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VPLA 2023
The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness

Writing for Young Adults Shortlist

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Title: The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness

Author: Matt Ottley

Publisher: Dirt Lane Press/WestWords

The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness is a groundbreaking, large-scale multi-modal project weaving together the worlds of literature, music and visual art in the poignant story of one boy’s journey into mental illness. Readers and listeners are offered a mesmerising visual and auditory tour de force about beauty and resilience, society and belief, that at its heart expresses hope for a greater understanding and embracing of difference. The narrative unfolds around the metaphor of a tree, growing within the boy, whose flower is ecstasy and whose fruit is sadness. This luminous, multi-faceted work is inspired by the experiences of its award-winning creator, Matt Ottley, who has lived with bipolar disorder all his life and been hospitalised on numerous occasions in mental health facilities. Having personally experienced the prejudices and challenges that come from suffering a mental illness, Matt’s aim is to offer a sensory insight through words, music and images into the experiences of those who suffer from such debilitating illnesses, particularly psychosis. This book comes with a CD recording of Matt Ottley’s symphony, which forms part of this multi-modal work.



Judges’ report

This multimedia book is one that defies categorisation. Accompanied by a beautiful musical score available on CD or download, this story of mental illness is told through sparse language and Ottley’s trademark strange and haunting illustrations. Beginning with muted colours, we follow a young boy as he begins to experience bipolar disorder, depicted as a metaphorical tree growing within him. Full page artworks move into increasingly bold colours and images as the boy grows and experiences depression and psychosis. This is an ambitious project that spans music, visual art and literature, it reaches the depths of despair but also the heights of love and hope.






About the author

Matt Ottley is an acclaimed and multiple award-winning author and illustrator. His most recent picture book, How to Make a Bird (with Meg McKinlay), was the winner of the CBCA’s Picture Book of the Year Award and joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Award for Children’s Literature. As a composer, and an Endorsed Yamaha musician, Matt has written scores for many of his picture books, which have been performed by orchestras and musicians across Australia and internationally.



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