Author Hilary Mantel has been named 2009 Man Booker Prize winner for her historical novel Wolf Hall.
Mantel, 57, beat five other shortlisted authors, including Sarah Waters and JM Coetzee, with her book based on Henry VIII's adviser Thomas Cromwell.
Judges praised the "extraordinary story-telling" of Mantel.
The author, who received the £50,000 prize at a ceremony at London's Guildhall, said it had taken her about 20 years to decide to write the book.
"I couldn't begin until I felt secure enough to say to my publisher - just what a publisher always wants to hear - 'this will take me several years you know'. But they took it on the chin," she said.
Mantel, who is now working on a sequel, also beat AS Byatt with the novel The Children's Book, Adam Foulds for The Quickening Maze and Simon Mawer for The Glass Room.
Waters was shortlisted for her book, The Little Stranger, and Coetzee had been in the running for his fictionalised memoir, Summertime.
"When I began the book I knew I had to do something very difficult, I had to interest the historians, I had to amuse the jaded palate of the critical establishment and most of all I had to capture the imagination of the general reader," Mantel said.
Chairman of judges James Naughtie said: "Our decision was based on the sheer bigness of the book. The boldness of its narrative, its scene setting."
"The extraordinary way that Hilary Mantel has created what one of the judges has said was a contemporary novel, a modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th Century.
"We thought it was an extraordinary piece of story-telling."
Despite that, he revealed it had not been an "unanimous decision, but it was a decision with which we were all content".
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