BEHIND THE SCENES with Colette Kinsella

How did you come across Anne, and at what point did you realize she'd be a great subject for a radio story

My relationship with Anne unfolded pretty much the way it unfolds in the documentary. I was doing an MA in journalism in 2007 and had to produce a radio documentary/feature by the end of the year. I'd been let down by my first subject, so there was a last-minute scramble to find another one. A friend was running a belly dancing school about a half-hour drive outside Dublin and I thought this might be interesting. While I was there she pointed out a woman who, she said, had a great story: she'd been paralyzed, was told she'd never walk again, yet there she was standing beside the door with a smile on her face, swinging her hips

I decided to interview Anne there and then. As soon as she opened her mouth I knew I was onto a winner. We sat in my friend's car and Anne told me an incredible story of how she had an aneurism followed by a stroke, then paralysis followed by a protracted recovery. She was 32 at the time and had two young sons. It was a touching story. But Anne is one of nature's great storytellers and, unbelievably, she had me in fits of laughter about her horrible experience in hospital, her memory loss and her trauma. There was one nugget after another. But about 35 minutes into our talk, she dropped another bombshell and told me her life was like the film, Sixth Sense. "I see dead people," is exactly how she put it, then laughed. Then came the bit about her communing with my dad. So really, I had two great stories in one. For the MA project I started with the aneurism, then dropped into her mediumship. It was a completely different story, but just as compelling because she, herself, is so compelling

You mention that you went into the story very skeptical of the whole idea of visiting spirits / communication with the dead. Did Anne change your mind? Looking back do you still believe she connected with your father

I was really annoyed with Anne and the information she said was coming from my father because I thought I had it all sorted out in my head, i.e. you live, you die, you're gone. She gave me new stuff to grapple with. I was stunned, mostly, because of the information she offered by way of validation. And not just about the way my father died, which is fairly specific. She also described certain habits I have: like the fact that I'm always wiping down the surfaces in my kitchen (I lived in a hot country for a few years and had an ant infestation in one of my apartments. I'm still paranoid about crumbs). As I recall, her exact words were: "Your dad says, would you ever stop wiping down those countertops. You're always at it..." What can you say to that

And there were more incidences like this. She also mentioned some of my siblings, and their own idiosyncrasies. So yes, part of me still believes she connected with him. There's also small another part of me that just can't rationalize it and is still skeptical. But then again, somehow it's a comfort to know somebody up there IS looking after you. Friends of mine who've since visited her said they were impressed, and they had their own amazing stories to tell. The whole experience has definitely given me an open mind. It's also piqued my curiosity

As you say in the piece, there's a lot of humor in Anne's story, but also some very deep, more serious topics and questions. How did you approach balancing these dynamics

I felt the story wouldn't stand up if I didn't ask those questions. It would have sounded like just another nut on the radio, so I just dived in and asked. I kept it neutral. I wasn't accusing her of being a fake, but I made it clear those questions had to be asked. The interesting thing was that Anne had also struggled with those same questions throughout the years. So it turned out to be an easy journey, and she was completely open to everything I asked her. What jumped out at me, and I hope at the listener, is that Anne is open and honest, and doesn't flinch in the face of uncomfortable questions. In that respect, it was easy to balance the dynamics

Besides being a playful profile of an unusual person, DNN is a quite personal for you. Was it difficult to share the story about your father so publicly

I realized early on that if the story would be about Anne's mediumship rather than the stroke, I'd have to be in the story to give it context. I didn't find that difficult, and I was more worried about my siblings and what they might think. They were fine with it

Irish producers don't tend to put themselves into their stories, though, so this one was a bit unusual in that respect. I was curious to see how it would come across with the listeners. From the feedback I've received so far, it seems many people liked the personal story interwoven with Anne's overall story

Were there any questions Anne wasn't comfortable / didn't want to answer on tape

When somebody tells you that communing with spirits can ruin your sex life, you can be pretty sure they'll answer any question you throw at them. Anne was absolutely fine with everything apart from one thing: she didn't want me to record a reading with a client. I think she felt that would have been a blatant test of her abilities. She did say, though, that I could leave the recorder on if any spirits happened to "drop in", as she put it. That happened a couple of times with friends of hers who were in the house when I was recording

OK, I have to any point did you feel creeped out by the idea that Anne regularly communicates with the dead

This is the mad thing: when you're talking to Anne, all of this crazy stuff feels perfectly normal! The creepiness comes later, when you're at home and you're thinking: "Right, I need a bit of private time here.... em, anybody here tuning in?"### Can you give us an overall sense of the radio landscape for independent Irish producers

RTE is our national public broadcaster, and there are two other commercial national stations, Newstalk and Today FM. These stations are based in Dublin, though RTE has regional studios in a couple of areas. Local and community radio stations are dotted around the country, and they play an important role in community life

It's difficult to sustain a living working as a full-time producer in Ireland. Radio stations don't have the funds to invest in freelance content, so we rely on a couple of sources of government funding for our projects. There are quite a few people scrambling for access to the same pot. Competition is tough. Added to this is the fact that one of the main funds is administered by civil servants who don't fully appreciate the production process and regularly query the amount of time a producer spends on a project. As non-producers, the administrators often feel the number of hours spent in production is excessive. Budgets are regularly slashed or a project may be bypassed for funding altogether

RTE has set up an independent production unit this year, so this is a new and welcome source of funding. It's a tough environment, though, and a lot of indies have other sources of income to keep the wolf from the door

What are you working on now/next

I'm about to start producing a series of three-minute pieces on popular science for RTE Radio 1. The series is called Science Bites! and I was inspired to do it by one of my favorite shows on NPR, Radiolab . Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich are gifted communicators and their approach to science is so fresh and exciting. I'm looking forward to exploring new ways of storytelling for science.