A NOVEL inspired by the daily toil of a shepherdess and a biography of a Booker Prize-winning novelist are the winners of Britain's oldest literary awards.

Author Jim Crace and biographer Professor Dame Hermione Lee have joined the list of writers who have won the James Tait Black Prizes announced last night at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.

DH Lawrence, Graham Greene, Angela Carter and Ian McEwan are among the past winners of the prizes, which have been awarded annually by the University of Edinburgh since 1919.

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The winners of the £10,000 prizes were announced by the broadcaster Sally Magnusson.

Dr Lee Spinks, chairman of the James Tait Black Prize for fiction, said: "In Harvest, Jim Crace presents a spellbinding lyrical reflection on the nature of cultural inheritance and the obligations and responsibilities of community in a changing and uncertain world.

"It is a novel fit to be ranked among his very best, which means that it can be considered one of the distinctive achievements of contemporary literature."

Biography judge Professor Jonathan Wild said: "Hermione Lee's biography of Penelope Fitzgerald provides a masterclass in writing of this type. It's the perfect marriage of an excellent subject and a biographer at the very top of her game."

Crace, a former journalist and broadcaster and the author of 13 books, is winner of the fiction prize for his book Harvest. The British-born writer has several prestigious awards to his name, including a Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize from Yale University.

Dame Hermione, an academic, critic and biographer, is the winner of the biography prize for her book Penelope Fitzgerald: A Life.