Author Interview: Donna Francart – I’ve Seen Dead People, Or As The Spirits Move

August 22, 2021

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By BRUCE DENNILL

It was typical for Donna Francart to go to bed with her makeup on and hair styled; her clothes nearby and her tactical boots by the door. Seconds count when duty calls, and death doesn’t care if it’s the middle of the night. I’ve Seen Dead People: Diary Of A Deputy Coroner gives readers a rare look inside the mind and heart of one of society’s most mysterious – and to some, macabre – professions. For nearly nine years, Francart was a deputy coroner who worked medicolegal death investigations, which are those involving suspicious, violent, unexplained or unexpected deaths. Lacking access to structured debriefings, Francart turned to journalling as a way of privately unpacking the profound grief she faced and preserving her own mental well-being. As she did, she found herself in a conundrum of perplexing relationships with both the living and the dead. I’ve Seen Dead People is her first book and is being adapted into a screenplay by Frank Burmaster and Gary Revel, with plans to develop it for a feature film. 

 

When, and under what circumstances, did the idea for your book come to you?

I had been writing down my thoughts, feelings and emotions for several years, starting when I was actively working as a deputy coroner. I wrote to try and process and compartmentalise the many emotions and heaviness of grief and despair that I was surrounded by, week after week, for years.  Add the spirits and now I’m thinking I have to share this with the world! If anything, it will help me to heal in the process and hopefully open others eyes to the fact that there is more than just the finality of death. To not fear death. Educate people on what a coroner or deputy coroner deals with in this profession.

 

Did it initially feel like something to commit to, or was that something that took time to develop?

I had someone recently bring up a good question, pertaining to this one. They asked if I had a hard time writing the book. My response was that it was amazing just how easy it was. The words flowed from my head and heart, on to paper. They asked if I ever thought perhaps the spirits had helped me to write this book – helped me to get the messages out to the world? That really resonated with me. Perhaps it is God and spirits that are helping me. The book was a process from beginning to end, totalling about 11 years. Several of those years had stacks of papers filled with thoughts and tears. But in 2020, I decided to share my life and experiences with the world.

 

How did you conduct your research or other preparation before writing – was it more experiential or more academic or desk-based?

All research was experiential. I also wanted to write it in a way that anyone could pick it up and feel my emotions; to visualise my life in a way that almost put them walking next to me. I did not want it to be clinical and cold.

 

When considering influence, do you find yourself wanting to write like someone (in terms of their style, tone or use of language), or aiming for a kind of perspective or storytelling approach you admire or enjoy?

There are so many great writers. I did have another writer, years ago, who had read some of my thoughts that I had down on paper, tell me that it reminded him of Hemingway’s style. I hate to admit this but I am not familiar with his style! I did take it as a compliment, though. I know that I should have written and had it edited to perfection but honestly, it was written and published exposing my raw self. Flaws and all.  I’m not a professional writer but I can write from the heart.

 

What’s in your to-read pile – and what upcoming book (other than yours!) are you most looking forward to?

My pile consists of a few to read: Gary Revel – To Live Or Maybe Not, Gary’s investigation into the assassination of Martin Luther King; Charles Graeber – The Good Nurse, the true story of a serial killer who murdered up to 300 patients; Susan Amond Todd – White Lake and Return Home, two novels. Susan was a classmate of mine growing up.

 

Do you have a favourite character that you have created? Or if you’re writing non-fiction, do you have a specific topic that you find endlessly fascinating?

I find the spirit world to be fascinating. I was raised Catholic, believing that after death, if you are a good person here on earth, you go to Heaven. Being a former deputy coroner, I have witnessed the spirit world first-hand. I cannot deny that there is more. They continue to connect with me even though I am no longer a coroner – the spirit world is not for the faint of heart. Sprits are not to be taken lightly and it can be frightening, as they can terrorise you! Not only have I experienced that – and my sons have as well – but ever since my book has been published, I have other people in the death industry that have reached out to me to share their experiences with the afterlife. Sprits have been more active as of late with me. I have been told by mediums that because I am talking about death, I’ve conjured them up. We leave our bodies, but our soul and energy continue on. There are many lost souls out there – and angry souls!

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