was not doing. So I walked pretending that I was not to see anybody. All these soldiers. I was pretending that I was alone. So I went far from this place where they were camping. And then all of a sudden a Lieutenant appeared. And I could see him coming—and I said, I'm going to have problems. I'm a foreigner. I have a weapon, because a bow is a weapon. I'm going to have a problem. And then he arrived, and he said. Are you Paulo Coelho? I said, Yes, I am Paulo Coelho. Oh, I love your books. And he said, You do archery? I said yes. He says, why don’t you write a book on archery? Because he also used to go to practice archery. You know, Chris, every single day is five or six suggestions on why not write a book. In this case, I felt some urgency to write a book—on what I was learning. And so, probably ten months later, I wrote the book. But to myself. I did not think about publishing it.

You wrote it but didn't publish it?

I did a self-publishing edition on Amazon.

Really? When was this?

This book was written in 2003 if I’m not wrong. Maybe 2004.

So you wrote this book seventeen years ago? I assume you have the same philosophy now that you had when you wrote the book.

Absolutely. Yes, yes.

Did you write it quickly?

This one was very quickly. I do not remember how long it took, but it was very quickly. Because basically it was my reflections on several steps of archery. But normally I do—I write a book very quickly. For example, The Alchemist I wrote in two weeks. Normally, I go. I sit down. I write. The book is inside me. And I type it out.

Who did the illustrations? Because the illustrations are great.

Yes, the illustrations are great. The guy who did them is Christoph Niemann. He made a lot of New Yorker covers. He is one of the top guys, and probably one of the most famous illustrators here in Europe. But I think he is also well known all over the world. And I love. I love. Very precise. Very clean.

When you were doing archery, had you boiled down the elements of archery in your mind? The bow. The archer. The target. Was everything in the book already in your head before you started writing?

Basically, there are eight steps. You open your legs. We have the bow here. The arrow here. And then you have a few more movements. So it’s only eight steps. It’s something that after some time will become very easy. It’s the bow. The arrow. The target.

But because it’s really stupid to live your life trying to throw an arrow in a paper—into a target on a paper—you have to have something more. I’m not the kind of guy who sits down. I cannot meditate like this. I need action. So archery was the best way to meditate. Archery. Marching. Doing physical things. I cannot just sit there and say Om. I did it in the past—but no, I need action.

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