Author Immanuel Suttner, together with his 10 year old son Guy, has written The Animal African Football Cup, a book that tells the story of a football tournament involving Africa's animals. In addition to the antics of the animals having their own football tournament, the book provides a wonderful opportunity for children to learn facts about the animals. The beautiful illustrations of the animals portrayed in the story, which really show off their characters and include delightful expressions, are by award-winning cartoonist and children's book illustrator David Anderson.
Immanuel and his family moved from Johannesburg to Sydney in January 2008.
SAbona: What brought you to Australia?
Immanuel: A desire to grow older in a relatively stable, secure and functional society. A lack of work opportunities in South Africa. A fear of being left behind because so many friends had made the move.
You've published a number of books. Tell us about them and your career so far.
One book Cutting Through the Mountain (Penguin 1997) includes interviews with South African Jews who had been prominent in the struggle against apartheid, or who had helped forge post apartheid South Africa. The interviews focused on the identity-construction (a fancy way of saying the psychological make-up) of people such as Joe Slovo, Ronnie Kasrils, Nadine Gordimer, Johnny Clegg, Barney Simon (Market Theatre), Gill Marcus, Albie Sachs and many other trade union, ANC, SACP and cultural leaders.
I spent the next 10 years in television – writing for Soul City, Isidingo, Generations, Jozi Streets. I produced and was the editor of the Big Brother website. On the second Big Brother I was one of the voices of Big Brother (there were 10 of us) doing diary room sessions and cutting the daily highlight shows. Afterwards I worked for Kagiso Educational Television for a year, as a subject producer, and then at Urban Brew studios in Randburg, as an insert director. I didn't like the long hours of television work, and the fact that 90% of what we made was crap. Its all driven by budgets…very few broadcasters care about quality, it's about producing crap as cheaply as possible, even if it's instantly forgettable. That's why the hype for new shows has to be so big and intense – to hide the fact that there's no substance.
Then I spent about two and a half years writing a series of nine children's books called Learn About South Africa. They were published at the end of 2007, just before we came to Australia. At the same time I released a collection of poetry called ‘Hidden & Revealed'.
Is writing your full-time job? If not, tell us about your job.
I've written ever since I was about nine years old – mainly poetry, but also essays, articles, short stories…so writing is more than just a job, it's just something I do, almost like breathing. It helps to channel the storm in my head.
Right now, fortunately or unfortunately, I don't have a full time job. The first two years we were in Australia I taught in a high school, but I wasn't very good at it and didn't enjoy it much, so I left in December 2009.
At the moment I'm working on a venture called Just A Little Green (from the Joni Mitchell song), which creates content for organisations or companies that have anything to do with sustainability. (Solar water heating, solar panels, rainwater tanks, biodegradable packaging, grey water recycling systems, organic produce, composting systems – that sort of thing.)
We (which is really code for I, but it sounds more impressive) create and maintain blogs for these organisations, post material to their social media sites (Twitter, FaceBook, My Space, LinkedIN), and author material for RSS feeds and newsletters and email shots. Essentially I'm marketing products and services I believe in, using the brave new world of online media.
What inspires your writing?
My fears and my desires mainly. My desire to know stuff and to be acknowledged. My attempt to understand things so deeply I become invulnerable.
Apart from simply enjoying the story, what would you like readers to get from The African Animal Football Cup?
That conservation doesn't happen in the bush. It happens in the cities, and depends on the choices we make. Will I take a cloth bag to put my shopping in, or bring home more plastic bags? Will I own a 4 X4 that chows petrol even though 95% of my driving is in the city? What happens to the 1,200 kgs of trash each member of my family produces each year? Where does all that plastic go to? Will I buy products made with palm oil from palm oil plantations where rainforest once stood? Or read the labels and put back the stuff that is trashing the planet. Do we really need that second or third plasma television set? Do we really need to keep the kids numb with DVD players in the back of the car? Can't they just watch the scenery or talk to each other, as we did as kids on the long journeys to Cape Town and back. Will all this stuff we accumulate really make us happy? Cornelius Vulture, the main character in the African Animal Football Cup, doesn't think so. That's why his motto is ‘reduce, reuse, recycle'.
Guy, what role did you play in this book?
Guy: I liked the idea of doing a book together. We originally started it in the middle of 2007 when I was seven, but we only really put the book together last year. I ended up doing little snippets, and then my Dad did the rest. I liked suggesting who should play against who. I liked the head on head matches of different animals. My favourite game was the sardines against the sharks. That was one of the first ideas we had. I wanted the elephants against the bees, but in the end that game wasn't in the book. Sometimes my Dad came to ask what we should do next and the whole family would talk about it. The most exciting part is when they make the super-teams for the finals. Overall I don't feel like I worked too much on the book, my Dad did most of it.
Is this the first book with which you've been involved?
What books do you enjoy reading?
I am starting to read Harry Potter. I also enjoy books about science and sci-fi. I like series of books, for example, the Charlie Small books. I like National Geographic and we get the Double Helix magazine from CSIRO. One of my most favoured books are the “ology” series – Spyology, Wizardology, Oceanology, Mythology, Dragonology, Piratology, Monsterology, Vampirology.
How important is book reading – especially with all the new technology that's out there?
I think it's very important to read because it allows you to discover a lot of things. When we first came to live in Sydney I studied street maps and helped my parents get to places.
(Immanuel: It's absolutely true. Sydney is huge and we kept on getting lost and Guy would guide us to where we wanted to go – even if he didn't have the mapbook with him in the car. He seemed to have memorised most of it off by heart – so he was our GPS!)
What does the future hold as far as a writing career is concerned?
I don't want to be a writer. I like reading books, but I don't enjoy writing them so much.