Author Interview with Matthew J. Kirby

Today we would like to welcome Matthew J. Kirby, author of THE CLOCKWORK THREE, released last fall with Scholastic.  He is offering an autographed copy of his book here at Mixed-Up Files to one lucky winner!  To enter, leave a comment in the comments section below and our random generator will choose a lucky winner on Tuesday, May 24th (enter now!).  You’ll get extra entries for sharing a link on your blog, Facebook, Twitter, or if you click the ‘Follow this blog’ button in Networked Blogs on the lower right side of our site.

***Please mention each link in a new comment so the generator will add your extra entries.  Winners must live in the US or Canada.  Good luck!

Matthew, thank you for taking the time to interview with us.  THE CLOCKWORK THREE is a beautifully written historical adventure in which the lives of three children intersect as they realize each holds a piece of the puzzle that can save the other.  Let’s begin there, to talk about the children, Giuseppe, Hannah, and Frederick.  What inspired your creation of their characters?

Thanks for having me, Jen.

The main characters in THE CLOCKWORK THREE each had a different genesis.  In fact, for a good long while I thought I had three separate books.

The inspiration for Giuseppe came from an historical account of a real boy.  The newspapers of 1873 referred to him as Joseph, and he became the literal poster child for a type of slavery wherein children were kidnapped or bought in Italy, then shipped off to Paris, London, New York City, or Chicago.  They were forced to play music and beg for money on the streets, and suffered terrible abuse at the hands of their padrones, or masters.  Joseph was one of thousands enslaved by this system, but he had the courage to escape it.  I based many aspects of Giuseppe’s story on Joseph’s life.

Frederick’s would have been a very different kind of story, had he been left to his own – ahem – devices.  It would have been more of a fantasy.  I’ve been fascinated by clockwork and automata for a while, and I wanted to write a story about a young, ambitious apprentice secretly working to build something magnificent.  It wasn’t always going to be a clockwork man.  I’m still holding onto the germ of Frederick’s original story, before he found his way into THE CLOCKWORK THREE, and some of those ideas may show up sometime in a future book.  We writers know how to recycle!

As for Hannah, she came about indirectly.  The characters of Madame Pomeroy and her bodyguard, Yakov, arrived first, though I’m not actually sure where they came from.  Madame Pomeroy’s past is still somewhat of an enigma, even to me, which I love.  But I distinctly saw the two of them in their hotel suite, and then I noticed a maid standing off to one side in a corner, Madame Pomeroy’s personal attendant.  Once I shifted my focus onto her, Hannah and her story became clear.

Of course, realizing that these three characters belonged in the same book took me more time than it should have.  But once I did, and I allowed them to come together, to help one another, their stories fell into place.

One thing I love about these children is how strong and well-defined each of their personalities are. Are you drawn to one more than the others?

I’m glad the characters and their personalities came to life for you, because they did for me.  I feel like I know them.  I’m inspired by Giuseppe’s bravery.  I admire Frederick’s determination.  And I love Hannah’s loyalty.  But each of the three have their flaws as well, and they suffer for them at times throughout the book.

What can you tell us about your next book, ICEFALL?

ICEFALL is a Viking story.  I wanted to write something very different from THE CLOCKWORK THREE, and I think it is.  It’s much more confined, even claustrophobic, and I hope suspenseful.  It’s the story of three royal children who are sent away to a remote fortress for their protection during a time of war.  But as winter sets in, sealing them off from the outside world, they realize that a traitor has been trapped in with them.  Add to that a company of berserker warriors, a Viking storyteller, and a clever raven, and you have ICEFALL.

Now, a few questions to get to know you better.  One sentence answers only…

You got it.

Other than your own, what is your current favorite book?

Since you specified “current” (thanks for that!) I’m able to say OCTAVIAN NOTHING by M.T. Anderson, both volumes together.

What was your favorite book as a child?

A WIZARD OF EARTHSEA by Ursula K. Le Guin, and it still is, in spite of the answer above.

Do you write on a computer or in a notebook?

My handwriting is far too illegible to trust it with my writing.

Favorite place to be creative?

I can daydream anywhere, anytime.  Just ask my friends and family.

Best thing about being a middle-grade author?

My middle-grade readers.


Matthew J. Kirby has been making up stories since he was quite small.  He was less small when he decided that he wanted to be a writer, and quite a bit larger when he finally became one.  His father was a doctor in the Navy, so his family moved frequently.  Matthew went to three different elementary schools and three different high schools, and he has lived in Utah, Rhode Island, Maryland, California, and Hawaii, which means that while growing up he met many people, and had many wonderful experiences.  In college, he studied history and psychology, and he decided that he wanted to work with children and write stories for them.  So he became a school psychologist, a job he truly enjoys.  He currently lives in Utah with his wife where he works for a large school district.  You can visit him at his website:


Jennifer Nielsen lives on the side of a northern Utah mountain with her husband, three children, and a naughty puppy.  She is the author of Elliot and the Goblin War, the forthcoming Elliot and the Pixie Plot (Sourcebooks, August `11), and from Scholastic,The False Prince (April `12).  Learn more about her and her books at

Jennifer Nielsen