The Touchstone

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The Touchstone by Andrew Norriss

“The Touchstone is a pretty remarkable object. You hold it in your hand, ask a question and it gives you the answer. You just have to be a bit careful what you ask…

This is the story of how one of the most valuable objects in the galaxy falls into the hands of a very ordinary English schoolboy, Douglas Paterson, and what he decides to do with it. Like so many things that are supposed to make life easier, this one starts off by making everything very difficult!” Andrew Norriss

Scroll down to read an extract or click on the links below for  activities,  info & reviews.

Teaching resources at The Teaching Library

Activity sheets

Questions Andrew was asked about The Touchstone

Recommended extracts to read aloud


  • Publisher: Puffin (6 May 2004)
  • ISBN-10: 0141303433
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141303437

The Inter-galactic Playground

Underappreciated, Thought-Provoking and Fantastic

“The Touchstone” by Andrew Norriss is about a boy, Douglas, who finds himself in a very unique situation. One morning, he finds himself approached by a real live alien, Kai, whose arm is falling off, is being pursued by the Guardians of the Federation, and is in desperate need of help. To aid him accomplishing this task, she gives him a “Touchstone,” a marvelous object that will change his life forever.As Douglas learns about the properties of this object, he becomes more in awe of it. It imprints itself to the first person that touches it and allows them to access a virtual library that can pretty much show them everything, from their eighth birthday, to how to make world-destructive weapons. If you had access to such a repository of knowledge, what would *you* do?Along the way, Douglas makes new friends and faces some major moral dilemmas. But Douglas may just have what it takes to survive this adventure and come out ahead. He hasn’t been dealt the greatest hand in life — his parents are splitting up and things have been tough at home. But if Douglas can find what’s best for everyone, things may just change for the better.I listened to the audiobook version of this story, released by BBC Audiobooks and performed by Richard Mitchley. It’s a wonderful performance that doesn’t detract from the story in any way. Great audiobook.

By George Buttner – Published on  Format:Audio CD


The Touchstone by Andrew Norriss

One morning, as Douglas was leaving for school, he heard a voice calling his name. It was a faint voice hardly louder than the wind blowing through the trees, but when he looked round to see who was calling, there was nobody there.

He was wondering if he might have imagined it when the voice called again.

‘Douglas!’ it said, slightly louder this time but still hardly more than a whisper. Puzzled, he looked around him, but the garden in front of the house seemed quite deserted. Only when the voice called a third time, did he realise it was coming from one of the lilac bushes that ran along the wall in front of the road.

Crossing the grass, he pulled aside one of the branches and found a woman sitting on the ground with her back against the wall, her chin on her chest and her right hand clutching her left shoulder. She was wearing black boots, combat trousers and a khaki sleeveless vest.

Resting in her lap was a case made of a dull grey metal, about as big as the lunchbox Douglas had used when he was in primary school. Around her neck, hanging on a silver chain, was a green stone, the size of the top joint of a man’s thumb.

As Douglas pulled aside the branch to look at her, she lifted her head.

‘Douglas?’ It was the voice that had been calling him and he could understand now why it had been so faint. Speaking seemed to take a considerable effort.           ‘Douglas Paterson?’

Douglas wondered how the woman knew his name. He had never seen her before in his life. Pushing the branch he was holding to one side, he knelt beside her.

‘Are you all right?’

‘I am hurt,’ said the woman in a hoarse whisper.

‘I’ll get someone to help.’ Douglas stood up. There was no one in the house as his mother had already left for work, but he could phone the emergency services and ask for an ambulance.

‘No!’ The hand that reached out and grasped his arm was surprisingly strong. ‘No one must know I am here. If they find me I am lost.’

‘Oh’ said Douglas. ‘Right…. ’

‘I do not have much time so you must listen carefully. Three things.’ She spoke in short bursts, breathing through clenched teeth between each of them. ‘One, my name is Kai and I come from another planet. Two, my mission is to take this…’ she gestured to the case in her lap, ‘… back to my home world and liberate my people. Three, I am being hunted by the Guardians of the Federation and my only chance of escape is to find someone to hide me for the next forty-eight hours.’ She looked up at Douglas, her dark eyes staring intensely into his. ‘Gedrus says you are the only coda I can reach. Will you help me? Please?’

Douglas did not reply immediately. For some seconds he knelt there, not moving or speaking.

‘Please!’ Kai tugged at his arm. ‘Will you help?’

With a start, Douglas shook himself out of his trance.

‘Sorry,’ he said. ‘What was number one again?’

To find out what happens next you’ll have to buy the book!


Questions about “The Touchstone”.

Andrew Norriss answered these questions asked by children in West Sussex when The Touchstone  was shortlisted for the West Sussex Children’s Book Award 2005 – 2006.

Q. How did you think of the touchstone itself, and what picture did you have in your mind?
A. I had a dream in which I was walking through a large, spacious house with a cellar and a series of caves underneath the cellar. I cam to one of these caves and in the middle of it was a rock, and on the rock were lying the five green crystals of knowledge. I bent down to pick up one of the crystals, feeling that I was just on the cusp of learning a great secret, but at that point I woke up – much to my regret. That’s what gave me the idea of writing a story about a touchstone.

Q. Did you intend Kai to be a villain from the very beginning? If so, was it fun trying to mislead your readers?
A. I don’t think Kai is a villain. She is honestly trying to do her best and the point is that, like a lot of us who try to do our best, she gets it wrong. So I like her quite a lot. Killing Douglas was a bit naughty, I suppose.

Q. What inspired you to write about an alien from space?
A. I’ve always been a big fan of science fiction, and I’m quite sure that there are lots of aliens out there. So why don’t they call in? Perhaps they are just leaving us alone to work things out in our own way.

Q. Have you ever experienced being in a room for two days with a nasty smell?
A. No. I’d leave after the first few minutes!

Q. How did you come up with the name, “Quomp? Did the name inspire the character, or did the character inspire the name?
A. I never find names very easy, and he was called several other things first. I wanted a name that was easy to pronounce but strange enough to be an alien’s name. Finally, I came up with “Quomp”. His original name, I think,
was R’var” – a typical alien-sounding name but not very easy to pronounce.

Q. What, for you, is the most important message of “The Touchstone”?
A. The messages come in layers but the absolute bedrock thing is that you need to work out exactly what it is you want in life – something that’s a lot trickier than it seems. If you don’t know what it is, you can’t hope to get it. You must find out what you really, really want.

2 Responses to “The Touchstone”

  1. Gabriela Says:

    I loved The Touchstone and listened to it with both my girls. I learned a very important lesson: To ask the right question! I found thinking about the right question to ask helps you in all aspects of life.
    Thank you for this wonderful book!

  2. meopham Says:

    Andrew was so thrilled to get your comment. ‘How absolutely brilliant’ was his response. He is always encouraged when he gets a message like yours, someone who has appreciated the real meaning behind the story. The Touchstone has always been my favourite too, partly because I see Gedrus so clearly in my mind’s eye, and also like you, thinking about the right question to ask.
    I wish it was a movie…
    Best wishes from Jane @thewriterswife

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