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Talking Location With Aliya Ali-Afzal – RICHMOND PARK

6th June 2024

TalkingLocationWith …. Aliya Ali-Afzal, author of The Big Day – RICHMOND PARK

Richmond Park is a massive, beautiful, green space, where I have been going for years, where I have walked, driven through, picnicked, had cream teas with my mum, attended weddings and wakes, hiked through with friends, played football with my children, and yet, I still find it hard to believe that it is in fact real. Each time I enter the gates, it feels as if I have entered a magical realm, which is like no other park I have ever been to.

Surrounded by bustling London suburbs on all sides, where the most normal and mundane everyday city life continues, it is hard to believe, that just a few minutes away, you can find deer sauntering across the road as you drive in the park or nestling in groups under ancient trees. There are rugby fields that are full at the weekends, cyclists zooming past and hikers who could easily spend all day going around the park. The beautiful Pembroke Lodge, a regal Georgian house which features in my Aliya Ali-Afzalnovel The Big Day, is a popular wedding venue but also a restaurant, so while having a lunch of shepherd’s pie, you look up to see a beautiful bride with her bridesmaids walking down the aisle. It feels surreal and it feels as if the ordinary is always mixing with the extraordinary, which makes me still wonder, if I have dreamt up Richmond Park in my overactive imagination!

The magic of Richmond Park goes beyond the beauty of the landscape with trees that are almost sculptural and have a timeless quality, the hidden enclaves like Isabella Plantations, which is a lush and tranquil park within the park and is a riot of colourful flowers in the summer, offering cooling shade and an escape. Whenever I drive into the park, I find all my worries and stresses easing. Whether it is the speed limit, which forcibly slows me down in my day, or the vastness of the greenery that is like a wave, washing away all other thoughts, or the feeling of stepping away from everything ordinary while I am in the park, I find myself exhaling, and feeling my body and mind relax. I don’t have to do anything, it is the power of the park, that seeps into me. The lead character in my novel The Big Day, finds Richmond Park to be a sanctuary and a nurturing space, and is a volunteer at the park, which is the perfect antidote to her career as a city lawyer, stuck in a corporate skyscraper all day. For me too, Richmond Park has a meditative effect, which feels like mother nature giving me a hug. For many years, this was the route I took for the school run and driving through the park to start my day every morning, changed my perspective for the rest of my day, in whatever I was doing in the ‘real’ world.

Aliya Ali-Afzal

I often think of those days, more than twenty years ago, when I drive through the park now too. They say that time travel doesn’t exist, but Richmond Park feels as if it holds my past in a bubble which I can access whenever I want. Certain spots in the park, like a tree near Kingston Gate, where, over an impromptu after-school picnic, I solved the mystery of one of my children being bullied, immediately transport me to a particular time in the past. Walking in Isabella Plantations, reminds me of my early morning walks with my late father when I was a teenager, where we shared our love of nature, and sitting in Pembroke Lodge, always reminds me of writing my novel, which is also set partly in Pembroke Lodge. I can still feel the joy of that experience and also the despondency when life was not going well and somehow, when I turned up there with my laptop, I knew that the energy of the park, the magic of it, would help me finish my book. Being in the same spots in the park, goes beyond a memory: I feel the same emotions, have the same thoughts as when I visited that place in the past, and it feels as if the earth has absorbed those moments of my life. When I stand various spots, Richmond Park offers me my memories which it has been keeping safe for me.

The real beauty of Richmond Park is that anyone can access this healing, powerful  energy of the park, while also doing the most ordinary things like eating Fish and Chips, writing a novel or playing football with your children. The mundane and the magic combine in this extraordinary place.

ALIYA ALI-AFZAL

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Catch the author on Twitter X @AAAiswriting and on IG @aliaaliafzalauthor 

The Big Day, by Aliya Ali-Afzal, published by Aria (Head of Zeus) on 6th June (UK), in paperback, eBook and audio, online and in all good bookshops. AND via the TripFiction Website

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