10 December 2013
The Evening Standard has announced a new, £5,000 prize for a book for young children.

Oscar’s First Book Prize is named in tribute to Oscar Ashton, who died aged three and a half of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. He was the son of the paper’s City Editor, James Ashton.

Ashton said: “Our aim is to find the best pre-school book of the year that celebrates a child’s love for magical stories, something that would have satisfied Oscar’s vivid imagination.” He will judge the Prize alongside Viveka Alvestrand, Oscar’s mother; Mark Price, Chief Executive Officer of Waitrose; Dame Marjorie Scardino, former CEO of Pearson; and Charlotte Ross, Evening Standard Deputy Editor.

The judges will announce a shortlist in April 2014. The award ceremony will take place in May.

James Ashton writes about Oscar

James Ashton

Published: 09 December 2013

My son died. Today it’s been a whole year and I still can’t think of three sadder words

Oscar was three when he lost his life to an undetected heart condition. Here his father James Ashton unveils a book prize in his memory

James Ashton unveils a book-prize

Happy memories: a smiling Oscar plays in the garden, left, and rides on his daddy’s shoulders

When my son Oscar was born, I resolved to write him a letter. I wanted to capture the moment of summer 2009: the elation, the hope, the love that my wife and I felt, even the champagne I glugged with my brother to celebrate that dizzy feeling of becoming a dad. Something for him to tear open when he was 18 and scoff at, or maybe cherish later when I was old and crazy. It was a letter I never wrote and even if I had, Oscar would never get to read it.

My son died. Today it’s been a whole year and I still can’t think of three sadder words. Oscar was three-and-a-half when he collapsed in a motorway service station on the journey home from a joyous, pre-Christmas weekend visiting my parents. We had no idea that he had hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, an undetected heart condition that prematurely thickens the heart wall. It is genetic but has never occurred in our families before. DNA work goes on but medical experts are baffled how it developed so aggressively in someone so young.

That night, in flashbacks, will stay with me for ever. Right to the end, I never thought he would leave us. I hope Oscar’s last memory was being in Pappa’s arms and then flying into the sky for an amazing adventure.

We mourn the boy we lost and the boy he would have grown to be. Oscar was so sunny and creative, with an inquiring, quirky mind and big brown eyes. He collected stones, Lego bricks and pound coins — or, as he called them, “goldens”. He fed the ducks, chased squirrels, munched on frozen peas and cupcake icing, giggled under the table, blew kisses, bossed around his bigger cousins and refused to open his mouth for the dentist but still left the surgery with two Spider-Man stickers and a biscuit.

His imagination meant that he told stories about wolves and gold medals, and insisted that his toy penguin should come to the nativity service when all the other kids had a stuffed sheep or camel. When he was looking out of the window for shooting stars, he explained that it was “because they have fire in their tails”.

Now I think of him at four-and-a-half, whizzing by on his scooter and dazzling us with his writing and drawing. Of course he should have started school in September, made new friends, be alternately doting on his sister and arguing with her. Baby Alice, as Oscar called her for the year they shared, isn’t such a baby any more.

Twelve months have dragged interminably but also gone in a flash. For his birthday, I stomped up a German mountainside in the lashing rain with Alice on my back thinking, how could any father let his son die? We scattered ashes on the deserted beach in Sweden where I first dipped his toes in the water at eight weeks old.

Parents who have lost children are everywhere. Think David Cameron or Mary Berry. We suffer quietly, remembering brief lives whose loss challenges the natural order.

One of the best pieces of advice I received was to carry the cross, not drag it behind you — to celebrate a life, not mourn it. But it isn’t always possible to press on and avoid falling backwards into a black hole of despair. No sooner have you got used to summer, with cries of joy from kids playing in the park, than it is winter again, where whole families gather for dinner and fireworks. The passing of the seasons is a constant reminder that life goes on regardless.

The toughest, unvarnished questions came from my 11-year-old goddaughter. Why didn’t anyone know? Why couldn’t he get a new heart? Effectively, why did he have to die? Lily followed that up with the sweetest thought. “Don’t be sad when you think of Oscar,” she said. “Smile and pretend he is sat right next to you.”

I try and he is everywhere. And as we have revisited the places where he ran and played, we can fool ourselves into believing he is just behind the next tree or rock. There are also the coins he buried in the sandpit for his sister to find, and the flash cards down the side of the sofa, where he watched Peppa Pig in a trance. But who are we kidding? For all the echoes of his life, there is a huge gap that will never be filled.

More from James Ashton writes about Oscar

Further details about the Prize