In Defense of Happy Endings - How Jo Watson Came to Write 'Larry Leadbeater'

October 14th, 2020

Six years ago, I started writing a story about a fictional fairy possum who changes the fate of his species with the help of a little girl and a new law.  The ending I chose was aspirational. In other words, an ending that seemed wildly unlikely to happen in the real world, but absolutely worth imagining and striving for. 

Hope and optimism are sometimes dismissed or downplayed (often by the hopeful optimists themselves) as silly or naive. But I believe there is a difference between hope and naivety. To borrow the words of Scottish philosopher Jonathan Rowson, "hope is not so much about thinking that things will be better… but seeing a place that’s worth going to and orienting your will toward that.” If you don’t first imagine a better outcome, how can you possibly take the necessary steps to get there?

This philosophy of hope can be applied to storytelling. Specifically, to happy endings. I love a happy ending, but I’ve never thought about why. And sometimes I’ve wondered if a happy ending is somehow less worthy. But a story with a happy ending needn’t be trite or simplistic. It can be a powerful tool for imagining a better way forward.

I believe there’s a connection between what we imagine and what we do. Between our inner lives and the physical world of actions and outcomes. But "Vision is not enough, it must be combined with venture. It is not enough to stare up the steps, we must step up the stairs.” (Vaclav Havel)

Over the last few decades, thousands of people across multiple communities have been fighting to get the Leadbeater’s Possums' habitat protected from logging and prevent the fairy possum from going extinct. More recently, conservation groups Friends of Leadbeater’s Possums (FOLB) and WOTCH, with the help of Environmental Justice Australia went to court to try to win legal protection for the Mountain Ash forests that are crucial to the survival of Leadbeater's, Greater Gliders and dozens more species. 

The court case FOLB vs VicForest concluded in the same month my book, Larry Leadbeater, came out. FOLB won the case and the court ordered a prohibition against logging the 66 contested areas of forest - home to the threatened Greater Glider and critically endangered Leadbeater’s Possum.

I certainly didn’t play a direct role in this landmark victory. Not even an indirect one! But I am immensely gratified that my book’s aspirational ending - which weaves together advocacy, law and a secure, protected environment -  has turned out to be weirdly prescient.

Of course, there is much work still to be done. I'll continue funnelling money from Larry Leadbeater book sales to the amazing folk at FOLB and WOTCH to assist with monitoring the fairy possum population and helping it grow to a sustainable size. 

But let’s celebrate this step toward securing a future for Victoria’s faunal emblem. It’s a victory for community advocacy and hope. And that’s a happy ending indeed.

Jo Watson's debut picture book is available now.


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Tags: author, environment

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