DUBLIN, JAN. 20 -- Irish author Christy Nolan, who cannot walk, talk or control his twitching limbs, won Britain's richest literary award with an autobiography hammered out by a "unicorn stick" strapped to his head.
The 22-year-old Dubliner, his chin cupped in his mother's hands as he reaches laboriously for every letter on the keyboard, has been hailed as Ireland's new James Joyce for his book "Under the Eye of the Clock."
"You have fashioned me as an equal to any other writer, be they creating words by hand or by head," Nolan said through his mother Bernadette on receiving the $35,400 Whitbread Book of the Year Award in London this week.
Pleading for the handicapped at an emotional presentation ceremony, he said: "Tonight is my night for laughing, for crying tears of joy. But wait, my brothers hobble after me hinting, 'What about silent us? Can we too have a voice?' "
"Imagine what I would have missed if the doctors had not revived me on that September day long ago," Nolan said.
He has cerebral palsy and almost died of asphyxiation at birth.
Nolan has to fight for every word. Each page takes a day to write; a muscle relaxant drug has given him just enough control to type out the letters.
Nolan and his family have developed an extraordinary level of communication that can leave outsiders baffled.
He raises his eyes for yes, shakes his head for no. Turning his eyes to his shoulders means you should look for words beginning with "s."
Journalists trooping to his suburban home near the shores of Dublin Bay are given a list of questions they might ask and answers he has painstakingly provided.
His autobiography, written in the third person to give it the feel of a spectator viewing his reflection, tells in rich prose the tale of a Dublin boy whose spine was wedged into a V-shape at birth, cutting off oxygen to his brain for two hours.
His body was shattered, his brain left intact. From that horrendous beginning he struggled for normality, attending an ordinary state school and going on to Dublin's Trinity College for one year without taking a degree.
A book of poetry written at the age of 15 was lauded by critics, with one saying, "It was like finding diamonds in a dustbin."
"My mind is just like a spin dryer at full speed. My thoughts fly around my skull while millions of beautiful words cascade into my lap," Nolan said.
Strapped in a wheelchair, his arms shoot out and his head rolls involuntarily backward.
"Humor is the spice of life," he said. "What else can I do but laugh at myself? Just think of a fellow with a stick on his head trying to explain himself to a person who is blessed with coordination."
Nolan, now writing his first novel, plans to spend his Whitbread Prize traveling the world -- first to Israel and Egypt -- to expand his literary horizons.