Prizewinner adds to rich crop of convict tales

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Australia's rich literature of rogues and tale-spinners continued on its world-beating path last night when Richard Flanagan, from Tasmania, won the Commonwealth Writer's Prize.

Flanagan, born in 1961, beat a shortlist that featured three international stars – Ian McEwan, Alice Munro and Nadine Gordimer – to take the £10,000 award for his third novel Gould's Book of Fish.

Set in Tasmania in 1828, Flanagan's bewitching and flamboyant story of a convict-turned-artist will prompt comparisons with Peter Carey. Last year, Carey won both the Commonwealth and Booker prizes for his fictionalised memoirs of Ned Kelly.

Gould's Book of Fish will be published in Britain by Atlantic Books in June. Richard Holloway, the recently retired Bishop of Edinburgh who chaired the judging panel, praised Flanagan's work for "a touch of genius that will give it enduring significance'.'

The result was announced last night at a dinner at the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh attended by the Princess Royal.

The judges also notched up an innovation in the First Book category. They gave the £3,000 award for a debut novel to a book published electronically on the internet: Ama is an epic of the Atlantic slave trade by the South African-born author Manu Herbstein.