Saturday, September 24, 2016

Book review and author interview: Newton & Polly: A Novel of Amazing Grace by Jody Hedlund

About the book:

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now am found...

Now remembered as the author of the world’s most famous hymn, in the mid-eighteenth century as
England and France stand on the brink of war, John Newton is a young sailor wandering aimlessly
through life. His only duty is to report to his ship and avoid disgracing his father—until the night he
hears Polly Catlett’s enchanting voice, caroling. He’s immediately smitten and determined to win her

An intense connection quickly forms between the two, but John’s reckless spirit and disregard for the
Christian life are concerns for the responsible, devout Polly. When an ill-fated stop at a tavern leaves John imprisoned and bound, Polly must choose to either stand by his side or walk out of his life forever. Will she forfeit her future for the man she loves?

Step back through the pages of history, to uncover the true love story behind a song that continues to stir the hearts and ignite the faith of millions around the globe.

My review:

Once again, author Jody Hedlund has produced a well-researched historical novel that will capture your heart. She details the national political scene, the regional concerns, and the home lives of Polly Catlett and John Newton's day well. The courtship of John and Polly is beautifully drawn, and makes the reader fall in love with them. However, John Newton's character has potentially fatal flaws, and it is obvious that it is nothing other than God's amazing grace that rescues Newton both physically and spiritually. Newton was a scoundrel, but written in a way to garner sympathy from the reader. All the supporting characters were well-crafted, as well.

This is an excellent book that will appeal to fans of church history, historical romance, and historical fiction.

I received a copy of this book from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review, which I have given.

About the author:

Jody Hedlund is a best-selling and award-winning author who loves history and happily-ever-afters. She makes her home in Midland, MI with her husband and five children. When she's not writing another of her page-turning stories, you can usually find her sipping coffee, eating chocolate, and reading.

An interview with Jody Hedlund:

1. You’ve written about many other true historical couples. What drew you to write about Newton and Polly?
Like most people, I’m familiar with the song Amazing Grace and knew it was written by John Newton who’d once been an atheist slave trader. I’d even heard a little bit about John Newton’s saving grace moment when he was aboard a ship during a life-threatening storm and cried out to God.

However, I’d never heard anything about the love of his life, Polly Catlett, until I began to dig a little deeper into his life. It didn’t take me long to realize that Newton had a passionate love for her, and his love for her affected just about every decision he made for good and bad. Theirs is a beautiful love story, one that God used in a powerful way. I decided it was a story the world needed to hear.

2. You always do an enormous amount of research for each of your historicals. What was your research process like for Newton and Polly and what was the hardest part about it?
The first part of my research process for Newton and Polly involved reading as many biographies about John Newton that I could find. The one I found to be the most accurate and helpful was called, John Newton From Disgrace to Amazing Grace by Jonathan Aitken.

Another book I found especially helpful was John Newton’s autobiography, Out of the Depths. His accounts are both insightful and inspiring.

After learning as much as I could about both Newton and Polly including their backgrounds and personalities, I then researched the historical context of the story—the political and social climate, the war with France, the slavery issues, pirating, smuggling, impressment, and all the other issues common to the mid-1700’s.

Once I’d gained an understanding of the bigger picture, I familiarized myself with the smaller details such as clothing, food, homes, and everything else that I could learn about Georgian England. This micro-level research is usually the hardest for me. I want to be as accurate as possible in every detail from what hairstyles the women had to the clothing the sailors wore. But it’s not always easy to locate all the information I need.

3. Whenever fiction is based on true people or events, authors have the added challenge of maintaining integrity to the truth. How do you balance fact with fiction?
I always make it my goal to stay as true to the known facts as possible. I want to represent the people and events that I write about as accurately as possible. So for example, Newton and Polly really did meet at a young age. Newton really did claim to have fallen in love with her at first sight. He overspent his time at the Catletts on numerous occasions and lost his jobs in the process. Because of his lack of character, the Catlett's forbade further contact with Polly. He was impressed into the Royal Navy but later deserted, was whipped, and demoted. He was later transferred to a merchant vessel and from there spent time dealing in the slave trade in Africa.

Yes, it’s important to remain true to the facts. However, if that’s all a fiction writer did the book would turn into a biography. The challenge then is to take the facts and craft them into a riveting tale that readers can’t put down. In order to do that, writers often have to add additional plot lines and characters. Since history doesn’t record everything and we weren’t there to see what really happened, writers have the liberty of interpreting the gaps and adding in things that could have occurred.

I always write with this motto: Build the framework with true facts, but then fill in the unknown and decorate the house with enough color and drama to make a good story.

4. What do you hope readers walk away with after having read Newton and Polly?
During the very last time I read the book while I was doing my last edit, Newton’s return to God brought me to tears. I hope readers, too, are overwhelmed by the sense of God’s presence and grace in Newton’s life.

More than that, I pray that readers will have a new sense of God’s grace extended toward them, that they’ll realize that no matter what they’ve done or where they’ve been, that God is waiting to draw them into his outstretched arms into his amazing grace.

5. Who was the most inspirational person in your writing life?

My mom was the most influential person in my writing career. When I was young, she helped facilitate my love of writing by reading aloud to me, giving me good books to read, and providing the kind of environment that fostered my creativity (in fact we didn’t have a TV for a number of years). She always believed in me, encouraged me to pursue my dreams, and rode alongside me cheering me on.

6. What’s coming up next in your publication schedule? What can readers look forward to?
In January of 2017, readers can look forward to the 5th and final book in my Beacons of Hope lighthouse series! Be looking for a cover reveal soon!

Then in March of 2017, my third young adult book, For Love and Honor releases. This book spotlights the third knight in the series, Sir Bennet and tells how he finds his one true love.

In June of 2017, I’ll be unveiling a brand new series published by Bethany House. More information coming soon!

I'm so excited about what's coming up!  Thank you for all the work you have done to make history come alive through great stories!

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