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My Secret Life: Paulo Coelho, 64, author

'I'm very good at archery'

My parents were... so desperate that I wanted to be a writer that they locked me in a mental institution three times. Thirty-five years later I wrote a book based on this experience [Veronika Decides to Die].

The household I grew up in... doesn't exist anymore, but my childhood will never disappear.

When I was a child I wanted to be... a cameraman.

You wouldn't know it but I am very good at... archery. The gigantic tension before the shooting of an arrow, and the total relaxation seconds later is my way of connecting to the universe.

You may not know it but I'm no good at... singing. However, every time there is a guitar around I will sing, and my real friends will tolerate it.

At night I dream of... what I'm going to post on my blog, Twitter and Facebook.

I wish I had never worn... an old hippie jacket, covered in patches and metal stars.

What I see when I look in the mirror... That I need to change the light bulb, as there is not enough luminosity (this has been going on for the past two years).

My favourite item of clothing... Japanese yukatas [kimonos].

It's not fashionable but I like... to sleep naked.

My favourite work of art... The Arnolfini Portrait by Van Eyck, the most important painting in the world. With all due respect, the Mona Lisa is overrated.

My favourite building... Chartres Cathedral, in France. Original stained-glass windows and a labyrinth that reminds me of the journey we take from life to death.

A book that changed me... Tropic of Cancer, by Henry Miller. It was while reading this that I discovered you need to use blood to write every single page.

Movie heaven... Once Upon a Time in the West, followed by Lawrence of Arabia.

The last album I bought... Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. I did not have it on my iPod.

My greatest regret... I don't have one. I've done everything I wanted to do, even if I have had to pay a very high price – which has been the case most of the time.

My secret crush... Audrey Hepburn.

My real-life villain... Fundamentalists – and you can find them in every single religion on this planet.

The last time I cried... I cry very easily. It can be a movie, a phone conversation, a sunset – tears are words waiting to be written.

My five-year plan... To continue to breathe.

My life in six words... Blessed, pilgrim, archer, writer, internet junkie.


Paulo Coelho was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1947. After enrolling in law school, he dropped out to go travelling. He worked as a songwriter, and in 1974 was arrested for penning 'subversive' lyrics. In 1982 he published his first book, Hell Archives. The Alchemist, his bestselling novel, was published in 1987. In 2009, his book Veronika Decides to Die was made into a film starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, and his latest novel, Aleph, is out now. He and his wife, artist Christina Oiticica, live between Europe and Brazil