Flame – Coloured Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff

Flame-Coloured Taffeta cover

Flame – Coloured Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff is a Puffin book which was published in 1986. It was probably aimed at pre-teen children, but I intend to work my way through all of the author’s books – eventually.

The setting is the mid eighteenth century and the coastal south-west of England between Chichester and Selsey Bill. It was a time of on and off war with France and just five years after the failed attempt by Charles Edward Stewart to get the Jacobites back on the throne of Britain.

Damaris is a twelve year old girl who lives with her father and aunt on a coastal farm, an area which sees lots of smuggling activity, not that they call themselves smugglers, they’re known as Free Traders. Damaris is sure that she heard a gunshot during the night and she’s afraid that one of her local friends might have been shot, so she goes out searching her father’s farmland and discovers a young man, a stranger who has been shot in the leg.

She needs the help of her friend and neighbour Peter to get the wounded man draped across her horse and they take him to their hideout in a tumbledown cottage nearby. He’ll have to share the place with the wounded fox that they’re nursing back to health.

But have they done the right thing, is he a smuggler or is he perhaps a spy from France?

This is a very quick read with just 120 pages and it also has well detailed illustrations by Rachel Birkett.

I enjoyed this one, but then I do like stories featuring smugglers as many people do. I’m not sure if that’s a particularly British penchant/weakness or if it’s more universal. What do you think? Pirates are another weakness of course, maybe it’s just that ‘bad guys’ seem more interesting!

Book Purchases

We were in Edinburgh on Tuesday, right in the middle of the city – Princes Street, we don’t often go there but I wanted to visit the Habitat store. It was a bit of a shock to discover that Habitat has gone from Edinburgh, I knew the one in Glasgow had closed. I suppose we have the internet to blame for that, apparently it closed about five years ago and I’ve only just found out, so obviously they never made much money from me.

Anyway, we rarely go to Edinburgh without visiting Stockbridge, the secondhand bookshops are far more my cup of tea than the shops in Princes Street, or Shandwick Place for that matter. Stockbridge is about a 20 minute walk from the centre of Edinburgh and it’s like a wee separate town, with lots of independent shops – and charity shops of course. You can see some images of parts of Stockbridge here.

I was lucky bookwise as you can see.


A lot of them are childrens books, but I like to catch up on what I missed out on as a child. I don’t think I’ve ever read a Nancy Drew book, but I know that Joan @ Planet Joan is a big fan so I couldn’t resist buying:

The Secret of the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene.

The Marvelous Land of Oz by Frank Baum. I’ve yet to read The first Oz book although I have the second.

The Lantern Bearers by Rosemary Sutcliff. It’s about Britain just after the Romans left, a dark time of change and upheaval. (Does it remind you of anything?!)

Once Upon a Time by A.A. Milne. This book was first published in 1917 but my copy is a 1962 reprint. It’s a series of hilarious adventures apparently – involving a cloak of darkness, magic swords and seven league boots. It sounds like fun – for children of all ages.

A Folly of Princes by the Scottish author Nigel Tranter is set in Fife where I live and involves some of the local castles and King Robert III, it should be interesting as although Tranter wrote fiction his books were well researched.

Crime at Christmas by C.H.B. Kitchin was first published in 1934 but this one is a 2015 reprint by Faber and Faber. I’m going to keep this one fro Christmas reading.

Lament for a Maker by Michael Innes – another Scottish author – was first published in 1938 and it was recommended to me by a blogger yonks ago. I have read a lot of his books, including the ones he wrote under the name J.I.M. Stewart and I always enjoy his writing.

I think you’ll agree that I had quite a successful day in Edinburgh – despite not being able to do my planned shopping in Habitat.

Tristan and Iseult by Rosemary Sutcliff

Tristan and Iseult

This story is one of those things which was a bit of a cultural blindspot as far as I was concerned, because I really didn’t know much about it, apart from the fact that Wagner wrote an opera around the story. So when I saw this Puffin book in a charity shop I decided to buy it and rectify matters. Obviously this was written for children, as it’s a Puffin, not a Penguin, and I have previously read and enjoyed The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, which was made into the film The Eagle fairly recently. She does have a lovely way of painting the pictures for you.

Basically the story is very similar to the Arthur-Guinevere stories but Tristan and Iseult predates those ones. As with Arthur, the tales have been told and set in most European countries, with slight variations and in the foreword of this version Sutcliff explains that she decided to leave out the love-potion part of the storyline, as she thinks that that was added in medieval times as an excuse for Tristan and Iseult falling in love with each other.

It was a time when kings could give their sisters away in marriage to any chap who had pleased them, as a reward, and that’s exactly what King Marc of Cornwall did. That poor Cornish princess didn’t even seem to have a name, never mind a say in her future. Anyway, Rivalin King of Lothian took her back to his home in the north, but within a year his queen died, just after producing a son, who was named Tristan, which means sorrow.

Suffice to say that 16 years later Tristan asks his father the king if he can travel to Cornwall and so begin his adventures, including dragon slaying in Ireland and a quest to find a particular red-haired woman for King Marc, who is planning to marry again. Of course it turns out that the red-head is none other than Iseult the King of Ireland’s daughter. Unfortunately Tristan and Iseult fall for each other so it all ends in tears.

I enjoyed this old legend and as this is a children’s version it’s a very quick read at just 138 pages. It involves all the Celtic areas of Britain and Brittany too.

I don’t know if it was because of David Bowie being all over the news whilst I was reading this book, but that word ‘sorrow’ is mentioned right at the beginning of the book and I had his version of ‘Sorrow’ going through my head a lot of the time I was reading this, except it should have been long red hair and not blonde!

A lot of the story takes place in Tintagel, Cornwall which is one of my favourite places. It’s positively magical, have a look at the images here. They don’t give you the correct colour of the sea around there though, which is a beautiful deep jade green.

The Eagle – the film

Amazingly, we actually went to the cinema in Dunfermline last night to see The Eagle which is based on the Rosemary Sutcliff book which I enjoyed reading years ago. Mind you it was SO long ago that I’m not sure how true to the book the film is. I don’t remember there being so much fighting and goriness but as that seems to be what most people want then they’re obviously going to add in as much as possible.

It’s set in Roman Britain and Marcus Aquila has been given command of a fort on Hadrian’s Wall and he is determined to gain back his family’s honour which was lost when his father and the Ninth Legion which he had command of, disappeared along with their golden eagle standard. The only way he can do it is to find the standard and take it back to Rome.

I quite enjoyed it but the battle scenes were so loud, they shook the whole place and it’s positively painful on my ears. Marcus and his slave Esca travel north into Caledonia/Scotland and some of the Scottish scenery is quite spectacular, the best part of the film for me really. It turned out to have a bit of a Romano-British Brokeback Mountain flavour to it, I think.

We hadn’t been to the flicks for ages, since we saw Tamara Drew actually because we didn’t get around to seeing The King’s Speech. I think we’re the only people in the western world who haven’t seen it. We did try when it was at the wee local cinema but we couldn’t get in as everybody else had booked their tickets! You live and learn!