Posted on October 28, 2022 at 8:00 AM by Sadye Scott-Hainchek

Today we're interviewing Paul Kelly, who writes in the thriller, action and adventure, and travel genres.

Kelly grew up in 1970s High Wycombe (UK) when sherbet flying saucers cost 2½ p a hundred weight and platform shoes were both cool and great for toe-punting footballs.

He lays no claim to having books published in multiple languages. He’s taught karate in Tibet and Bolivia, half-built swimming pools in Sydney, and recently worked as a surveyor in Soho, London.

The Man on the Rubber Balloon or Optimism is his first novel — all profits from it are going to Young Minds (the UK’s leading mental health charity). 

SADYE: What message or theme would you like readers to take away from your work?

PAUL: There are always twists and turns in life, but try not to worry exactly where the journey will take you. 

In my novel the key protagonist overcomes a series of personal disasters and ends up discovering an inner strength that he didn’t know existed.

The Dalai Lama sums it up perfectly — "Sometimes not getting what we want can be a wonderful stroke of luck" — it’s just we don’t always realize it!

SADYE: What has been the most touching or memorable piece of reader feedback you’ve received?

PAUL: It’s hard to choose between two inspiring reader feedbacks, so I’ve included both of them.

One lady contacted me to say that she has recently struggled to find the concentration needed to read a book (following a serious illness) but that she found my novel a real page-turner and easy to read.

Having finished it, she’s regained her confidence and is regularly reading again!

Another lady wrote to say that her son has struggled with mental health issues and that she could really relate to the positive outlook and unbridled optimism of the character Sol.

What’s more, she had never heard of the charity Young Minds and having seen details of the charity fund raise in the epilogue, she is now a monthly donor.

SADYE: What experience in your past or general aspect of your life has most affected your writing?

PAUL: My novel is strongly influenced by family background and personal experience  

My mother grew up in a remote village in northwest Ireland. Two of her uncles emigrated to America in the early twentieth century (never to be heard of again) and a third left for England.

It inspired me to write a story about two distant cousins who have never met, one of whom grows up in the Irish American community in Boston (Rich McDonnell) and the other in London (Max Hansell).

The former is blessed with good fortune; the latter suffers continuous misfortune, but circumstances take them both to the Beni region in Bolivia, where the plot develops around the coca paste trade and activities of the Drug Enforcement Administration.

It is also semi-autobiographical. I was made redundant in 1992 in a rather mean-spirited way. The next twelve months were spent in South America, traveling and looking for work.

I remember continually worrying 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, namely don’t worry about something that may never happen.

Finally, the title comes from a guy we saw in Bolivia shooting down a choppy river in a pair of jocks, clinging to a balloon going goodness-knows-where.

He didn’t seem to worry and overanalyze things; rather, he seemed to epitomize the approach of seizing the opportunities ahead, which is the message I hope the book conveys.

SADYE: Which of your characters would you most and least like to trade places with?

PAUL: Sol. He’s permanently optimistic, finds a positive in every setback and has a knack of convincing people to see things in a positive light.

(Sol is short for Solspang, which is an anagram of Pangloss, Voltaire’s optimist-in-chief in Candide. "Spang" is old slang for "right in the middle of it," probably coming from "smack bang in the middle of it.")

Rich (well, short for Richard). Without knowing it, he’s a nationalist bent on destroying his enemies, and he has no regard for the consequences of his actions.

SADYE: What have been the most surprising, rewarding, and challenging parts of your writing career?

PAUL: Most surprising is when a new idea comes out of nowhere — often in the middle of something mundane like sorting out the laundry, stacking the dishwasher, etc.

Most rewarding has got to be the not knowing where a character is going to take you, and discovering a storyline you never imagined.

Most challenging by far, is promotion and marketing.

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Learn more about Paul Kelly on his website, where his books can also be purchased, and follow him on Twitter and Instagram

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Categories: Author Interview

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