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Book Talk: Novel looks at rape through lens of sports

By Pauline Askin

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Not many authors have the kind of success seen by Australian Paul D. Carter, who took nine years to write his first novel - only to have it scoop a major award.

"All Seasons", which won the Australian/Vogel Literary Award earlier this year, looks at the issue of rape through the lens of a male-dominated sport, in this case Australian rules football, in a coming-of-age tale set in 1990s Australia.

From the time Jason dons the boots at a young age, he shows natural ability for the game, much to his mother's disapproval as she works as a single mother to make a life for them. Later, as he reaches success in his sporting career, he finds out that he was conceived when his mother was raped by a football player.

Carter spoke with Reuters about his book, which he said was his attempt to "write a book about football that non-football followers could appreciate."

Q: While football is clearly a strong theme in your book, there are many more elements to it, what was going on in your head?

A: "I discovered I was writing more closely about the role the game can play in young peoples' lives in providing themselves with a template outside of themselves on which they can base their identity."

Q: What made you address the issue of rape around sports?

A: "I was wanting to reframe the cultural perception of the mistreatment of women. I enjoy the game but I have very critical feelings around the propaganda that surrounds it. I felt a story perhaps could be explored more deeply through not necessarily looking at a character that has been raped but looking at the effects of rape - what is the aftermath.

"I think we need to reconsider what it actually means to sexually assault women, in particular the kind of ethos that may motivate that kind of behavior but also shelter it."

Q: The reader gets a sense of coming full circle, was this necessary and if so why?

A: "In Jason's case the idea of sexual violence and the character of his dad and the way his dad lived his life in the shadow of his own. His confronting of it makes him face off the shadow that has surrounded him for a long time. I'm not writing about football explicitly, I'm writing about something bigger than that."

Q: His mother appears sad and at times disheveled, why?

A: "Jason's mother was possibly suffering post traumatic stress and had to find her own way to cope with the trauma. The things she was using to cope with the trauma have become her lifestyle.

"She creates her own goals in her life that give her a strong sense of routine and direction. They become a chaos within, so a lot of her sad behaviors are offshoots of what happened to her and her ability to cope with what happened to her as best she could. That's also part of what Jason grows up with without knowing but kind of knowing at the same time - that it was an abnormality and not spoken of."

Q: Do you think the risk of rape may be more heightened around male-dominated sports?

A: "The problem as I see it is about the way men behave in packs regardless of whether it's a sporting environment or a business environment, war environment, even a musical environment. Men in groups tend to respond to the peer group and the peer group becomes the identity. The individual relinquishes often his sense of responsibility to the wider group and that leads to thoughtlessness and that leads to all the terrible things that thoughtlessness and self responsibility can lead to.

Certainly it can happen in competitive male-dominated sports. It's also culture that can emerge in any kind of environment where men congregate in pack formations."

(Reporting by Pauline Askin, editing by Elaine Lies and Paul Casciato)

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