Ten questions with Nic Low and Phil Dadson


Q1: These ‘kōrero series’ projects all begin with an approach from series editor Lloyd Jones and his suggestion of a concept on which each of you could build. What was your first reaction when he got in touch?

NL: I was intrigued. At the time I was deep in the organising of the WORD Festival, and promoting my last book, Uprising, which took me seven years and quite a lot of slog to write. The prospect of something short, collaborative and experimental appealed.

PDF: The first pairing suggested by Lloyd fell over unfortunately - for various reasons- and some time later Lloyd suggested the collaboration with Nic. Quite frankly I knew nothing about Nic’s work at the outset, and given the previous experience entered into the collaboration with a slight sense of reserve. This was rapidly dissolved, however, as we established connection and a bond of empathy.


Q2: Phil, you are in Auckland, and Nic, you are in Christchurch. Did you know each other before you embarked on this?

NL: No. I knew of Phil, though, because my dad is a musician who’s also into free and experimental music, so I’d been exposed to Phil’s work in his seminal group From Scratch.

PD: See above!


Q3: How did you decide what your working process would be?

NL: We didn’t agree any particular formal structure – it was more a game of hide and seek as we worked through the unpredictability of COVID and around various other projects, swapping images or ideas, sending through drafts, chatting on the phone. Phil initially did some beautiful images riffing on the idea of the arc; we had long conversations about these, and toyed with several different approaches, but ultimately the thing just unfolded. We did agree early that he wouldn’t be illustrating my writing, and I wouldn’t be writing a direct response to his work. We’d allow them to sit along side each other, and let readers draw their own conclusions.

PD: Because of very different timelines and obligations we evolved the relationship reasonably independently at the outset, but more in tandem as the process evolved.


Q4:  Did it come together relatively easily or were there some false starts?

NL: There were plenty of false starts for me, which is normal. I initially thought I would write twelve sections, each based on the top search engine term for that month – January through December – trying to unpack what the world considered valuable at each moment. I’d anticipated a resulting work about climate change, COVID, elections and so on. But the top search terms were almost all to do with Indian test cricket, with perhaps one section on the iPhone 14.

PD: PD. From my perspective relatively easily. I launched into a series interpreting the initial brief fairly laterally and tangentially.


Q5: Writing and painting are not normally collaborative processes. Did this partnership between you present challenges or was it perhaps energising?

NL: It was super hard for me because other than my partner I don’t usually show anyone my work until at least a second draft. For a good while I wrote into an online document so Phil could potentially riff off it, and Lloyd could have input, but the net effect was I just felt horribly exposed. In the end I worked offline and waited til things were more fully formed before sending it through.

PD: Much of what I did initially, I did independently, referenced to a sketchy scenario Nic and I discussed by phone, and while I had the time to do it. The results were shared with Nic and during his later development of the text I devised and assembled further work that was more directly responsive to Nic's writing.


Q6: How did it stretch you?

NL: Because Phil works in much more abstract and poetic ways than I do – I am often a materialist, and can be quite literal, verging on didactic, if not careful! – it was good to be challenged to open my writing out, use fragments and associations, and to incorporate ideas that were not my own. I interviewed Phil a couple of times at length to try to understand his philosophical and spiritual beliefs around what is worth preserving about the past, then used this to structure the piece, and introduce new strands and themes. The final scene, for example, has its roots in a vision of Phil’s.

I also wrote a lot of this during some very stressful times – COVID, two intense jobs (programming an arts festival during a pandemic while also working as a magazine editor and writer, and raising a toddler in a new country and city, having recently moved back after nearly 20 years overseas) – so the fact I was so stretched shows in the text as well. It’s a little grim at times!

PD: For me it definitely inspired directions I would not have otherwise followed.


Q7: What’s one new thing your learnt about each other’s work along the way?

NL: I learned that Phil builds creative structures into his life, like producing a drawing a day for the entire month of ... February? ... and this inspired the hell out of me. I write a lot, but not always on things I want to be working on. Setting formal frameworks or contraints like Phil does has seen me setting aside specific time for my next book over the coming year.

PD: The imaginative depth and lyricism of Nic’s writing. I love his inventive and playful take on the ark topic that we began with. It resonated well with my approach and has, I feel, resulted in a dynamic synergy of text and images.


Q8: There was to have been a final collaborative session in Christchurch with the series   designer, Gary Stewart, but the cursed Covid got in the way. How tough did that make things?

NL: The whole time we worked remotely, we’d been anticipating everything coming together once we were collaborating in person. We’d got on well on the phone, so assumed we could really do good work locked in a room. So I was gutted COVID struck at that critial point. Phil and Gary still came up with a combination of text and image I love, so I’m happy about the end result, but I do still wonder what we might have achieved if we’d been able to work together.

PD: It was a huge disappointment not to meet Nic in person and to have him in the mix. Fortunately, however, Gary and I worked well together and had the design pretty much sorted within the timeframe.


Q9: Can you tell us about the title?

NL: The working title was Ark of Arks, which was to be a selection of arks and time capsules throughout history. This guided the creation process for me, and for Phil thinking about arcs, both visually, and narratively; once the draft was done, we decided it’d served its purpose, and cast around for something else. ‘Little Doomsdays’ is a phrase from the text, and talks about the fact that things are ending and disappearing every day – extinctions, memories, values – and that these tiny catastrophes are one of the engines of creativity: how we try to rescue such things from the passage of time.

PD: The title is one of several taken direct from Nic's text. It was not my choice, nor one I was particularly comfortable with, but it has stuck. The world is full of little doomsdays, and the book I hope transcends the doom with light.


Q10: Now it’s off to print are you pleased with it?

NL: I think so, but it’s impossible to say! At this point in the process for my last two books I never wanted to see or think about them ever again; the fact I’m excited to see the finished product here suggests we’ve done something right.

PD: I’m pleased mostly with the way our collaboration evolved. I hope to be pleased with the book when I get to see it and hold it in my hands A special relationship has developed. Between words and images and between Nic and me. I’m grateful for this and for the invitation that set things in motion.