Accidental Winner

2023 Wigtown Poetry Prize winner John Wheway on his surprise success.

7 May 2024

Last year’s winner of the prestigious Wigtown Poetry Prize has revealed that it was his wife who submitted the poem on his behalf. And it was on the eve of a milestone birthday that John Wheway received the news that My Mother Unwraps My Gift of Frida Kahlo’s Me and My Parrots had been shortlisted for the £1,500 annual international award.

John, who lives in Somerset but is originally from Birmingham, loved and wrote poetry from childhood but rarely published during the middle years of life as a psychotherapist. A move to the country, and the rhythm of daily walks, woke up his poetry. He began to write with renewed commitment.

Since gaining a distinction in the Creative Writing MA at Bath Spa University in 2010, he has continued to study at Arvon and at the Poetry School. With much work in magazines. His 2020 collection, A Bluebottle in Late October, was published by V Press in 2020, just as the pandemic began (see

Lockdown meant no live promotions of the book and left him feeling isolated from his literary community. It was his wife Jude Higgins, a prominent force in the flash fiction world, who encouraged him to start submitting work again and sent out poems for him.

Her secret submission for the Wigtown Poetry Prize was made the day before the deadline. John knew nothing about this until he heard he was on the shortlist. He said: “I read the poem out that week at my birthday party, and someone called out ‘That’s a winner’. The award ceremony confirmed my guest’s prediction.

“I was so moved by the sensitive delivery of my poem by Donald S. Murray, the competition judge. He perfectly conveyed its meaning. So, I would very much encourage other poets to take part.”

The awards date back to 2005 and have grown to become a renowned contribution to the world of poetry, attracting hundreds of high-quality entries from Europe, Asia, Australasia, and North and South America. However, there is also a strong emphasis on encouraging poets closer to home with the increasing popularity of the Dumfries and Galloway Fresh Voice Award.

“John’s story really shows what the Wigtown Poetry Prizes are all about – encouraging poets and a love of poetry. The judges enjoy reading through the entries and seeing the incredible range of talent, styles, thoughts, ideas and insights that people express through their poetry.

“While this is very much an international competition, we also want to promote the up-and-coming contemporary poets of our own region. They are the grassroots, the future of poetry and they need to be supported. “The Dumfries and Galloway Fresh Voice Award is special because it provides them with a platform as part of a highly respected competition attracting entries from all over the world. So, we’d really encourage people to send in their entries and be part of this superb celebration of poets and poetry.”

- Nicholas Walker, Wigtown Poetry Prize Group Chair

Wigtown Poetry Prizes are open for entries annually from 30 November - 6 May