If you’re lucky enough to pop into Jenny Jackson’s Suffolk home for a cup of tea, you might enjoy Jenny’s warm hospitality and meet her lovely children, but, I have to tell you, the chances are that you’ll walk out with a severed finger, a gaping flesh wound or perhaps even a pair of scissors impaled in your skull. There might be some zombies shuffling in and out of the house too…
Horrific injuries (and surgical repairs), freshly-initiated members of the living dead, children gnawing on severed limbs – it’s just an average day in the Jackson household! Jenny is a dab hand with a make-up and prosthetics kit, you see, constantly turning her hand to creating delightfully fiendish, blood-curdling designs. She uses make-up and material such as latex to bring the stuff of nightmares to life, giving form to injuries and creatures derived from the darker corners of her mind.
A few months ago, Jenny attended her first special effects event – the filming of the Un:Bound Video Editions’ zombie episode. She’s only been experimenting with effects work since the summer but she’s already founded her own business, Jackson’s Murderous Make-Up. “I had quite a few people ask to hire me over Halloween, including a big children’s party!” she says. “I started off just doing bruises and basic cuts on anyone who popped in for a cuppa, gradually experimenting with wax and latex to find out what works and what looks better…I’m learning all the time, and even when something goes wrong, I just see it as a learning curve! Even after I’ve done something, I’m thinking – ok, how can I improve this?”
Jenny specialises in accident-and-emergency make-up but, as her confidence has grown, she’s branched out and progressed onto zombie make-up, and recently did the make-up for the aforementioned Un:Bound Video Editions’ online film. So, just as zombies are featuring more and more in her everyday life (in the kitchen, in the living room…), zombies feature quite prominently in her literary taste too.
One zombie book that particularly struck her was David Moody’s Autumn, a story in which billions of people are killed by a viral epidemic before the dead then begin to rise and (now quite characteristically) walk around. At a glance, the premise may appear fairly familiar, but Moody offers a fresh and different take on the living dead, intentionally avoiding clichés in his work.
“I’m always up for trying new stories and was recently recommended David Moody’s Autumn. I loved it as it was different – the zombies didn’t act how years of ‘zombie conditioning’ told me they should,” says Jenny.
Throughout the Autumn series, the living dead change and evolve, growing in capability, but that is not the focus of the books. Moody writes about ordinary people, centering on their ability to cope with their new-found circumstances, and Jenny feels for these realistic characters: “There is a part in the book where there is a massive crowd of corpses crowding together and the survivor walks towards the zombies to find out what’s going on… I just felt every instinct in my mind shouting at the character, ‘What are you doing? Oh, don’t do that!’ It made it a pleasure to read!”
Currently occupying a number of slots in the New York Times Bestseller List, Robert Kirkman’s graphic novel series, The Walking Dead, has dominated this, and other, bestseller lists unlike any other series, which has done a lot to bring zombies into the mainstream. In the same way that Moody is concerned with his characters’ coping abilities, The Walking Dead series similarly focusses on the people, rather than the living dead.
“I cannot get enough of The Walking Dead graphic novels. As I am reading them, I get connected to characters, plus anyone can get killed off! It doesn’t matter if the person is a main character or a passerby: no-one is safe, anyone can die! It makes it interesting.”
Whilst the graphic novels are her real passion, Jenny is a fan of the recent TV adaptation: “It’s awesome, I do watch it too, and I’m so frustrated that FX split the series – now got to wait till February for the rest of it! It’s really hard to compare the graphic novels and the TV series – there are some major differences, but lots of similarities to keep fans happy too. I think it keeps it fresh – there is no way to know what’s going to happen even if you have read the books.”
Jenny says that Meat, the debut novel by Joesph D’Lacey, is one of the most disturbing books she’s read in the past year. A creative, dystopian tale, in which a pocket of humanity survives in a town called Abyrne, which sits in a desolate wasteland. The community has depended on meat for generations – it is at the heart of their survival and way of life. The story centres on a slaughterhouse worker, Richard Shanti, who is secretly vegetarian – if the authorities find out about his diet, he’ll be tried and slaughtered for sacrilege.
“Ok, I’m a big meat-eater, I love it…” admits Jenny, “but I’ve got to say, after reading Meat, it did put me off for a little bit. I really stopped to think about where the meat I was eating came from.”
To promote the novel’s release, a vehicle dubbed The Meatwagon drove all over the UK with a large glass display on the back, containing a butcher’s-shop scene in all its gory glory, complete with chopping block and plenty of cuts of meat, really hammering home the themes in the book.
“It is a really good read and I could hardly put it down,” adds Jenny. “I’d say it’s not one for the squeamish, but if you have a strong stomach it’s well worth a read! It brought out a huge mix of emotions in me when reading, and I love it when a story can do that.
Another zombie book she enjoyed is the ultra-gory The Way of the Barefoot Zombie, the fourth novel from This Is Horror’s columnist Jasper Bark. This tale depicts a society in which ultra-wealthy individuals view zombies as role models, interacting with them and living amongst them on a private island called St Ignatius: “It was brilliant! It has voodoo zombies, wealthy corruption and some crazy ‘noble’ ideas. Definitely worth a read if you want something kooky and gross!”
Away from literature, Jenny is not solitary in her gory endeavours, she even gets the family involved in all the gory goings-on – “with a few friends and family, I’ve managed to do a very zombie Christmas photo shoot”, she adds, proudly. “I’ve learnt a lot of things from it. If I was to do it again there is a lot I would change, but I would definitely want the kids to have as much fun as they did. And I’ve already got an idea for a Valentines picture!”
Jenny says she admires some infamous and graphic events, doubtless etched in the minds of many, from some classics of horror literature – “I’d love to be good enough to recreate the feet being cut off in Misery, or even some of the crazy gory things from the Books of Blood”.
However, as well as the gorier side of horror literature, Jenny adores the spooky, ghostly side, citing The Shining by juggernaut Stephen King and a selection of books by esteemed British author James Herbert amongst her favourites. “Books like Ghosts of Sleath freak me out – in my mind, a classic! I liked The Rats, but as I enjoy post-apocalyptic stories, Domain was so much better!”
“I enjoy Stephen King’s earlier stuff – The Shining, Misery, Carrie and It,” she explains, but adds that she isn’t as keen on his newer releases. The next instalment of the epic Dark Tower series, The Wind Through the Keyhole, is due for release in spring 2012, but will Jenny be giving it a go?
“I found a few books a bit of a slog,” she says. “This then put me off – I really didn’t enjoy struggling to stay with a story. However, I have been informed that some of his newest stuff is back to form. I never say never, so I may go back and see if I’ve been missing anything good!”
Jenny says she would consider reading James Herbert’s next release, Ash, when it’s out in 2012, but as soon as she’s finished her current book, The Passage by Justin Cronin, she’s got something specific in mind. She’s planning to read the final book in David Moody’s Hater trilogy, Them or Us, which was recently shortlisted for ‘Novel of the Year’ in This Is Horror’s inaugural awards.
“I really enjoyed the Hater books, and this one [Them or Us] is set in Lowestoft, where I live, so I’m really looking forward to it,” says Jenny.
So, just as Jenny will continue reading new gore in 2012, she will continue to create it too. She is committed to practising and progressing with her craft, using her new-found skills to produce new and increasingly-ambitious creations. So remember, if you do ever visit her Lowestoft home, make sure you’ve got all your limbs with you when you leave! (If you find you’re missing one, you might want to check the kids don’t have it!)