John Healy is an extraordinary, exceptionally gifted and truly inspirational human being and one of the most subversive, unique and compelling writers of the last twenty years. He was born into an impoverished, Irish immigrant family, in the slums of Kentish Town, North London. Despite the brutality of John's life (which is well documented in The Grass Arena) he overcame heroically all obstacles and achieved remarkable, indeed phenomenal expertise in both writing and Chess. John also displayed outstanding talent as a boxer during his youth. According to his trainer,The Late Great George Francis, 'Healy at 16 was an acclaimed stylist, possessing concussive power in both hands.' He was tipped for the top, winning many amateur titles but in the end it was the drink that carried the knock out blow.
His drinking rapidly increased so much so by his late teens he was totally dependent on alcohol, which culminated in him becoming a homeless, vagrant alcoholic. For the next 15 years of his life he resided in the harsh and uncompromising world of the Grass Arena. The twilight world of the vagrant alcoholic is a battleground, peopled by whores, beggars, psychopaths and thieves where the law was enforced with the boot and the broken bottle. This life is conditioned solely by alcohol; its obtainment and consumption. Drink is acquired at any cost: through deception, mugging, violence and even murder. The only respite from this never-ending cycle is imprisonment which, is part and parcel of this horrific way of life.
Healy was so embroiled in this sub-culture, that it appeared escape was an absolute impossibility. That he, like so many before him would die a premature and ignominious death. This was until, while serving one of his frequent prison sentences, a fellow inmate introduced him to chess. Healy immediately became besotted by the game. He made a decision not only to leave alcohol completely but also to make the almost impossible transition from the violent, chaotic world of the vagrant alcoholic into the sophisticated, strategic and esoteric world of Chess.
Healy is not only able to make this amazing transition, but more amazingly he also manages to master the intricacies and subtleties of this most complex game, said to be one of the most difficult cerebral processes in the world and yet Healy with barely any education and years of corrosive alcohol abuse, still manages to master Chess, becoming a top tournament chess champion, able to play four games blindfolded and simultaneously.
This achievement is extraordinary, it is totally unique because no person from Healy's background has ever risen so rapidly, or achieved the outstanding success that he has. The esteemed and international master and literary critic William Hartson concedes to Healy's unique and special ability: 'Healy's success was outstanding for someone who came to the game at the age of 30, quite apart from his earlier history' (From 'The Beggars Gambit' Book Review of the Grass Arena by William Hartson, former British Chess Champion)