London author, chess master, ex-prisoner and former boxing champion John Healy is the subject of a new documentary 'Barbaric Genius' that opens this weekend in London. Faber & Faber published his book, 'The Grass Arena'. It went on to win the JR Ackerley Prize for autobiography. Harold Pinter described it as 'terrific'. A BBC film adaptation was praised to the hilt. Today, you can buy the book as a Penguin Classic, with an introduction by Daniel Day-Lewis. But do you know why author John Healy was blackballed by the publishing industry? Why none of his other books are readily available? Here is a trailer of the documentary.
He'd lived rough for 15 years on the streets of London under the Vagrancy Act, when begging carried an automatic three-year prison sentence; 'lulled, dulled [and] skulled' out of his head. He'd seen fellow winos killed with smashed bottles. He'd drank enough cheap and powerful alcohol to stun a mule. He'd hit the cliché rock bottom, and maybe even fashioned an even lower status for himself, as he journeyed through this subculture of dark desperation.
Finding himself in prison again, he met Harry The Fox, who taught him the dense art of chess. Healy was instantly hooked. He left prison a 30-year-old chess obsessive. He swapped drink for chess. Soon after he was playing masters, and winning championships. But it all became too much: as with the booze, chess consumed Healy. Eventually, he turned to writing. And naturally it was these extreme experiences and consequences of the homeless life that leaked out of him, and bled into his masterpiece, 'The Grass Arena'!