Winner of the Betty Moys Prize: 2007
Life before indexing?
Roger Bennett: Indexing is very much a ‘second’ career for me, following early retirement from the European Commission in 2004. After education in Manchester and Oxford, and a two-year spell lecturing in modern languages at Derby College of Art and Technology (now a part of the University of Derby), I had been at the Commission for 27 years, initially as a translator, then a terminologist and finally a manager of translation support projects and staff. Some concerns about the education of our two children (then 4 and 12 years old), plus a lack of challenging prospects, led to the decision to return to the UK.
RB: I could have decided just to ‘look after the garden’ and perhaps involve myself in some voluntary work. Alternatively, I could (as many retired international organisation translators do) have gone into freelance translation to supplement my pension. However, I’d been out of line translation work for around 15 years by the time I left the Commission, and felt no urge to go back to it. One compelling factor here is that the level of involvement with a text is very high (and often long) for a translator – and I simply no longer have the attention span for this. In the later years at the Commission I’d participated in a number of multilingual indexing projects, and I knew that this work, while intellectually demanding, typically involved a shorter and (heresy!) more superficial involvement with each work. A search on the internet then revealed the Society of Indexers’ Accreditation programme, which suited my ‘independent learner’ mentality down to the ground. ‘The rest’, as they say, ‘is history’.
How did you get your first indexing job?
RB: Via the Society’s online ‘forum’ SIdeline and its ‘Indexers Available’ online directory. SIdeline is now being replaced for this purpose by a dedicated jobs line, which I hope will be an even more effective mechanism.
Have you managed to establish yourself as a full-time indexer?
RB: For a variety of reasons, I operate via a family-owned limited company and business is, in spite of the current state of the economy, ‘booming’ (sound of fingers crossing in the background). There’s plenty of work available at the moment, and it only took around six months to reach rather more full-time operation than I would like. This is, however, not necessarily a typical experience, as I have the advantage of a strong legal background (especially in European and international law) and legal publishing remains an area where demand for qualified indexers outstrips supply.
What do you most enjoy about being an indexer?
RB: Variety of material is certainly a major plus point. Operating as an independent service provider also has the advantage that I can avoid ‘being managed’ (or for that matter ‘managing’ – which I did for long enough at the Commission to tire of telling other people what to do).
Freelancers sometimes feel isolated – how do you deal keep in touch with professional colleagues?
RB: The Society’s online forum Sideline and annual conferences provide ample networking opportunities – especially since I have got to the ‘grumpy’ stage where it often suits me not to have too much contact with others!
What about other interests? What do you do in your ‘spare’ time and how do you relax?
RB: ‘Spare time’ is not as great as I’d like, but there’s no lack of things to do (in no particular order): helping the children; travel; publishing historical novels (a ‘sideline’ of the company); chairing a local high school governing body and sitting on the governing body of our son’s primary school; numismatics; DIY and gardening (when I can’t get my wife to do it!).
What’s been the most interesting or unusual indexing project you’ve been involved in?
RB: Probably the most unusual project I’ve taken on is a book on ‘Coins and Tokens of Cheshire’ published by my local numismatic society with lottery funding – though I will admit that many might be less enthusiastic about the topic than I am!
What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone starting out as an indexer?
RB: Take the Society’s Accreditation course – even if you think you already know everything you need to about indexing. Why?
What about the future – where do you hope to be in ten years’ time?
RB: In an ideal world, the historical novel publishing operation will have ‘taken off’ (‘we find the next Bernard Cornwell or Simon Scarrow’) and we’ll be living in a style to which we are unaccustomed. Since this remains an unlikely prospect, however, I shall be just as happy to be watching the children (grandchildren?) get on in life and indexing gently to keep the boredom from setting in.