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Six Elementals Author Interviews will introduce prospective readers to some of the best writers in their genre you may, or may not, have heard of, via a series of six questions. I encourage you to check out the work of these phenomenal creatives! Links to their websites and purchase links will always appear, accompanying the interview. Check them out!

This is a distinct honour and pleasure, in that I get to interview the fantastic, up-and-coming fantasy author, and recent SPFBO 9 Semi-Finalist, Sarah K. Balstrup!

Sarah’s published fiction works thus far: “The Way of Unity”.

P.L.: Sarah, thanks so much for joining me for a Six Elementals Interviews chat!

So happy to be able to interview you! I truly enjoyed reading your debut, “The Way of Unity!” It was exceptional!

And congratulations on “The Way of Unity” becoming an SPFBO 9 Semi-Finalist! Very well deserved!

Obviously, as you’ve met with some early success in this prestigious competition, I’m hoping, thus far, it’s been a great experience for you. Can you tell us please a bit about what it’s been like being part of SPFBO, why you entered, and what the benefits and challenges, if any, have been to-date?

SARAH: Being a part of SPFBO has been such a great experience. It is like an online festival for the indie community. There is a real sense of camaraderie among the contestants and reviewers, who are all doing it for the love of books. 

I am really pleased to have got through to the semi-finals, and because of this competition I have a lot of new authors on my radar!

P.L.: For those that are unfamiliar with your awesome writing, with respect to “The Way of Unity”, can you tell us a bit, please about your work, a bit of an elevator pitch if you will?

SARAH: “The Way of Unity” is about a religious society ruled by psychic priests that grows corrupt. Justified by her family’s murder, Sybilla Ladain sparks a revolution that will destroy the priesthood and everything they stand for. Though, it is a bitter victory for the generation who grew up under Sybilla’s rule; a community alienated from its spiritual past. Lost souls come for Sybilla, but who can undo what has been done?

P.L.: That’s a great pitch, for a wonderful book. Can you speak a little bit about your writing journey please? How long have you been writing, what inspired you to write, and what made you elect to publish via self-publishing rather than seeking an agent and a book deal with a “Big Five” traditional house?

SARAH: There is something magical in the process of writing. Sentence follows sentence, and at some point, the fragments come together and a hidden order emerges between the lines. In my teens, I started out with a journal that I kept hidden in a locked box. It was a lifeline, really, having a place where I could write anything that came into my head–like a private confessional.

The years went by and I moved from visual art to academic writing and it was only after my first academic book came out that I re-opened that locked box and started flicking through my journals again. I found a fragmentary story, based on a dream I’d had, and decided to turn it into a novel. 

I queried “The Way of Unity” for a year before self-publishing, feeling little connection with the mainstream market or the agents that I was writing to. It was a bit daunting to self-publish, but I am so glad that I did. For this book, it was the right choice. Understanding the market a bit better, I can appreciate that some books are born for the mass market, and others are strange birds that are happiest in the niches. 

P.L.: Fans of your work, such as I, are happy you got your book out there! I am enthralled with the topic of organized religion, and adore fiction books that feature a religious element. You have a Doctorate in Religious Studies, and clearly religion plays a critical aspect in “The Way of Unity”. What it is about religion that fascinates you, and why did you choose to depict the religious themes in your book the way you did?

SARAH: I did not grow up in a religious household but was exposed to a lot of alternative religious ideas at a young age. Psychic readings, spiritual cleansings, meditation retreats, therapeutic rituals etc. No matter how rational you think you are, these experiences have psychological power and I have always been fascinated by subjective experiences of truth. There is an anthropologist, Harvey Whitehouse, who explains that a single initiation ceremony can have life-long impacts on the psyche (because it is so visceral and traumatic) whereas you could listen to a dry sermon a hundred times without it deeply affecting your worldview. 

In fiction, I love stories that explore the psychological aspects of religious experience, where reality expands or is reframed through moments of realisation. e.g. Frank Herbert’s “Dune”, John Fowles’ “The Magus” or Susanna Clarke’s “Piranesi”.

Generally speaking, I love that religions exist as repositories of the most ambitious, beautiful, and terrifying heights of human contemplation. I respect religion, and yet recognise that it is vulnerable to corruption. 

When it comes to morality, I am less interested in concepts of good and evil than the confrontation of the Shadow within the self. On this count, I think Mike Flanagan’s “Midnight Mass” does a brilliant job of evoking the supernatural and the existential, while placing moral responsibility on human beings. 

P.L.: Oooh, that’s one for the reading list! Further on the topic of religion, the other part of your bibliography includes a non-fiction work, your PHD thesis: “Spiritual Sensations: Cinematic Religious Experience and Evolving Concepts of the Sacred”. Can you tell us please, about this book?

SARAH: Basically, I compare film techniques with elements of religious ritual to explain why some films can feel like a “religious experience.” I start with Stanley Kubrick’s ”2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968), following up with two films that were specifically influenced by “2001 – Gaspar Noé’s Enter the Void” (2009) and Lars von Trier’s ”Melancholia” (2011). The sense of hypnotic absorption, flow-like focus, awe, dread, and elusive significance, arise from a combination of elements. Like a mandala or symmetrically framed church altar, the camera stills the eye, encouraging prolonged focus. The soundscape is full of low rumbling noise and repetitious pulses, punctuated by startling orchestral motifs that stir the emotions when there is little of emotional import there on the screen. The final cascade of strong emotion and the confluence of abstract narrative elements brings about excessive or unattributable sensations. When paired with the films’ themes–of consciousness beyond infinity, the passage of the dead, and of apocalypse–they take on the attributes of mystical vision and are remembered as being religiously significant.

P.L.: Fascinating! Can you tell us a bit please, if possible, about what projects you are currently working on? What can we expect to see coming out from Sarah K. Balstrup in the future?

SARAH: I am currently working on Book Two in the “Velspar – Elegies” series, ”A Trail of Stars”. “The Way of Unity” was very inward-looking, but this story takes us beyond Velspar’s shores and into the unknown. 

I have also started work on a novel set in Canberra, Australia, about a grieving mother who accidentally starts a cult inspired by the esoteric maps of Walter Burley Griffin.

P.L.: That sounds exciting! So looking forward to reading more from you!

Sarah, I have truly enjoyed our chat and I really appreciate you joining me on Six Elementals Interviews! Thank you so much!






The Way of Unity, book:

Sarah balstrup
The Way of Unity, audiobook:

Spiritual Sensations, academic book:

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