NO ONE COULD ever have doubted that John Healy’s life story contained enough raw material for a compelling memoir. A former boxer, soldier, deserter, wino and mugger, the London-Irish author overcame addiction in his 30s to become an unlikely tournament chess champion, after having learned the game during one of his frequent spells in prison.
But few would have predicted the success The Grass Arena would achieve when it was published in 1988. The memoir was an immediate sensation, winning a PEN/Ackerley Prize for literary autobiography in 1989 and being adapted into an award-winning film, starring Mark Rylance and the late Pete Postlethwaite.
Overnight, the 46-year-old found himself feted in literary circles and asked to appear as a guest on chat shows on both sides of the Irish Sea. But just as suddenly as he had arrived, John Healy vanished from public view in the early 1990s.
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