The Way Of Unity – Sarah K. Balstrup

Today on our blog we have a Q & A with writer Sarah K. Balstrup, who was a participant on our Novel Creator Course.

  1. Can you tell us a bit about your novel?

The Way of Unity is a dark fantasy novel about a society bound by psychic intimacy that is torn apart by a religious schism. It is epic in scope but focuses on inner emotional experience more than your average fantasy. In the novel, Sybilla Ladain seeks to destroy the religious order who murdered her family. Yet she does so out of fear and her revolution signifies the closing of her heart and the prevention of social and spiritual communion among her people. Lost souls gather against her, angered by what they have lost, knowing life will never return to the way it was before.

  • How did your Religious Studies background influence this story?

I signed up for the RW Novel Creator Course during lockdown after moving to a new city and that kind of set the mood, crystalising the theme of unity vs. alienation. As a Religious Studies academic who had always been interested in the shift from collective to subjective religious practices (in Romanticism and especially in a post-1960s context), The Way of Unity picked up on many of the ideas that I had been exploring in my previous book Spiritual Sensations (Bloomsbury: 2020). Sybilla seeks to destroy The Intercessors because she mistrusts religious intermediaries but the generation who grow up in a ‘priestless’ world resent her because the chain has been broken and there is no one left to pass on the wisdom of the past.

  • What authors inspire you?

Virginia Woolf’s Orlando has long been my favourite fantasy novel, and that probably tells you all you need to know about where my work sits in the genre (that is, it doesn’t fit very well at all!). 

One writer I discovered while trying to come up with comparative titles for this book is a horror author who dabbles in fantasy: Christopher Buehlman. I absolutely loved Between Two Fires, a surreal vision of plague-ridden France, conceived as the eruption of Hell into the earthly plane, and the parable-like quest of a disgraced knight to wrest his soul from the spreading corruption.

Overall, I am drawn to unusual examples of genre fiction, and unfailingly to stories with underlying religious themes e.g., Ursula K. Le Guin, Kazuo Ishiguro, Alex Pheby, Lauren Groff and Susanna Clarke.

  • What are you working on now?

I have paused work on the sequel to The Way of Unity to focus on a contemporary novel about a struggling Canberra mum who inadvertently starts a cult following a neighbourhood tragedy. 

Sarah K. Balstrup is an Australian writer and former Religious Studies academic. Sarah’s debut novel The Way of Unity comes out 6 February 2023.

Twitter: @SKBalstrup




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