“The ordinary person can, and the ordinary person did” – In Conversation with Neo Kalungu-Banda

by Geha Pandey

University of Leicester psychology student, Neo Kalungu-Banda, is a proud Zambian, born in South Africa and raised in Banbury, Oxfordshire.

His first book, INSPIRED: The stories within and around us is a self-help book, published on October 9th 2021 and is available at the David Wilson Library and HERE.

Neo’s writing journey began in the early days of the first lockdown when his friend, Gilbert Healy (now a first-year here at Leicester), told him to write a book. With A-Levels exams cancelled and social contact heavily reduced, Neo knew he had a lot of free time but wasn’t entirely convinced. He didn’t believe himself to have “lived enough” to write autobiographically.

Now, with a physical copy in hand, he speaks to Geha Pandey about the journey to publish his first book.

The book is called INSPIRED. What inspired you to write this book?

My father is an author himself. Having a parental figure who has accomplished what you are trying to achieve is inspiring and encouraging. Of course, my friend Gilbert’s belief in me definitely inspired me.

And the Disney show, ‘The Suite Life of Zack & Cody’ inspired me: I rewatched the series during lockdown and during research, I discovered that the Sprouse twins wrote comic books when they were 14. I realised that at any age, you can achieve whatever you put your mind to.

Leicester City footballer, Patson Daka, with Neo Kalungu-Banda

If you could summarise your book in one line, what line would that be?

INSPIRED is a book about inspiring people, places, experiences and events and what there is to learn from these areas. 

How long did it take you to write the book, from concept (i.e. that one phone call), to the published copy?

I began writing in March 2020 and the book was published in October 2021. I finished writing very early on, in January 2021.

As my father is an author, I made connections through him to get it published. However, with three weeks till the date of publishing, I read the whole manuscript again and made lots of changes, cutting it quite close.

You’re a second-year psychology student. Was becoming an author always the long-term plan?

No, I did not always want to be a writer. It didn’t even occur to me that I should start writing until Gilbert approached the topic. There have been times where I expressed myself which touched many people.

For example, there was a football season where my local team did not win the county cup final, and I wrote my reflections on this and our season. But that was the extent of my writing until ‘INSPIRED’. I doubt writing will be my full-time endeavor, but I aim to continue to explore this space.

What was one of the most surprising things about the writing process?

The length of time it takes to write a book. Quite foolishly, in March 2020, I had told everyone via Snapchat that I would have the book done by my birthday in April 2020, underestimating how long it takes to actually write and publish a book.

“Quite foolishly, in March 2020, I had told everyone via Snapchat that I would have the book done by my birthday in April 2020”

What was the most difficult part of your writing process?

Balancing university and writing. During the day, I would attend lectures. In the evenings, I would re-read the manuscript.

In January, I set a deadline to complete the book, but I also had exams. At times, while revising ideas would pop into my head and I would make a note of it and have to carry on.

What was the most rewarding part of the writing process?

Writing itself is therapeutic. Being able to get ideas, stories, reflections out of my system and onto paper was relieving.

What advice would you give to a writer working on their first book?

First and foremost, just write. Don’t edit, look over, improve and so on, while writing. Get your content down, then you can revise it and get others to look at it.

Also, be free with it. There is no strict structure that you have to follow in your writing technique. For me, there was no requirement to read a specific number of books before I started writing or to write a particular way.

If you could spend a day with an author, who would it be?

I haven’t read many books, so my options are limited. I admire the author of Sapiens, as he managed to get his message across in a simple way. As mentioned, I wrote about Will Smith, who has also written a book recently, and I would like to get to know him and his writing process.

Neo’s family – sister, dad and mum at the book launch.

How did you celebrate when you finished your book?

We held a book launch, with interviews and musical performances, book signings which I deemed the pinnacle of celebration. It was a special day.

What risks did you take when you were writing that have paid off, or was writing the book itself a risk?

I did not take any writing classes, nor did I read very much before writing – I just went for it, and that was the biggest risk. I would recommend the same. I don’t think you need to take courses or have read a certain number of books to write.

“I just went for it, and that was the biggest risk … I don’t think you need to take courses or have read a certain number of books to write.”

Who has been the biggest supporter of your writing?

I was blessed with much support. During the January exam season, my family would prepare me food and allowed me time and space to write. I had monthly calls with my friend, Champ, and I would talk to him about the writing process, and he would try to understand me.

In a section in the book, I wrote about the musician, Dave, and he really helped me with that. Gilbert also read through Dave’s chapter and offered feedback. My barber’s daughter and a close friend of mine, Gabby, also read lots of chapters and offered her feedback which was helpful and reassuring.

How did lockdown benefit the writing process?

It gave me all the time I needed. I had no exams and there was not much social contact either. I had a lot of time to myself.

A chapter in the book focuses on my three-day lockdown expedition. I walked for about 6-8 hours a day, I read maps and camped in a tent. This process brought a lot of thoughts and introspection.

The expedition led my dad to tell me to write about times where I have been my own inspiration – which inspired a new section in the book and was a big change in the evolution of the book.

Kalungu-Banda and University of Leicester Vice-Chancellor, Nishan Canagarajah pictured at David Wilson Library

You met the Vice Chancellor. How was that moment for you?

I met him when I was donating copies of ‘INSPIRED’ to the library, one of which is in the special collection or the “Archives” now.

He checked in on me and we took photos together. Overall, it was a good experience, and I am happy he was present during this process.

And finally, if readers could take one thing away from the book, what would that be?

The main thing is – you can do it too. There are people in the book in which odds were stacked against them.

“The book acts as a reminder that the ordinary person can, and the ordinary person did.”

You don’t require a certain skillset, but you do require a certain belief in yourself. You need to understand that you can.

Geha is a final year psychology student at University of Leicester. Lover of early 2000s films, train rides, and strong coffee.

For more information about ‘INSPIRED’ click HERE

Contact Neo Kalungu-Banda via

Email: neokalungubanda@gmail.com

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