Due to asphyxiation at birth, Nolan is born with permanent impairment of his nerve-signaling system, a condition now labelled dystonia. Because of these complications, Nolan is born with cerebral palsy and can only move his head and eyes. Due to the severity of the cerebral palsy, he uses a wheelchair. In an interview, his father, Joseph, explains how, at the age of 10, he is placed on medication that “relaxed him so he could use a pointer attached to his head to type.” To write, Nolan uses a special computer and keyboard. In order to help him type, his mother holds his head in her cupped hands while Christopher painstakingly picks out each word, letter by letter, with a pointer attached to his forehead.
He communicates with others by moving his eyes, using a signal system. When he is young, his father tells him stories and reads passages from James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and D.H. Lawrence to keep his mind stimulated. His mother strings up letters of the alphabet in the kitchen, where she keeps up a stream of conversation. His sister, Yvonne, sings songs and acts out skits. His mother stated that “he wrote extensively since the age of 11 and went on to write many poems, short stories and two plays, many of which were published.” Many of the writings are compiled for his first publication, the chapbook Dam-Burst of Dreams.
Upon becoming a teenager, Nolan receives his education from the Central Remedial Clinic School, Mount Temple Comprehensive School and at Trinity College, Dublin. His first book is published at the age of fifteen. He is also awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters in the U.K., the medal of excellence from the United Nations Society of Writers, and a Person of the Year award in Ireland. He writes an account of his childhood, Under the Eye of the Clock, published by St. Martin’s Press, which wins him the U.K.’s Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 1987 at the age of 21. He soon drops out of Trinity College to write a novel entitled The Banyan Tree (1999).
Nolan spends more than a decade writing The Banyan Tree. According to The New York Times, the book is a multigenerational story of a dairy-farming family in Nolan’s native county of Westmeath. The story is seen through the eyes of the aging mother. It is inspired, he tells Publishers Weekly, by the image of “an old woman holding up her skirts as she made ready to jump a rut in a field.” A review of the book is done in The New York Times by Meghan O’Rourke. She reviews the book and relates it to James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, in the story the protagonist leaves his mother in Ireland while he moves on to travel the world. Nolan however, gives the reader a version of the mother’s story. “And so, in the end, one suspects that he wants Minnie’s good-natured, commonplace ways to stand as their own achievement, reminding us that life continues in the places left behind.”
At the age of 43, while working on a new novel, Christopher Nolan dies in Beaumont Hospital in Dublin at 2:30 AM on February 20, 2009. His death is the result of a piece of salmon becoming trapped in his airway. However, nothing from the novel he was working on has been released since his death.
Upon hearing the news of Nolan’s death, President of Ireland Mary McAleese says, “Christopher Nolan was a gifted writer who attained deserved success and acclaim throughout the world for his work, his achievements all the more remarkable given his daily battle with cerebral palsy.”