Echoes started off as a story within a story called Urban Myths. The idea was that the Torchwood team were having brunch together on Mermaid Quay and talking about the strange things that had happened to them during the week. But after five or six pages I decided this story deserved to be fleshed out a bit further and could stand alone. Having decided that, it only took me a day and a half to finished Echoes. It was one of those stories that wrote itself quite easily.
The idea of Alun and Ianto stepping into an old abandoned school and finding themselves turned into nine year old schoolboys, complete with school uniform, scraped knees and prescription glasses was such a delight. Imagine being a child again, but with adult memories, and going back into school, seeing the lessons for the boring waste of time too many of them were, and the teachers for the badly trained bullies some of them were. Imagine being able to stand up like Ianto did and tell the teacher what he really thought.
The scene where they kiss, as nine year olds, was something I thought long and hard about. I definitely wanted it to happen, but it had to be handled carefully. This is, ultimately, a story about institutionalised child abuse, the sort of thing that is never out of the news at the moment. But I’m not about to give the perverts something to fantasise about. Alun and Ianto love each other as adults. When they find themselves living as children, their feelings for each other remain, and they seek comfort in each other. But it doesn’t feel the same in their pre-pubescent bodies.
Their love doesn’t change, though. And it is love for Ianto which drives Alun’s rage against the abusive headmaster when he rapes him. This, again, was a scene that needed handling carefully. I’m not sure how many novels or short stories there are that actually describe in any kind of detail the act of child molestation in any way. There aren’t many guidelines about it. But I think this story covers it without being deliberately graphic or unpleasant. I was in two minds about whether Alun should actually kill the man when he grabs the scissors. I toyed with the idea of him being merely wounded, but his career shattered by the subsequent investigation. But in the 1970s the investigation might very well have missed the point. It has taken until the past decade for abuses committed in Catholic schools in that very era to come to light. He might well have got away with it.
Of course, in killing him, Alun changes the past and affects the future. Three boys are alive who would have committed suicide, and the headmaster is now dead. All the rules of science fiction say you can’t do that, especially the Doctor Who franchise world where time travel goes on all the time. But, just for once, I wanted to break the rules!