Aliens of Ballagheaskey felt like a bit of a long shot when I wrote it. I was taking Jack out of his Cardiff environment, away from the rest of the team, and sending him to Ireland with Garrett. I almost decided not to use ut. I was expecting complaints that it was not a Torchwood story, among other issues. Fortunately the response was positive. A story that came out of the confines of Cardiff and tried something a bit different was well received.
My other worry was that the first part of the story was far too slow and uneventful. Essentially, it was an extended scene in which Jack and Garrett have coffee with Annie, Garrett’s ex-wife. Although there were some clues in the sequence that something sinister was going on, I was concerned that they were too subtle. Again, the response from readers was positive. Almost everyone got right away that Annie’s repeated request for Jack and Garrett to keep the children ‘safe’ was not bad writing, but actually a way of getting across how worried this woman was.
When I first thought of a story in which Jack gets to meet Garrett’s children, I DID expect to write a difficult scene in which the ex-wife is uptight about Garrett being in a homosexual relationship with Jack. But as I thought about it, and the more I planned the main part of the story, I found that it really wasn’t necessary. Nor was it logical. If Annie had invited Garrett to visit, and knew he was bringing Jack, then she would obviously have thought about it, come to terms with it, and even prepared the children by explaining that their father had a boyfriend, now. That meant that I could make the tension in the house about something completely different, and have the completely sweet and indulgent scene where Mollie asked her dad if Jack is his boyfriend.
Very early on I did have the idea of it being vampires that were plaguing the village. The idea of the villagers actually co-operating with the vampires is not completely my own. The inspiration comes from a Terry Pratchett Discworld book called Carpe Jugulum (Seize the Artery) in which a family of vampires actually hold a town near their castle in thrall and have a system for calling all the people to the village square and feeding on them without actually killing them. I extended the idea by having the locals themselves self-regulating the operation, with the ladies providing water and vitamins for those who are called up, and the parish council with their tombola drum pulling names out at random. There was no hypnotism involved, as such, just people who got themselves sucked into a vicious circle that none of them dared to break.
One reader asked if Annie deliberately invited Jack and Garrett knowing they would try to help. That was never made clear in the story, and I think that’s something that you can read between the lines if you want. But certainly they are men who wouldn’t hesitate to jump in and save the day if they could.
Jack and Garrett are definitely an item now. Garrett was a slow burning character introduced before Christmas last year, and mentioned in passing several times before actually getting a bigger role. Butcher of Telligan was very much his rite of passage, with this story completing his transition into front and centre character. I have had a lot of emails since this story from readers who have very much fallen for Garrett’s charms. Along with Alun, he has been one of my successes in this series of stories. In the TV series, of course, the number of central characters has been reduced, with only Jack, Gwen and Ianto left in the Hub at time of writing. But I think a wider character base, and the chance to focus on different combinations of the ensemble allows for more story possibilities.
Ballagheaskey is not a real Irish village. It is a bit of a generic place loosely based on the name of one village in County Wexford, Ballindaggin, and another in Sligo, Easkey. The geography of the village is based on the latter, because I know it quite well. The word Ballagh means ‘way’ or ‘road’ in Irish. The root of Easkey is either ‘uisce’, meaning water or ‘iascaigh’ relating to fish. I took the former meaning and made Ballagheaskey mean watery road. Easkey has a much more interesting Wikipedia page than Ballindaggin, by the way, but when you live there for a year, it is far less charming.
Likewise, Pont y Gell is a made up place name. The first part is a common prefix of Welsh towns meaning ‘bridge’ Gell is the first part of the place called Gelligaer, near Merthyr, which is loosely where I said Pont y Gell is. Gelligaer was mentioned in the Torchwood TV episode End of Days as the location of an old Roman Fort. Gelligaer common has been used for filming episodes of both Doctor Who and Torchwood.