This address was given by Rhiannon Lewis at a special event at the Embassy of Chile, London, in January 2023 to celebrate the achievements of Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes.
I met Consuelo on Monday 14th August 2017. We met at the Pullman Hotel, right next to one of my favourite buildings in the world, The British Library. I was looking for a publisher for my novel, and according to one commissioning editor, I was almost certainly destined for disappointment because in his view, the book was too English for the Welsh and too Welsh for the English.
Well, I thought, if neither the Welsh nor the English are interested, then perhaps I’ll try the Chileans. It was, after all, a tale about a Welshman (one of my ancestors) who had spent thirty years in Chile and who became involved in the Chilean civil war of 1891. I had already joined the Anglo-Chilean Society, as part of my research, so I contacted them to find out whether they knew of any publishing companies that might be interested.
There came a reply, almost immediately: the stars were aligned. A Chilean woman, living in the UK, had just launched her new publishing company a few weeks earlier. It was called Victorina Press. Perhaps the boss, Consuelo Rivera-Fuentes might be interested? I should definitely contact her.
Within days, it seems, I was having coffee at the Pullman Hotel on Euston Road, meeting Consuelo for the very first time. I liked her immediately.
Consuelo, do you know what I wrote in my diary that evening? I looked it up.
‘Consuelo is warm and friendly, but no push-over. Very interesting. Very determined! No wonder my great, great uncle liked Chileans!’
The more I learned about Consuelo, the more I realised that this was no ordinary human being. She had an incredible personal history. She had two MAs, one in sociology and women’s studies, the other in publishing. She also had a PhD in women’s studies. And at a stage in life when many people are thinking of splashing out on a new pair of slippers and spending the rest of their lives in front of the fire or daytime television, Consuelo was gearing up for her next adventure, realising the ambition of a lifetime and starting a brand new publishing company.
We met in August 2017, and by the end of December, Consuelo had already published my book, which, if you know anything about publishing, is phenomenally quick. Everything in publishing moves at a glacial pace, unless you’re published by Victorina Press!
Three months later, My Beautiful Imperial was listed as a ‘recommended book’ by the Walter Scott Prize Academy, the foremost competition for historical fiction. I was pleased for the book, obviously, but I was equally delighted for Consuelo that her faith in this unknown author had been justified, and that the enormous risk had paid off. They called the book ‘a cracker’ and it was placed shoulder to shoulder with works by Booker Prize-winning authors such as John Banville. None of this would have been possible without you, Consuelo.
Victorina Press’s mission is to publish great books that are also inspirational whilst following the principle of bibliodiversity – diversity is beautiful. Writing can be a lonely occupation, but being published by Victorina Press has meant being part of a family of authors. Since 2017, many other writers have had their own successes, thanks to your support. The list of Victorina authors continues to expand, but you have always made yourself available; you have never been too remote to help, even when there have been a million other demands on your time. As some of you will know, Victorina Press was named in honour of Consuelo’s mother and I am certain she would be immensely proud of what you have achieved.
In preparing for today, I realised that Consuelo was born under the star sign of Leo. Now it all makes sense! I don’t know if you believe in astrology, but it is uncanny how accurate some of these descriptions can be.
This is what they say about Leos: fierce, bold, charismatic, confident, they approach situations head-on and are ready for anything. If you’re with a group of hesitant people, you take action and lead everyone else through the door. They are passionate, ambitious, creative. They are sunny and big hearted. Charming and funny. No one can resist a Leo.
For my part, these are the things that sum up this incredible woman for me: phenomenally determined, fiercely loyal, and hugely supportive, a true inspiration.