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Meet an indexer: Hazel Bell

Hazel BellHazel Bell

Winner of the Wheatley Medal in 2005 and 2006 and the Carey Award in 1996

Winning indexes:
Index to Seven Pillars of Wisdom: the Complete 1922 ‘Oxford’ Text, by T. E. Lawrence, edited by Jeremy & Nicole Wilson (Castle Hill Press)
Mythologies by W. B. Yeats, edited by Warwick Gould and Deirdre Toomey (Palgrave Macmillan)

Life before indexing?
Hazel Bell
: English teacher and housewife; gave up outside work to bring up three children.

Why indexing?
: I first heard of it as a profession when working (before teaching) for the printers who produced stationery and notices for Aslib. Later, at home with the children (in the 1960s), I saw newspaper reports of the new agencies being set up to provide part-time work at home for women. One type of work mentioned was indexing. To a compulsive list-maker, crossword-puzzle addict, and tracer of single themes through literary works, this was most appealing. I wrote to, and was placed on the books of, AFEM – Agency for the Employment of Mothers.

Can you remember your first indexing job and how you felt when you’d finished it?
:  It was a biography of Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, the first woman doctor in England, which involved me in a great deal of unfamiliar medical subjects. I worked, worked, worked on it, exhaustivity beyond exhaustivity. It was a 364-page book. I sent the extremely (over-)detailed index to the author, who wrote to me, ‘I have checked through the index and it seems to me admirable ... If you want at any time to give my name as a reference to publishers or authors, please do’. Triumphantly I sent off applications for work citing this reference, and indeed obtained further commissions. BUT, 11 days after the author’s letter I received this from the publishers: ‘We had it cast-off by the printer. It makes 20 pages of two-column small print! ... this is far too much ... it is much too detailed for any likely reader or consulter of the book.’ The book was published with a ten-page index (not reduced by me). So if I’d received that publisher’s letter before the author’s, I probably wouldn’t have become an indexer at all!

How long have you been indexing?
: Since 1964 (also teaching, marking examination papers, conducting oral English exams, copy-editing, writing, and editing journals and newsletters).

What do you most enjoy about being an indexer?
: Textual analysis, devising terminology, achieving order.

Freelancers sometimes feel isolated – how do you keeping touch with professional colleagues?
: Email was a great compensation when I stopped attending frequent committee meetings, and I live only half an hour’s rail journey from London.

What about other interests? What do you do in your ‘spare’ time and how do you relax?
: Reading, theatre visits, local societies, literary societies, editing local Talking Newspaper for the Blind and Friends of local museums’ newsletter. I so enjoy indexing that I have compiled voluntarily, free, detailed indexes to all the fiction of A. S. Byatt, and simpler cumulative indexes to the Starbridge novels and St Benet's novels by Susan Howatch, The Lampitt Papers sequence by A. N. Wilson, eight novels by J. L. Carr, and to all the novels of Alison Lurie, Iris Murdoch, Barbara Pym and Angela Thirkell.

What’s been your best moment as an indexer?
: The two extremely complex literary works for which the Wheatley Medal was awarded.

What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting out as an indexer?
: As it’s now nearly 50 years since I started, it’s an entirely different world – I wouldn’t presume to offer advice to a beginner today.

What about the future – where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
: Not much hope – likelihood is a nursing home or underground. [Surely not!]

Hazel's talk on 'Indexing in the '60s, ff.', given to the Australian and New Zealand Society of Indexers' Conference, 2009, via video link can be viewed on Youtube at:

Last updated: 24 August 2016 | Maintained by Webmaster | Page ID: 497
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