THE TREE OF ECSTASY AND UNBEARABLE SADNESS is a groundbreaking, large-scale intermodal project weaving together the worlds of art, music and literature 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.

A masterful allegorical tale for the 21st century, the narrative unfolds around the metaphor of a tree growing within the boy, whose flower is ecstasy and whose fruit is sadness.

This luminous, multifaceted 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 images, music and words, into the experiences of those who suffer from such debilitating illnesses, particularly psychosis.

Part One – Genesis

As the seed sprouted and grew…

Even before he was born, he was cherished.
But there was, even then, deep within him, a seed.
As the seed sprouted and grew… it made the boy see things invisible to others.
Some people called him odd, others eccentric.
Children teased him. His friendships didn’t last long.
‘What’s wrong with me?’ he asked his parents.
‘Nothing, darling,’ his mother said, ‘you see and feel things differently to others.’
‘Perhaps this is a gift,’ suggested his father.

it made the boy see things invisible to others.

His gift showed him things so beautiful they made him cry.
But it also tormented him with the pain of others that made him feel numb.

When his sadness became unbearable, his parents sought the help of doctors.

They proclaimed there was a tree, whose flower was ecstasy, and whose fruit was sadness, growing within him.
It would always be there.

But they could give him medicine to stop the tree flowering and fruiting… and for a time the medicine worked.

‘The tree is too strong for me,’ said the boy.
Soon he could not even speak.

The tree, however, continued to grow…

and eventually became more powerful than the medicine.

One day, the effort of containing the tree became too difficult.
‘Please,’ implored his friends, ‘you must fight.’
‘You mustn’t allow yourself to be lost,’ cried his parents.
‘The tree is too strong for me,’ said the boy.
Soon he could not even speak.
And not long after that there was nothing of him but the tree.

Matt Ottley is an artist, composer and author with more than 40 picture books to his name. His previous works have won the Children’s Book Council of Australia’s Picture Book of the Year Award and the Prime Minister’s Award for Children’s Literature, and he is currently the Australian illustrator nominee for the 2024 Hans Christian Andersen Award. As a composer, he has written scores for many of his picture books, which have been performed by orchestras and musicians across Australia and internationally. The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness is published by One Tentacle Publishing.
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MATT HAS CREATED A 50-MINUTE ARTHOUSE FILM of The Tree of Ecstasy and Unbearable Sadness to enable audiences to slow down, reflect, and immerse themselves in a landscape of sometimes perilous beauty and wonder. At the heart of the film is an orchestral work performed by the Brno Philharmonic Orchestra (Filharmonie Brno), the Czech Philharmonic Choir Brno and tenor Ben Reynolds. The music is written and orchestrated by Matt Ottley.

Imagery from the book is accompanied by narration by Matt’s partner, Tina Wilson. The film was awarded a Special Mention in the 2023 BolognaRagazzi CrossMedia Awards and has been screened around Australia, in New Zealand, at the Hong Kong International Literary Festival and at Curzon Bloomsbury, London as part of Mental Health Awareness Week 2024.