In the early ‘90s, writer John Healy was a star, on international TV, in the national press, constantly being interviewed about his first book, The Grass Arena. There was much about him that made him appealing to the media, not least a sense of danger. John Healy wasn’t just another award-winning author. He had a history of violence. And it seemed destined to follow him. The son of Irish immigrants, Healy lived rough on the streets of London for fifteen years, fighting and stealing to survive; a slave to alcohol, any alcohol – wine, strong cider, surgical spirits. Then he discovered chess. This became his new addiction. Alcohol was left behind. He became a rated chess player and a famous writer, for a time the darling of the British media. Then John Healy disappeared. Stories emerged to fill the vacuum, dark stories; he’d made threats of awful violence towards his publishers – he was mentally ill – a psychopath. Film maker Paul Duane avidly followed these rumours. Healy’s book had made an enormous impression on him when it was originally published. It seemed extraordinary that its author could disappear. What happened to silence this man so soon after he discovered his literary voice? In 2006, Paul Duane found John Healy. The truth turned out to be a fascinating mesh of class, money, art and fiction, a clash of cultures, defining the Irish immigrant experience in Britain as something that the country’s ruling classes still haven’t quite managed to absorb.
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