Milk & Martha Proctor — Litfest

Reviewed by Carla Scarano D’Antonio

Milk and Martha Proctor is the title of two volumes of stories, reports and poems whose cues were taken from the Archives of Lancashire Records Office.

Martha Proctor did not actually work for a dairy farm but was a vagrant orphan of eight years old whose testimony of miserable, starving life was recorded by Robert Maudsley, Justice of peace in January 1724. The milk of the title was the ‘milk for coffee’ the Senior Archivist Vicci McCann had to remember for the inaugural meeting of the creative writing project.

Eight miles of inspirational documents are in Lancashire Archives, only a few of them were selected for this major project which gives voice to the everyday lives of ordinary people from the 18th century to World War II. They are true stories trapped in the few lines of a report or an inventory, in old photos of boys and girls working in a cotton mill, in wanted posters of missing people, in a Christmas card.

There are a banishment of a single woman, because she was pregnant, the marriage certificate of a foot soldier, who came back after ten years of warfare abroad. The Coroner’s Inquest file about the death of a woman who committed suicide for love and a postcard from Oldham, showing a young man eating fish and chips.

Some poems were inspired by the case books of Lancaster Moor County Asylum, the inmates’ photos are on the background of the paper, pale and unaware.

At the end of the collection there are photos of bomb damage in World War II and a love story opposed by the family ending with the murder and the suicide of the two lovers.

Striking Haikus close volume two. The talent and creativity of the writers is surprising and amazing. They could read between the lines of cold reports, interpret the look in the eyes of a photo, build a story from a postcard. All the pieces of writing are interesting and gripping. They involve the reader in conflicts and relationships near to us because belonging to people like us.

In these two volumes the potential and the pathos of forgotten, ordinary lives come back with all the intensity of true experiences. They remind us how important their unheroic existences were. Their little lives mixed with many other make us aware of past injustices and sufferance we would easily forget if they were not recorded in the archives.

On Thursday 22nd October the Storey Auditorium was full of people eager to hear their stories from the voices of the same writers who ingeniously manufactured them. And we were ready to applaud.

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