Did you know that there are eight Royal Parks? Can you name them all? Nor could we. But now we can, thanks to this neat box-set of short stories each inspired by one of the parks.
The eight tales come from established writers such as Will Self, Shena Mackay and William Boyd and cover every aspect of parklife. Hanan al Shaykh (translated from Arabic) expresses feelings of liberation as her character walks across green grass like 'treading on chickpeas'. Nicola Barker's eccentric character Sydney Figge presides as unofficial mayor over Greenwich Park, 'acting as a spontaneous referee at the tennis courts' or advising tourists outside the observatory that 'There's nothing worth looking at in there, just a load of old tat and telescopes'. While Shena Mackay's lead character uses Richmond Park as inspiration for a photographic project, where she 'collects' interesting-looking strangers. Reading them all in one sitting, you notice a recurring character: the parakeets. The ring-necked intruders crop up in five of the tales, showing what a recognised fixture they've become in London's green spaces.
The collection of stories succeeds because each really is a story. There's very little of the I'm-so-deep-and-artful-I-don't-need-a-narrative that often makes the short-story format so offputting to the everyday person. On the one occasion where narrative is excised - Ali Smith's amble around Regent's Park (sorry, The Regent's Park) - the description of the park's beauty is so beguiling that any kind of direction is unnecessary, and you're as absorbed as her character wandering among the honeybees and rose bushes.
Alluringly packaged (as you'd expect from Strange Attractor Press, who also devised the excellent Medical London) and cleverly thought-out, Park Stories is about as pleasant a companion as you could wish to take on a summer sojourn to your favourite park. And each for the price of an ice cream.
Park Stories can be purchased separately at £2 each from any of the Royal Parks, or bought together in boxset for £16.