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The Clare Echo has teamed up with Ennis native & podcast host Fergal O’Keeffe to bring you his new series, Travel Tales with Fergal. The podcast aims to share soul-lifting travel memoirs about day-dream worthy destinations.

The J1 Visa trip to America is a rite of passage for many Irish College students that will not be happening again this year due to the pandemic. President Trump put a ban on the much loved student summer work visa last June to protect American jobs during the pandemic. That ban expired this week and President Biden has stated he does not intend to reinstate it. In 2019, 3,000 Irish people took part in the J1 programme, which allows third-level students to work in the US legally for up to four months.

Louise Nealon, whose debut novel Snowflake comes out in May, was on the Travel Tales with Fergal Podcast and she talked about the trips that most influenced her writing, especially the magic of the J1 trip to America.

Louise’s new novel Snowflake has been sold to Element Pictures, the team responsible for BBC hits Normal People and the in-production Conversations with Friends, adapted from Sally Rooney’s bestselling novels. A critic called this coming-of-age story “a brilliant novel, with a huge heart and a raw, honest, hilariously funny and real look at coming of age, mental health, at the meaning of home”.

Speaking about her J1 trip on the podcast, Louise said “I spent a summer in San Diego when I was 21 on a J1 visa. At the end of the trip, we had a stopover flight which meant five days in New York with no money. Eleven of us slept in one hotel room. We survived off donuts and bananas. It was probably the happiest five days of my life”.

“I got really close to the girls that I went traveling with. There’s a real intimacy there. And it’s something that you’d never experience again. It was the best summer that I could have had back then”.

She speaks eloquently on the podcast about the writing process. “I always wanted to be a writer but thought it was something that only magical people did. That you were born with it and you knew it all along. And I still struggle with the idea that I make my living from writing because in many ways I don’t feel good enough”.

“The thing I get from reading is a kind of intimacy with writers. The relationship between the reader and the writer is a lot more honest than the relationship that people have in day to day conversations. And that’s the kind of thing that I crave, really. I feel like I’m my most authentic self when I write and when I use different characters to explore whatever it is going on in my head”.

If you have any queries about the travels mentioned every week Fergal O’Keeffe can be contacted directly on Facebook and Instagram @traveltaleswithfergal.

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