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Thursday, February 22, 2024

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Inside the horror mind of Cassandra Khaw

An illustration that could be from a Japanese horror film. A featureless face with a big, red-smeared mouth, on a woman's kimono-dressed body, flanked by thick black hair. It's scary as hell.

I must admit, there was an element of selfishness involved in this podcast. Im currently doing a creative writing course in my spare time (rather than in my news stories, ho ho) and one of the things Im struggling with, weird as it is to admit, is the idea that I can write anything. I dont have to be bound by the rules of this world, or any world, or any rules. I can conceive of something totally and utterly new. And thats… I still cant quite wrap my head around it.

But my guest on the podcast today, Cassandra Khaw, has long made their peace with this, producing works of – usually – pitch black horror that Im not sure Id have the nerve to imagine. The most famous of their pieces is probably the novella Nothing But Blackened Teeth, which was a USA Today bestseller when it came out roughly a year ago.

So I wanted to find out from Cassandra, who seems to imagine new stories at the speed other people think of things to eat for dinner, where their ideas came from and how to shape them from there. I also wanted to find out where their life-long love of horror came from – and I was treated to a wonderful real-life Malaysian horror story when I asked.

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I really enjoyed this chat with Cassandra. Theyre much chirpier than a career in horror writing might make you think!

Cassandra isnt only a horror writer, though. Theyve written for Eurogamer and now they help write games. Theyve contributed to games like Fallen London and Sunless Skies and Falcon Age, and more recently were working at Ubisoft Montreal on Hyperspace (and some undisclosed projects) and, to get us right up to date, Gotham Knights. Cassandras already gone on to two new game projects theyre not able to talk about yet.

They sound busy, right? Well, lets not forget their debut collection Breakable Things , coming out on 8th November. We talk about it in this podcast and it sounds great; it revolves around a theme of people pushing back against the world, like a werewolf out for revenge, or mermaids – who were pulled out of the ocean by humans, and impregnated – doing the same. There are some quieter explorations of grief too, including one tale thats personal and close to Cassandras heart.

They have two other books coming out next year as well. One is a twisted mermaid novella called The Salt Grows Heavy, due May 2023, and the other is a collaboration with Richard Kadrey called The Dead Take the A Train, due March.

“Pathologic workaholic” is how theyd describe themselves, and on this evidence, Id have to agree! Incidentally, the scary Malaysian film Cassandra mentions at the beginning is Impetigore, and the book recommendation is The Least of My Scars, by Stephen Graham Jones.

This is episode 25 of One-to-one, now available here and from all places wot do podcasts (if you cant find it somewhere, let me know and I will Mission Impossible in and fix it.) Oh and apologies for a bit of keyboard clacking at the beginning – we relocate quickly to a quieter area.

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