Turning the Hourglass - M. J. Keeley

Historian Dyrne Samson doesn’t need to read about the past anymore. Now he can visit it. Abandoning university lecturing, Dyrne joins a classified organisation hidden beneath the streets of New London. Their time-distortion pods let him visit any event in history. Almost. Visiting his own timeline is forbidden — the only reason he can’t return to the day he’ll never forget.

MJ, Welcome to Martin Matthews Writes!

Thanks, Martin! Very excited to answer your questions!

Well, first and foremost, tell us a little about yourself.

I’m a secondary school English teacher as well as a writer, and I live in Glasgow, Scotland. I’ve always wanted to write since I was little and have been doing it ‘properly’ now for around five years. I’ve been lucky enough to have had some of my short stories published and I also write film, theatre and book reviews for an online magazine called The Wee Review. My most significant achievement, though, has been the publication of Turning the Hourglass, which was just published by Black Rose Writing.

Congratulations on getting the book published! That is always a big achievement, especially after all the work of actually sitting down and writing a novel. Tell us a little about Turning The Hourglass

Turning the Hourglass is set in a post-nuclear war Britain (now called the United Empire – a union of the UK and USA). As well as billions of lives being lost, many records of history, literature and academia have been completely wiped out. What has survived, though, is technology that allows historians to ‘visit’ the past and observe significant events throughout history. One of these historians, Dyrne Samson, realises that when visiting the past, he can influence what he’s seeing. He also realises that this could be useful…
I think readers of Connie Willis and Hugh Howey will enjoy the book, as well as fans of time-travel TV shows like Doctor Who or Travellers.

Sounds awesome. Tell us a bit about some of the characters in the book.

Dyrne Samson is the protagonist and is a character living with secrets (the name ‘Dyrne’ is an Old English word meaning hidden, or secret). An event in his past that occurred while he was lecturing History at New London University has informed almost every part of his life in the present. As well as covering up guilt, Dyrne is also struggling to keep another aspect of his life hidden. Biologically, he is different from almost everyone else around him and is living in a prejudiced society that often discriminates against Dyrne’s kind.
Phoebe Rush is Dyrne’s colleague and closest friend. Unlike him, she is extroverted, open and lively. She feels maternal towards Dyrne and senses, more than anyone else, that he is struggling with something.
Dr. Charlotte Hould is the authoritative head of the Department for Historical Research where Dyrne and Phoebe work. Her recent changes to the regulations surrounding historical visits are causing Dyrne serious complications.
Finally, Sarai Tailor is a political activist who we visit in flashback chapters, but who has a major impact on the lives of the central characters. She is strong-willed, dedicated to her beliefs, and an outsider.

Where did the idea for this book come from?

The premise came from the idea of ghosts. I’ve always been fascinated by the supernatural and I began to wonder – what if ghosts aren’t echoes from those who have died, but images of those who haven’t lived yet; visitors from the future who’ve come back to observe us. From here, I developed the concept of future historians, visiting people throughout time to research and record their lives.

That’s a really cool concept. What are some of the themes and ideas behind Turning?

I wanted to explore the idea of personal and social histories. How much does our past influence our present? Should it? Can we escape it? And if we could go back and change things, what harms might that create? I also wanted to explore characters dealing with secrecy, guilt, and prejudice, and to showcase the extreme behaviours these things can push us to.

Who or what are some of your biggest influences?

I’ve definitely been influenced by some of the classic dystopian texts like The Handmaid’s Tale, 1984, and the slightly more recent Never Let Me Go. I really admire writers who can create brilliant page-turners that have appealed to so many readers like J.K. Rowling and Suzanne Collins. Although they’re not in my genre at all, I also love the writing of Sylvia Plath, Steven Chbosky, and Celeste Ng. I’m a huge film and TV fan too so am inspired by writers and directors like Christopher Nolan, Aaron Sorkin, Chris Chibnail, Alfonso Cuaron and Darren Aronofsky.

What are you currently reading?

Yesterday I finished Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney which was excellent but quite emotionally challenging. I’m now deciding between Woman on the Edge of the Time by Marge Piercy and This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel. At the same time, I’m working my way through Michelle Obama’s memoir! It’s fascinating so far but quite long!

Are you working on another novel? Can you tell us anything about it?

I’ve actually completed a second novel and am in the middle of the submission process. It’s called The Stone in My Pocket and is a coming-of-age story about a teenage boy living in a little Scottish village. After hearing voices in the middle of the night and experiencing other inexplicable phenomena, he looks for answers from a medium who works in the local second-hand bookshop.
I’m also in the very early stages of a third novel! No title yet, but it’s going to play with different narrative perspectives, centred on the life of a woman who discovers a family secret while also hiding strange behaviours of her own from everyone around her. As you can probably tell, secrecy is a big theme in my work!

Do you have any events or appearances coming up?

Yes, I’ll be in the Creators’ Hall at the Cymera Festival in Edinburgh on Sunday 9th June. I’ll also be visiting a couple of reading/writing groups in Central Scotland over the next few months to talk about Turning the Hourglass and the writing process.

Thanks for stopping by and chatting with me today, M.J!

Thanks for the opportunity, Martin! And thanks to everyone reading!


M. J. Keeley

is a writer and teacher from Glasgow, Scotland. Turning the Hourglass is his debut sci-fi novel and was published by Black Rose Writing in April 2019. Keeley writes speculative and literary fiction and has had short stories published in various anthologies and magazines. He is also a contributing writer for online arts magazine The Wee Review.