What started as our third book concept for Lonely Conservationists, didn’t quite make it into a handheld cover of pages laden with words and illustrations. You see, just like the rollercoasters of navigating the conservation world, life often puts a spanner in the works and allows us the opportunity to practice being flexible and adaptable. Here’s what happened.
Late last year, I had the idea to create a resource for young conservationists who are maybe in school, university, or just starting out in their careers. My first idea was to build a guide to how anyone can be a conservationist, just by the small decisions that they make in daily life. After taking to the community to interview them about how they make decisions as conservationists in their day-to-day life, I quickly realised that many people live to a sustainable standard that may be utterly bewildering to young high school students. I intended this book to make sustainability more attainable, however, I already felt as if reading this book would make people just feel bad about the existing way that they chose to live their lives. After some self-reflection of my own sustainability flaws, I went back to the drawing board.
How could I get the authors to convey empathy to young conservationists? I asked myself. Well, I thought, what if they WERE the young conservationists?!
In December 2021, the authors had exactly a month to craft a letter to their younger selves with advice and hope for what it was like to grow up in the conservation industry. The authors then had another month to refine their stories in the new year while I approached illustrators and an editor from the community to get this show on the road. The plan was to make the book whimsical, with each letter pairing with an illustration of a scene that an author described. The letters were heartfelt and hopeful and ignited candles of emotion and warmth inside of me.
After the letters were complete, our two illustrators had four months to illustrate each of the letters and we sent our manuscript off to the editor. Everything was going well, we started crafting the book layout, refining the images and planning the launch of the book amongst the authors. I mean, it was going well…until it just wasn’t anymore.
The editor came back to me sometime later with some serious concerns that this book may be too traumatic to read for some, and may even turn some people away from the industry. Sure, the stories had happy endings, but there was a LOT of trauma written about in there. There was also the notion that the stories weren’t conservation-focused enough, but if we took out the trauma and enhanced the conservation bits- wouldn’t that just be the Secret Life of Conservationists all over again?
I guess that in the catharsis of the letter-writing process, I lost sight of the poor reader who had to go on thirty emotional journeys in a row- which is a bit intense for a young reader. I didn’t want to trauma-dump on anyone, but in the same step, I can’t tell someone what and what not to say to their former self. I was in a bit of a pickle.
Thankfully, I breathed a sigh of relief as the authors agreed that these were legitimate concerns, and considered the option of a pivot. After much reflection individually and as a group, we decided to share these stories and images with you all on here, this blog. This way, the letters can be read and enjoyed while also being digested in bite-sized pieces so as to not overwhelm you.
Let’s face it, the stories on here aren’t necessarily the happiest of all stories- but the realism of the pain and loneliness is what has brought us all here together and has allowed us to feel a part of a wider community. I think that, unlike a wider book audience, this blog and these letters can now reach the people that need to read them, other lonely conservationists. Also, now there is no paywall! Yay!
I’d like to thank all the authors, illustrators and editor for all the work they have put into this project. I hope that, although this isn’t the outcome they imagined, they can still feel pride and value in the content that they have produced. I am proud of the way they adapted and evolved throughout this journey and I know that this will bode well for them in their conservation careers.
So without further adieu, here are the letters to young conservationists…..well, starting next week!