How to be an Alien

I know. I blogged about How to be an Alien before. I love George Mikes, and particularly that book. And I feel that maybe we need more of that kind of thing. (Mine is the 24th impression, from 1978.)

George Mikes, How to be an Alien

Except, perhaps it’s now an unsafe topic of conversation? As George points out, ‘Do not forget that it is much easier to write in English than to speak English, because you can write without a foreign accent.’ Yes. My smallish vocabulary can always be blamed on my choice of writing style; pretend I prefer plain and simple. You can’t hear me.

How times have changed. George reported being told by a very kind lady ‘you really speak a most excellent accent without the slightest English.’ Don’t we all? Now though, I wonder what any kind lady is likely to say under similar circumstances.

Where are you a foreigner? Those of us who are here, would generally like to believe that in our own countries we wouldn’t be, and that this misfortune would befall the British instead, but according to George Mikes this is not so. Or more correctly, was not so, but I’m guessing many British people are not foreign even when they go and live in Spain. George was upset when he was informed that his much ‘loved and respected’ mother was a foreigner, back in her own Hungary.

I used to believe I knew and understood everything in How to be an Alien. England was charming and amusing, and you could smile fondly over her, as you would a toddler.

When I first read the book, I had never heard of Princes Square and Leinster Square in London. The whole idea seemed preposterous. Then one day I discovered I was staying in a hotel in one of them. Or was it both?

These days I tell people I live at no. 4 and that it’s the house between nos. 3 and 5. This needs to be pointed out or casual visitors may end up on the other side of the road.

Anyway, I used to reckon all I needed to do was learn how things are done here and I’d be fine. Now I find that I am taken aback by how normal things are in – to me – hitherto unknown countries on the continent, and how much I have changed over the years.

But I do feel queueing is a fair way of doing things. And I’d like to hope that the humour in George’s book will be appreciated by most people.


Yes, that’s what us Bookwitches like.

I was idly surfing while chatting to Daughter on Skype. Needed to check an Ikea product, so eventually found myself on the home page, where a chest of drawers burst into confetti-like happiness.

Reading IKEA

Time to celebrate it said, and I thought that was most commendable. Whether they were celebrating reading, or whether you should read to celebrate was less clear.

After some time I realised I wasn’t getting this quite right. Apparently they were opening a new Ikea shop this week. In Reading. Hence the celebrating.

It’s a confusing name for a town.


This dystopian time travel story by Mike Revell is primarily about grief and the loss of someone near to you. And as with all time travel, the reader’s mind reels, trying to work out what’s possible and how things might happen to make things all right and normal again.

Owen is in Y7 in a Cambridge school, and he and his dad are doing their utmost to cope with the loss of Owen’s mum a year earlier. Or, Owen is. His children’s author dad seems to have given up. Eventually Owen persuades him to go to counselling, and his dad comes back keen to give writing a go again.

And that’s when Owen finds himself in a future Cambridge that bears little resemblance to today’s. His name is Jack, and he is a Stormwalker. The world as we know it has been destroyed and Jack and his friends have to work hard for survival, and to resist something called the Darkness.

Mike Revell, Stormwalker

After a while Owen works out that his odd situation has something to do with his dad’s writing, but how to help his dad, while also making sure things are all right in this scary future?

Apart from the fact that this obviously couldn’t happen for real (I hope, anyway), it’s exciting, and you want to know how Owen/Jack can be two boys in one. And you want to know how this future Cambridge can have a bit of hope, especially if Owen is to return to his normal life and help his dad get over the death of his wife.

(How the dad can survive financially for a year without having a job and not writing any books, is another mystery…)


We debated our new Prime Minister at length a few years ago. That’s us, as in the Bookwitch family. Mrs May was one of the British ‘villains’ in Andreas Norman’s Into a Raging Blaze.

As you may be aware, the translation into English of this Swedish thriller was done in-house, so to speak. Son translated and the Resident IT Consultant proofread and criticised his efforts. All in all, a good team effort.

But the debate about our new PM was surprisingly long, considering Mrs May didn’t feature that much. In general, it was the British who were the bad guys, and the named politician was Mrs May, ultimately in charge of the MI6 agents, and I suppose in some sense responsible for their shenanigans.

Andreas Norman, Into A Raging Blaze

Usually a novelist would only use a real person’s title, or make up a fictional minister in a country’s government, and we were startled and unsure if it was OK to name her. But as far as I recall, we decided that if she was named in the original, she had to be named in the translation, and if the publisher didn’t want that, it was their task to edit out any names.

So, we May have a fictional character at the helm of the country.

And why not?

(In my opinion, a sensible politician embraces being featured in cartoons, etc, realising that being ignored and not used, is the worse slight.)

Peddle? I don’t think so.

Aaand we’re peddling again. Eighteen months ago (thank goodness for the search facility – and I’ll get to that word any minute now – on Bookwitch) I moaned grumpily about the peddling of bikes in fiction. I do enjoy a good complaint. Towards other people, and not directed at me.

I have now read two novels in quick succession where the main character peddles their bike. Several times. Consistency is good. It means they firmly believe you peddle bikes. Or their editors do.

Bikes obviously are peddled, but mostly in bikeshops or on Gumtree and similar sites.

And don’t get me started on facilities. Usually I rather hope I will be offered a toilet, or more generally a nice arrangement of useful things and services.

I was reading the local paper last week, about a primary school that had closed its doors for the last time. The building was so old and decrepit the school will be demolished.

And a new facility will rise in its place!

So they get rid of a school, and build a facility. It’s hardly surprising a facility won’t be as good as a school in getting the difference between peddling and pedalling across. (Offspring pedalled at their primary school. There was an after school class in safe cycling.)

(Psst, anyone want a bike? Or two? The Resident IT Consultant is about to peddle a couple of bikes, as we can’t even swing a squirrell in our garage at the moment. Which, presumably, is why one of them visited the conservatory a few days ago. Stray cats needing to be sent packing is one thing. But I can’t abide the thought of the squirrels starting in on our food supplies, having witnessed how they dealt with the Christmas canapés last December.)


50 things you should know about space

I said about Raman Prinja’s last book that it had everything you’d want on astronomy for children. This was true, until I came upon his new book, 50 Things You Should Know About Space, which is wonderful and the kind of book every child should have. I believe this even if they’re not into space (how could anyone not be, though?). Yet.

Raman Prinja, 50 Things You Should Know About Space

The Professor of Astrophysics has managed to fill this new book with what has been my life for years now; the Kepler telescope, Goldilocks, exoplanets, the Atacama desert, and so on.

Beginning with some historical facts before moving on to our own Solar system, Raman looks at how to find new worlds, what to find them with, and how to land on a comet, which is the sort of thing that might come in handy one day.

And there are new, even larger large telescopes on the horizon, that will see more and better than the ones used today.

Apparently some of this is rocket science. So much for people who are always saying things are not. Some things simply have to be.

I was so excited about this book that I was wondering who I could pass it on to once I was done with it. I’d like to inspire a small human to take an interest in this kind of thing.

But then I thought, pass it on?

Polly and the Puffin

Jenny Colgan’s Polly and the Puffin, and the second book, The Stormy Day, both illustrated by Thomas Docherty, are nice little books, just the way I like them. Small in size, which makes holding them easy, and with lots of pictures, and not all that much text, making them suitable to be a child’s first chapter book.

Jenny Colgan and Thomas Docherty, Polly and the Puffin

In the first book Polly, who lives in one of those perfect, attractive small villages with a harbour and a lighthouse, and rough weather, that you encounter in fiction (maybe even in real life), finds an injured puffin, whom she names Neil. They do everything together, until the day Neil is ready to fly away to be with other puffins.

Polly misses him, and Neil seems to miss her too.

In The Stormy Day Polly is waiting for her seaman father to come home, and also for Neil to return after he flies off, somewhere.

Jenny Colgan and Thomas Docherty, The Stormy Day

There is not much happening in either of the stories, which I found quite restful. Good for young readers, or anyone reading to a child (with prompts for hugging), and lots of truly orange illustrations, that go very well with the sheer puffin-ness of the little fishing village.

At the back of the books you get jokes and recipes and colouring-in, making them even more fun.