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The Man on the Rubber Balloon
or Optimism

April 2022

Would you travel halfway around the world to discover the secret of life? Max Hansell did, and he was never quite the same.  

Cheated and dumped by his dishonest employer, Max escapes recession-hit London to trek to the source of the Amazon River. He is determined to start life afresh, but disaster follows and before long he finds himself in the world of drug cartels, cocaine labs, corruption and torture deep in the Bolivian rainforest. His unknown DEA cousin is trapped there, but can Max discover the secret of life AND save his distant cousin? 

This is one man’s journey to discover himself amidst the beauty, excitement and violence of South America.

The Man on the Rubber Balloon: Work

Author Note

I wrote the book with the idea of helping young people, many of whom struggle with pressures that my generation neatly side-stepped. I was inspired by the Dalai Lama’s observation that ‘sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck’ and I wanted to write something that showed that having a fulfilling life doesn’t necessarily depend on being ‘lucky’ or ‘unlucky’. 

My mother grew up in a remote village in northwest Ireland. Two of her uncles emigrated to America in the early 20th century (never to be heard of again) and a third left for England. With this in mind, I based the story around two distant cousins who have never met, one of whom is blessed with good luck, the other with continual misfortune. By the end of the book, the former has a reversal of fortune, despite his advantages, whereas his unlucky cousin discovers an inner strength that he didn’t know existed.

Voltaire’s Candide was a big influence. The subtitle or Optimism is taken from Candide, and ‘Sol’ (one of the major characters) is abbreviated from Solspang, which is an anagram of Pangloss, Voltaire’s optimist-in-chief (‘spang’ is old American slang). It is also semi-autobiographical. I was made redundant in 1992 in a rather mean-spirited way, and spent the following twelve months in South America, travelling and looking for work. I continually worried about what my girlfriend (and now wife) would do if I found work. How would we educate the children that we didn’t have? When would we get to see our parents? Would we make good friends in the city we didn’t even live in… ? All this anxiety was pointless, as I didn’t end up finding a job (a little unluckily as it happens) and it taught me an important lesson in life.

As for the title – it comes from a guy we saw shooting down a choppy river in a pair of Wolsey Y-fronts, clinging to a balloon going goodness-knows-where. He didn’t seem to worry and overanalyse things, rather he seemed to epitomise the approach of seizing the opportunities ahead, which is the message I hope the book conveys.

All profit from sales of the Man on the Rubber Balloon or Optimism are donated to Young Minds - the UK's leading mental health charity for young people. All payments are facilitated by Work for Good

The Man on the Rubber Balloon: Text


The Man on the Rubber Balloon: Text


A fabulous read

A totally engaging storyline with interesting characters, great and insightful - both geographically and ‘of the period’ - locational settings across continents and even a man on a rubber balloon. Crucially, all beautifully written. I highly recommend this book.


Great read, very relatable

I loved that this was so relatable to anyone who lived in london in a time when tape cassettes and the ubiquitous walkman still ruled the world.

The references to real world places / events in london (Fat cat records, colin dale's radio show on Kiss FM, Astoria & sub club) brought back fond memories and really helped to immerse you in the story line.

Page turning stuff.




Always enjoyable and oddly satisfying!

Paul Kelly sketches an interesting and funny picture of an early 90's life in London and all over the globe with all its loving details and typical british humour at its best. If you like an enjoyable and oddly satisfying plot, fascinating storyturns and an calming touch of unpredictability, this book is all yours! Kelly sketches colorful and well researched cultural and historical backrounds of south america mixed with a gripping plot. Couldn't pause while reading!

Long story short:

The book is absolutly beautifully written, always enjoyable an in a delightful way funny. Would recommend!


Is it true?... or fiction?

Follow Max finding his path through the Amazonian Jungle, the author even adds some Irish and South American history lessons to the story (did I mention drug cartels?)

Be prepared for an unexpected twist at the end. Highly enjoyable book.




5 stars for weirdness!

Something like Bill Bryson meets Monty Python. Well researched, imaginative, funny, with words of wisdom, lots of surprises and more than one anti-hero having to deal with what life throws at you. Not your usual book.


Truly engaging read - fascinating characters and definition of detail

A fascinating read - I read it twice!
The delivery of detail by Paul is extraordinary and so engaging. The description of materialism and business behaviour focused on London in the mid to late 80s with the stark contrast of fanatical politics in Northern Ireland supported by deep family connections on the East coast of the USA is brilliantly presented, evoking stark recollections of those years.

Thereafter the optimism of two young people looking to restore their seemingly hopeless young lives separately setting out on a journey in South America which will ultimately see their paths cross, delves into despair and triumph deep in the murky world of cocaine cartels where actually the growers see their crop as satisfying a market demand, not necessarily feeding a dangerous habit.

The deep description of the culture involved and the various characters which grace the storyline are simply fascinating and I have returned to one passage in particular - “sometimes good things happen, other times bad things happen. Maybe having fewer possessions and worries in the world gave them the serenity some of their fellow….lacked”

Give it a read - I think you will enjoy it. I did! Twice!




Really enjoyable read!

Really enjoyed reading this book. Quite interesting story line and hooks you in. Would recommend.


Grab your rubber balloon and dive in!

When you dive into this captivating novel, you don’t know if you will float smoothly down the river or be engulfed in tumultuous rapids. Paul Kelly’s literary skill in weaving tales of black humour, unexpected events and unhinged characters should give you a clue. So, no easy South American journey this. Hold on tight and you decide, with “Optimism”, whether a stifling office job in London, an unfulfilling dead-end post in Boston, or an unpredictable, treacherous, South American adventure is for you. Answers on a (Bolivian) postcard please.

Kindle Customer


The Man on the Rubber Balloon: Testimonials
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