Interview with Jennifer Maruno

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Interview with Jennifer Maruno

Posted on August 27 by Jennifer Maruno
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Jennifer Maruno, author of the recently released Kid Soldier sits down with me to tell me all about her new book. Jennifer is a long-time educator. Her debut novel, When the Cherry Blossoms Fell, was shortlisted for the Hackmatack Award and the Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Readers Choice Award. She is also the author of Warbird, and Cherry Blossom Winter. She lives in Burlington, Ontario

Caitlyn: Tell us about your book.

Jennifer: My father, Richard Fuller, grew up in Niagara Falls, leaving his home town like many young men to serve his country. The 1st Canadian Division mobilized before the formal declaration of war on September 1, 1939. We didn't know until we were adults that my he had gotten into military training camp  at Niagara-on-the-Lake  under a false name in order to earn money. The camp was in July of 1939 and his false name received a letter of deployment in August. He tried to get out of it using the only identification he had,  a library card, but ended up crossing the Atlantic in December 1939 and were stationed at Leipzig Barracks on Ewshott Common originally built for the Royal Field Artillery. His division trained in England for three years before transferring to the Mediterranean to take part in the Invasion of Sicily in July 1943.

Caitlyn: How did you come up with the idea for this work?

Jennifer: I used my Dad's underage adventure as the basis of my novel. He left me a black three-ring binder of antidotes, newspaper clippings and mementos. This was a huge boon for researching the novel. But a historical novel is not just a long list of chronological events. There has to be a story.

A favourite phrase of my father's whenever we got into trouble was "So what was your big idea at doing this or that.."   So I asked myself, "What is the big idea of this novel?"  He  often told me if it hasn't have been for the war he would have never gotten out of Niagara Falls. In a way his dream of seeing the world was realized. This is what I used to create my main character's inner thoughts and aspirations.

Caitlyn: How did you come up with the title?

Jennifer: My Dad freely admitted he was nothing but a kid when he became a soldier. I can still hear him say it, which is how the title came to be.

Caitlyn: How did you research your book?

Jennifer: I checked out all of his anedotes historically, cross referencing with newspaper articles and history reports. He was a common soldier and lot of what he did wasn't huge news but locations and correct names and dates had to be vetted.

I listened to a lot of CBC radio archives. They were fascinating, especially the haunting sounds of marching footsteps recorded when reporter spoke of troop movement. Once can still listen to the last roll call of soldiers on Canadian soil before boarding in Halifax  and the sounds of the men singing in French and in English as the ships left harbour.

I  also enlisted  the help of my brother, Ken Fuller, a history buff in his own right, also having spent some time in the army.  There were so many initials that my father used and I needed to know what they all meant.  This is an example of what Ken taught me.

"You have to distinguish between personal weapons and other "ordinance".  A soldiers personal weapon is his rifle, SMG (small machine gun), LMG (light machine gun), revolver, pistol etc.... i.e. the weapon he personally carries.  Examples you have already heard of are the Bren gun which is an LMG, the Sten gun which is an SMG and the weapon Dad carried which was a Thompson sub-machine gun.  The Thompson is the same weapon seen in gangster movies with the round ammunition magazine below the barrel.  In Dad's case it was probably the version that had a straight magazine extending perpendicular to the barrel and in front of the trigger guard.  He might have carried a revolver as well, in which case it would have been a Webley (standard British issue).  Anything bigger than a personal weapon is usually called a "manned" weapon because it takes more than one person to "man" it.  An HMG (heavy machine gun) is manned by two, all mortars are manned and all guns are manned by teams varying in size depending on the size of the weapon.  I think the 25 pounder had a 5 man gun crew."

You can see how getting all the artillery straight was a task in itself.

Caitlyn: What was the hardest part of writing your book?

Jennifer: Writing historical fiction is a kind of drop-in approach, like coming down in a parachute or a Google Earth experience that can focus on one small part of the earth while going back in time. I had more than enough historical material to use.  It took me a while to find the voice of Richard as a young man. I had to guess at his reaction to circumstances based on how he reacted to things as I knew him. Some people change as they grow old. Richard Fuller was a handsome man, full of good humour and personality until the day he died.

Caitlyn: What is your new project?

Jennifer: I am in the process of editing my latest novel, Totem, the story of a young boy of mixed blood who travels back in time and learns about the carving of Totem poles. Part of the story deals with the Canadian Government's misguided attempts to school native children in residential homes.

Jennifer Maruno

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014
Jennifer Maruno photo

Jennifer Maruno

Jennifer Maruno is a long-time educator and author. Her debut novel, When the Cherry Blossoms Fell, was shortlisted for the Hackmatack Award and the Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Readers Choice Award. She lives in Burlington, Ontario.