Teacher Talk

Matthew David Scott, 26, is an English teacher at Fitzalan High School, Cardiff. He is the author of 'Playing Mercy', a black comedy being touted as the first 'chav' novel
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The Independent Online

What's the book about?

It's about a weekend on a council estate and the lives of a group of family and friends. It's about people growing up. Even if they're 46, they're still growing up, wanting to find some sort of belonging, and often finding that they have to lose that belonging. People are seeing it as an "Anywhere UK" novel, since it reflects the experiences of the UK.

It's completely universal in that sense. This is what working-class people in Britain go through.

How much have your experiences as a teacher influenced the book?

Not a great deal. A lot of the things I noticed before I became a teacher. I wouldn't try to write about the children I teach. It's important for me to be seen as a teacher in the classroom. Kids are savvy, they know what's going on. It's not my job to preach to them. I'm teaching them English. In my school we've been praised for offering a lot of support to the students and in return we get a lot back from them. It's a very diverse school with more than 20 languages on site but the children pull together.

What do you think about the decision at a South Wales comprehensive to ban hoodies?

It's a difficult one. Obviously large groups of the population are intimidated by things like hoodies, and baseball caps.

But I think, from the teenagers' perspective, they're not meant to be intimidating. The stakes are a lot higher for children these days. They're exposed to adult things a lot sooner, what with the internet, DVD, and video games. As a result the parameters that children naturally push towards have expanded.

Do you think there is a danger in the 'chav' label?

Although my book is becoming known as a "chav novel", that's not something I've pushed for. But I think in everyday life the branding of "chavs" can be a problem as once that term's out there, some will use it in a derogatory way, and some will see it as something to aspire to.

If we're ignorant when we use a term then there's a danger of causing alienation: you brand people, and living up to this brand becomes an easy way out for them. I never use the word "chav" in the novel.

How have your students responded to the book?

I don't know if any of them have read it, but some of them have picked up on it in the press, and approached me about it.

Maybe in a very small way, a by-product of all this has been the students being shown that normal people can write books. Hopefully some of them have realised that they could do the same thing.