Nick Davies is an actor-turned-writer from Wellington, New Zealand who has appeared internationally in both film and on TV. He has written a collection of travel stories entitled The Lost Gringo Chronicles and has worked as a freelance contributor on Mexico for The Dominion Post. Nick talks to NZ Booklovers about his debut novel.
Tell us a little about El Flamingo.
El Flamingo follows the adventure of Lou Galloway, a disillusioned actor who leaves Los Angeles and heads to Mexico to drown his sorrows in cheap mezcal. But after a round too many, he is mistaken for a rogue assassin known simply as El Flamingo. Before he can make his escape, he meets Maria-Carla, an enigmatic beauty with incredible perfume, and can't bring himself to turn back. Lou is ultimately swept into the dangerous world of Latin American espionage that leaves him only one choice - to adopt the identity of El Flamingo and act a role for one last time… and it just might be the role of his life.
I call the novel a sunset-noir. While it maintains certain elements of a mystery-thriller, it is splashed with a little romance and a comedic undertone. Lou Galloway is quite a grounded protagonist, who is nevertheless attuned to the surreal but perilous world he has stumbled into, almost suspecting his existence may well be fictional, which provides a sense of irony. It is essentially the story of a lost dreamer, of an ordinary person taking on the extraordinary.
What inspired you to write this book?
I was at a point in time where I craved some kind of drastic change. I’d been living in Auckland for 7 years, working sporadically as an actor, feeling a little hollow, and I’d never really felt like I’d embarked on an adventure. So I decided to get on a flight to the other side of the globe and write a story about an actor who finds himself thrown into a world unlike anything he’d ever seen, and kind of trace his footsteps of where he was heading, which turned out to be Colombia & Mexico.
What research was involved?
It was a seemingly endless research process. The real-life travel to the setting of the novel was essential to grasp an authentic sense of place, which enabled me to understand the culture and history required to enrich the story. I paid close attention to all the culinary details for when they appear, how certain foods are made and presented, like how they filter their drip coffee, how they toss back tequila, or put salsa picante on their breakfast. The dances and the hidden salsa bars, the mariachi fiestas, all the culturally-embedded nuanced phrases, and writing with sensitivity in regards to some of the issues these places face such as corruption, violence, and inequality.
What was your routine or process when writing this book?
It started with a little back-pocket journal that was on me at all times. I used it to write out chapter plans, quotes, character details, and things like with a scratchy old Bic-pen. From there it evolved into drafts on my laptop, finding spots wherever I could to write on the move in hole-in-the-wall bars and side street cafes around Colombia. All this led me to form a highly-flawed first draft, and when I came home during COVID I began a slow, gradual process of editing and refining the work until at last, I began to pitch to publishers.
If a soundtrack was made to accompany this book, name a song or two you would include.
“He venido a pedirte perdon”, by Juan Gabriel, a famous Mexican singer. The lyrics translate to “I have come to apologise.” It’s one of the all-time great Latin-American pop songs.
If your book was made into a movie, who would you like to see playing the lead characters?
That would be incredible, and I could certainly imagine one or two actors playing the roles of Lou Galloway, Maria-Carla, and El Flamingo himself, but I will refrain from saying so not to disrupt a potential reader’s preconceived image of them. It’s one of the reasons I had Lou Galloway presented in silhouette on the cover, to preserve a little ambiguity of how he truly appears.
What did you enjoy the most about writing El Flamingo?
The adventure that came along with writing it, the irony that the pursuit of a fictional character ended up taking me on the ride of a lifetime, to a place in the world that taught me things I will remember until the end of the road.
What did you do to celebrate finishing this book?
I think I raised a shot of tequila and said salud with the family and friends who knew I was working on it.
What is the favourite book you have read so far this year and why?
This year I’ve actually been reading the original short story collection “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” which my dad gave me a long time ago and I recently dug out again. I love it because of its undying timelessness, intrigue, and mystery. I also want to read one of Jan Morris’ older travel collections called “Among the Cities” which my mum gave me. Morris’ travel writing has always resonated with me due to her perception of all these incredible places, and her observations on the human condition.
What’s next on the agenda for you?
After the launch of El Flamingo, I will return to Mexico to continue my journalism studies. I have begun to have some of my journalism and travel writing published, so I will continue to continue to pursue this avenue. In time, I will begin to piece together a plan for the next novel.