From alcoholic to grandmaster

John Healy – The Grass Arena

The story is an autobiography of John Healy himself. The book was published in 1988 and then made into a movie in 1992. A couple of years later they didn’t print it anymore, but in July 2008 it was re-issued.The story is about a boy (Johnny) who lives at his parents’ place. His parents are poor Irish immigrants, and that makes life hard for Johnny. The family is very religious but Johnny is a difficult child. His father beat him up when he was a kid, and when he went to school he was beaten up at least once a week. When he was young he started boxing. He was very good at it, because he fought a lot when he was a kid. He is also heavily built. Then, he experienses the taste of alcohol at the age of 16. He becomes an alcoholic. He also entered the boxing ring drunk a couple of times. He quits boxing and starts drinking every day. Johnny drinks so much that sometimes he forgets what he did the night before or where he lived. So he slept a couples of times on the street, in a hallway. He goes to live at a aunt’s place in the middle of nowhere. So sometimes he can’t find his way back home when he’s drunk. Later he has to go into the army, where he becomes a boxing champion. But there he also drank too much so he was put in prison. Later he went to ‘the grass arena’, the place in the park where all the beggers, thieves and homeless come to drink. He goes in and out in prison. In prison, Johnny meets a guy named Harry the Fox and he teaches Johnny how to play chess. Johnny becomes very good at it. In the end he stops drinking because now he has another addiction, chess.

John Healy dedicaded the book to his mother, because she suffered a lot when he was a kid. She tried to raise him well but he threw it all away. He became drunk every night and his mother was ashamed of him.

The book is also a J.R. Ackerley price winner for autobiography of 1988. Then, they made a film about it and it won the Best British Feature Film, Edinburgh Film Festival, Golden Globe Award for Best TV Film and two BAFTA Nominations. This is the first part of the movie.

I still don’t know how he managed it. I am a chess player myself. But for playing chess you need to think clearly and use strategies. An alcoholic destroys his brains, so he can’t think properly, you would expect. Why could Johnny still become a very good chess player? It doesn’t make any sense. And also:how did he manage to become a very good writer? Come to think about it, what would he be now if he hadn’t been an alcoholic in his younger years?

He is very poor. He keeps writing, he told a interviewer, but he doesn’t make any money. He still believes in his ‘comeback’. He thought if they published his book he would become a wealthy man. So, I think he will make a point with this story. Keep believing in yourself and everythink is going to be okay.

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