THERE were dark tales, shocking topics, and beguiling yarns; a patchwork of literary talent sewn together with the tantalising theme of sin.

The 15 winners of the second year of The Herald-sponsored Canongate prize for new writing were announced this week - along with the theme for next year's contest, which will be ''Writing Wrongs'', to mark the 40th anniversary of Amnesty International.

Described as the UK's biggest and most democratic award for new writing - the winners are chosen anonymously - and with prize money totalling (pounds) 30,000, more than 2000 works were considered. Winners came from as far afield as Mexico and Canada, and among the unsuccessful candidates were a past Whitbread prize nominee and a

best-selling London crime writer. Among the successful, who each got (pounds) 2000, were Paulo Da Costa, who lives in Canada. Da Costa travelled to Scotland for the prize-giving ceremony at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. He said: ''I saw the competition on the internet and thought I would give it a go, but when I heard a Scottish voice on the end of the phone some months later, I was rather surprised to say the least.''

Hannah McGill, film critic with The Herald, won with a ''darker than dark'' story with a twist called Dust is Skin. She said: ''It took so long to be judged that I forgot I had entered and was amazed when I got the call.''

Kevin Brooks, who made the journey from his home in Essex for the event on Thursday, wrote a story about a couple's antics at a Prodigy concert, called Goodnight, to win. He is currently working on children's novels and is attached to Chicken House, which is owned by the man who discovered J K Rowling.

Also among the winners was Lari Don, a former press officer for the SNP, who received her accolade for a story about a woman obsessed with punctuation who is pushed over the edge by a wrongly placed apostrophe on a shop sign.

Jamie Byng, publisher at Canongate books, said: ''The purpose is to create a vehicle for new writers, and that is not just writers who have not been published before. There are not actually that many vehicles for people who are writing prose in

short-story form and I think it is crucial to provide an outlet where the writers can get published. The work was inspiring, and there were some

well-known writers who didn't even make it into the top 35.''

Alan Taylor, one of the judges, who also included author Fay Weldon and Catherine Lockerbie, director of the book festival, said the depth of talent was outstanding. Taylor, literary editor of The Herald's sister paper, the Sunday Herald, said: ''It's a marvellous prize. It's anonymous, it's open, it encourages new writing, and it is discovering great writers.''

Mark Little, the Australian comedian who also has a show at the Fringe, represented Amnesty at the event. He said: ''The oppression and brutality that Amnesty fight have been one of the themes of my comedy for 20 years and it is a great idea to highlight the work they do in this way. There would be a lot more injustice on this planet if it wasn't for Amnesty.'' Next year there will be an entry fee of (pounds) 5 which will go to Amnesty International.

The full list of winners is: Kevin Brooks, Goodnight; Jennifer Clement, A Salamander-Child; Neil Cocker, KGB Hairdressing; Paulo Da Costa, Hell's Mouth Bay; Lari Don,

Melon's 69p; Gareth Goodall, Salvage; Elaine Holoboff, Second Coming; Steve Leighton, By Weary Well; Adam Lloyd-Baker, Small Change; Andrew Lloyd Jones, Coveting; Hannah McGill, Dust is Skin; Jan Natanson, Burning;

John Samson, Dry Cleaning; Janet Frances Smith, Fancy Footwork; and Georgia Wilder, Book of Job.