Gifted storyteller brings stories to life

“I think I’ve been reading aloud all my life.  Since I could read when I started kindergarten, the teacher used to have me read to the other children,” said Lois Potter, who has recorded several stories on YouTube for paediatric patients.

“I read to my brother because my father was an army doctor and we moved every couple of years, often spending some time in a new place before either of us had any other friends.  Whenever I discovered a playreading group, I joined it enthusiastically and when I started teaching I also started holding playreadings.

“They have a strange effect on people.  Those who love them become, like me, addicts.  At my last university, I had regular attendees (usually graduate students) who were always asking what we were going to do for the next one.  I have sometimes thought that if one could just read everything on the course aloud with students, most of the rest of the teaching would be unnecessary.

“After I retired, I spent four years living with my mother and I read aloud to her, mostly detective fiction that we could discuss and speculate about.  After she died (aged 102!), I moved to London and someone told me that the Royal Free was always looking for volunteers and I thought I’d see if they could use my particular skills.

“I’d been doing it for about four years before lockdown happened, going from bed to bed and asking if people would like to hear a poem. Although I carry an anthology of poems around with me, since obviously I can’t read whole novels to them, I am more likely to recite than read.  That’s because they often ask for poems that I already know by heart, like Wordsworth’s Daffodils or Kipling’s If. I also enjoy the challenge of being asked for something by a specific author.

“If the patient speaks French, German, or Russian, I can also recite the few poems I know in those languages, or opera arias in Italian (mercifully minus the music).  In fact, I’ve been trying to learn enough Spanish to read something in that language as well.

“I suppose what I most want to do is just to communicate what the text means and what its tone is (something that readers don’t always get).  Reading in the hospital, in particular, I’ve always tried to fit each poem to its particular listener.  Of course, I can’t do that with these videos, but I try to imagine someone at the other end of the reading.”

You can listen to Lois reading “Twas the night before Christmas” in the video above.