Writer Christopher Nolan, who cannot move or speak because of an accident at birth, has won the Whitbread Book of the Year.

The 21-year-old Dubliner, who has cerebral palsy, was awarded this year’s £18,750 prize at the brewery’s London headquarters for his autobiographical view of his life, Under the Clock.

Others in the running for the award were Ian McEwan, for the novel, A Child in Time, Francis Wyndham for his first novel, The Other Garden and Seamus Heaney for a volume of poetry, The Haw Lantern.

Mr Nolan is able to write only with the aid of a word-processing computer and what has been described as a ‘unicorn stick’, strapped to his forehead. His mother, Bernadette, has to hold his head while he is writing.

”I want to shout with joy. My heart is full of gratitude”
Christopher Nolan


Whitbread Book of the Year

He went on: “You all must realise that history is now in the making. Crippled man has taken his place on the world’s literary stage.”In an acceptance speech read by his mother, Mr Nolan said: “I want to shout with joy. My heart is full of gratitude.”

His prize-winning book tells how he was deprived of oxygen at birth.

It left his brain damaged, meaning he was unable to talk, walk or use his hands – but his intellect was unharmed.

The book is not told in the first person, but uses the character of a young man called Joseph Mehan to present his own moving struggles with his disabilities.

Mrs Nolan said winning the book of the year prize would mean a great deal to her son: “Now he’s being taken as a serious writer.

“He’s up there with all of the established writers and now he’s beaten them at their own game so that must give him a sense of respectability as a writer now.”

Mr Nolan’s writing has been likened to that of James Joyce.

His first book, a volume of poetry called A Dam-burst of Dreams, was published in 1980 when he was 14.


In Context 

Mr Nolan’s first book of poetry won the Spastics Literary Prize.

He gave half the profits to a trust for the handicapped.

Since his Whitbread success, Christopher Nolan has written a novel, The Banyan Tree, published in 1999.

The book took him 12 years – and half a million strokes with his unicorn stick – to write.

It tells the uneventful life story of Minnie O’Brien, a shopkeeper’s daughter from rural Ireland.