“I spent many hours mock fighting with a straw bull”

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Former Haywards Heath schoolgirl Jill Newman-Rogers has written a book about her experiences in Franco’s Spain, including learning to bullfight.

Her book “A Spanish Tapestry” tells of the extremes under Franco’s dictatorship and of her affair with a married matador.

It recounts her experience of being labeled ‘a whore’ and how her life has moved on now to include the rescue of ill-treated horses.

The book is described by its publisher as the “endearingly frank memoirs of an optimistic 20 year old seeking adventure and love as she explores the beauty, culture and charm of Spain on horseback”.

As if that were not enough, Jill’s story, which is subtitled “A Journey of Legend, History and Love”, is marketed as both a “rite of passage” story and a social and political commentary on General Franco’s dictatorship.

Jill, whose family connections with Sussex run deep, lived in Haywards Heath from the age of five until 16, when she went to study in Paris.

She said: “We lived in an Edwardian monstrosity at the top of Lucastes Avenue. The garden was big and my mother, in her memoirs, remembers how we kept pigs to supplement our rations. Food was still scarce after the war.

“I attended Farlington day school until I went for an A level year to Ravenscroft in Eastbourne. We moved to the centre of Haywards Heath during the petrol rationing in the Suez crisis. It was also an ugly house on Muster Green. I definitely remember the Mid Sussex Times as being part of our life!”

Jill’s parents later moved to Buxted, and both she and her sister were married in Wivelsfield church. Her brother and her two sons went to school in Forest Row and her brother lives in Hartfield.

Of her bullfighting experiences, Jill said: “I spent many hours mock fighting with a straw bull and attempting to train my horses to charge straight at it. On some occasions I practised with a small bull who was really quite fierce. It’s a lot more difficult than it looks when the true professionals do it.”

A Spanish Tapestry begins in 1962 when a 20-year-old Jill received a small inheritance and headed for Spain with a plan to ride her horse through Andalusia.

But her romantic notions were dashed by the reality of a heavily catholic country of ‘macho’men and attitudes.

As a single women travelling alone, she was viewed with suspicion by the locals who thought she was ‘a whore’.

Still, Jill relished her freedom and immersed herself in the culture and language, discovering Spanish history and the reasons for the Civil War, the iron grip of Franco and the power of the Catholic Church.

She says her affair with a married bullfight impresario led to local nuns petitioning the bishop who in turn lobbied for her to be expelled from the country. She was forced to leave Spain with her two small children within a week, returning only after Franco’s death.

Along the way, Jill joined the macho and male dominated sport of bullfighting. Twinned with sexism was the cost of at least four horses for every fight, and she eventually bowed out.

Jill now lives permanently in Andalusia where she helps to run a charity for abandoned and ill-treated horses. Due to the recession, she says more horses are being abandoned and less money donated, with the biggest donors being the ex-pat English community.

A Spanish Tapestry is published by Acorn Independent Press Ltd: paperback £8.99 and E-book £3.99