it’s worth making a spreadsheet of chapters and their page or word count, and using these to estimate work time and track progress, particularly when working on very long projects
batching tasks, especially name checking and error reviews, can save quite a lot of time rather than doing it as you go, unless you have do to it for disambiguation reasons
it’s useful to get a sample of the work at the quotation stage, particularly for books that will need quite a lot of checking and research. I’d stopped doing this routinely and had a couple of books that needed a lot of checking and verification to make sure I had the names right. I’d still have taken the work, but the additional tasks might have affected my quote – and understanding this would have helped me plan each job better.
In my post on time tracking, I explain how recording and analysing how I was using my time brought up some questions. Was I using my time productively and efficiently? To address this, I combined two well-known time management and planning techniques: time blocking and bullet journalling.
Time blocking, popularised by Cal Newport, has been quite successful for me. The idea is to divide your day into blocks of time – half an hour is probably the shortest useful unit – and, at the start of the day allocate those blocks to the things you want or need to do. You build in contingency time – because estimating how long tasks will take is a tricky business – and time for reactive work, so responding to queries, emails, dealing with problems that arise during the day. You plan for every minute of your day, including breaks. This works well, in my experience, because you’ve created a definitive schedule at the start of your day – you don’t need to keep deciding what to do next. And because you’ve divided things up into blocks, you can swap them around if things change.
I combine this with my bullet journal. (Researching bullet journals is a remarkable time sink; here’s the original site that explains the method). Essentially, it’s a list-based paper diary where you track your tasks, goals and events and schedule them. My daily plan includes my time blocking. My handwriting is barely legible so I’ve mocked up an example of a bullet journal page in Word:
On the right is the bulleted list of things I want or need to do that day. On the left is a column setting out when I’m going to do them, with breaks built in. I’ve got some contingency time there, and my reactive time is the hour allocated to emails – which is how all my work queries manifest. I check my emails more often than that, but I try to deal with responding to them in one go, usually in the afternoon. In this example, I’ve got an unexpected request to Skype with a client, and indexing Chapter 8 has taken longer than I thought, so I’ve had to move things around in my afternoon schedule. My contingency time has been used up, and dinner preparation will have to be a bit more cursory as a result. At the end of the day, I check off anything I’ve managed to do from my list, and reschedule uncompleted tasks to the next day.
I like the analog aspect of this method; there are no pesky notifications annoying me, no crashing or data loss. The bullet journal principle of writing things down iteratively both helps me remember stuff, and also makes me think hard about my priorities. There’s also a nice ritual quality to it. Currently, I take my bullet journal to one of Brighton’s many cafés on a Monday morning, and sort out my plans for the week, which is a pleasant way to be intentional about using my time.
In 2017, I moved from having a full-time job in higher education to working full-time as a freelance indexer. Suddenly, my time was my own to dispose of. There were no core hours or endless meetings; I could suit myself. But I wanted to make sure I was using this new freedom effectively.
To that end, I’ve repeated a time tracking exercise a few times since I went freelance. The point of this is to find out how you are actually spending your time. You do this by recording, at fifteen-minute intervals, what you are doing – it’s easiest to do this by identifying a range of categories, and allocating each fifteen-minute segment to the right category. I made myself a spreadsheet, because that is the sort of thing I like doing. The last time I did this was in early summer 2019, and my results looked like this:
Time tracker spreadsheet in full
Each coloured block represents fifteen minutes, and links to a particular activity or group activity. I ran my working day from 8 to 6, the times when I’m up and about and ought to be making the most of my time.
The summary breakdown looked like this:
I was broadly happy with the amount of time I spent indexing that week. Admin and time spent at the gym or walking were also quite good amounts, and I got a good bit of reading in. I put writing on the list because I want to do more of it, and I did actually do some – the observer effect in operation. The amount of time spent on domestic stuff and shopping was concerning – I did not go freelance so I could become a house elf. Most of all, though, I needed to address the 11 hours that I couldn’t really account for and attributed to Other. Some of this was mealtimes – I would probably categorise this separately if I repeated this exercise – but I suspect a lot of this was faffing about not doing very much and luxuriating in my new freedoms.
Having got my data, I then needed to work out how to address these problems – I discuss this in my post on time blocking.
If you’d like to try the time tracking experiment for yourself, here’s the link to a version of the spreadsheet on Google Drive. You can download a copy to use in Excel.
You can set up your own categories for key activities. Or you could just use a pencil and paper.
I’ve experimented with various ways of keeping track of indexing projects since I went freelance, and my favourite so far is Trello. Trello is a project management system that works, essentially, like the Kanban method, using cards and columns. On Trello, you can set up a board for a project, or group of projects. Tasks or sub-projects are tracked using cards, which you move across lists that you have defined, tracking your progress with your work as you go. I like Trello because it provides a very visual overview of my work in progress and where all the projects currently are. Trello is free to use, although there is a subscription model, Business Class, that gives you more apps and features.
Getting started with Trello
Go to trello.com and set up an account. Trello encourages sharing among its members, and consequently your name, initials, username and avatar are always public, so you may want to be pseudonymous here. Your email won’t be made public. You can then set up your first board, choosing the background, colour scheme and columns.
You also need to decide whether your board should be public or not. Given that some of us need to sign NDAs for indexing work, you’ll probably want to make it private. You can share your boards with others even if they are private, and set appropriate permissions for what they can and can’t change. I have mine shared with my partner as part of my disaster recovery plan.
You can control your board by clicking on the Menu button at the far right of the screen, which gives you options for modifying the board’s appearance, permission settings and so on.
My Trello indexing board
This is my current board, with upcoming and in progress book titles redacted. I have six lists on my indexing board:
- Upcoming projects: once I’ve agreed to do a new project, this is where I add its card. The cards are roughly in the order in which I expect to do the work, and you can easily drag the cards around to re-order them. At the top of this list are two template cards for embedded and standard indexing projects. I’ll talk more about these below.
- Indexing: once I’ve received the proofs and am working on the index, I move the card to this column.
- With client for approval: the card is moved here once I’ve returned the index and am waiting for, or dealing with, any feedback or queries.
- Invoicing: once I’ve sent the invoice, I move the card here
- Social media: I try to tweet about most of the books I index and so once I’ve been paid, and I’m waiting for the book to be published, I move the card here. This is also where the card sits while I’m updating my website and Society of Indexers profile with details of the project. Once all the relevant tasks for the project have been done, I archive the card.
- Other: this is a column for cards that relate to other activities with a significant time commitment, like conferences and holidays. I have this column to get these activities into my Gantt chart, of which more in a later post.
You can have as many lists as you like, if it’s helpful to break down your indexing workflow into more stages.
Using Trello cards
I make a single card for each index, which captures key information about the project and includes a checklist and key deadlines. When I’ve committed to a new project, I copy one of the two template cards (embedded and standard) to make a new card for that project. Here’s my the top part of my template card for a standard book index:
The title and description fields and the buttons on the right are default items. The title is always the title of the book. I use the description field for summary information about the project, the client, and the relevant deadlines. The due date button I use in various ways at different stages of the project:
- before the work arrives, for the date the proofs should reach me
- once it has arrived, the deadline for the index to reach the client
- once I have invoiced, the due date for payment
- and finally, for the date of publication so I can tweet about the book.
You can use various Trello power-ups (see below) to synchronise deadlines with your online calendar and get reminders. I’ll talk in a later post about using the TeamGantt power-up to create a Gantt chart from my Trello board.
The other Add to Card buttons work as follows:
- Members – for allocation of tasks to team members, and not relevant for the solo indexer
- Labels– adds a coloured label to your card. This might be useful if you want to flag up all projects for a particular client, for example.
- Checklists – see below
- Attachments – lets you attach files to the card. I don’t use this, as it seems like extra effort for no particular benefit – my proofs, indexes, invoices and so on are stored securely elsewhere, and I don’t need to share them. It’s also not helpful for data protection to have files with client information saved in multiple places. However, for any shared projects, this would be very helpful. You can also use this function to attach a link to your card, which seems more potentially useful.
Here is my current checklist for a standard indexing project:
To add a checklist, you need to click on the checklist button and add your items. It’s easy to modify checklists for specific projects that might need some further items – you need to add new items at the bottom, and click and drag them to re-order. Each card displays your progress against your checklist as a score, so you can easily see if you have uncompleted tasks on a particular project.
If a checklist item is getting complicated and unwieldy, you can convert it into a card, and give its own checklist and deadline.
Power-ups and action buttons
The power-up button allows you to add an additional app or function to your board – there are lots of different . The free version of Trello only allows you to have one power-up at a time. I currently use this for TeamGantt, of which more in a later post.
The action buttons work as follows:
- Move – move the card to a different list. You can also click and drag each card around the board.
- Copy – creates a copy of the card in the list you choose, with a new title
- Watch -this will alert you when anyone else changes the card. Again, not useful for solo freelancers.
- Archive – clicking on this will archive your card, so it’s not visible on the board. It’s not deleted, and you can search for and see archived cards if you need to.
- Share – will send a link to the individual card to another person. Again, not really useful if you’re working on your own.
Comments and activity log
The Comment box allows you to make notes about your project. I have used this for my project notes and queries, but currently I prefer the notetaking app Evernote for this. Comments can be edited and deleted as necessary. You can also share comments or add attachments and other cards to them, which is probably most useful in a team setting.
The activity log records everything you do to the card, with a timestamp. This is most useful for shared projects, and for a lone freelancer it’s probably less irritating to simply hide this by clicking the Hide Details button.
Trello probably works best as a website, but the phone/tablet app (Android and Apple) is useful for keeping track of what you’ve got going on – and especially useful when you get offers of work while you’re on holiday, which always seems to happen to me. You can also get reminder notifications through the app.
I like Trello so much I use it for other, non-indexing projects, and it’s the best way I’ve found of keeping an accessible list of books I plan to read. There are hundreds of public boards that you can look at for ideas of how to use Trello via https://blog.trello.com/.
Congratulations: your proposal has been accepted and you’ve done the hard work needed to write your book. Before it’s published, however, your book is going to need an index.
Anyone who’s done a research degree knows how important a useful index can be – and how frustrating a poor one is. A good index provides a map of your book, with multiple access points for readers with different needs and interests. It will make your book – and your research – more accessible to readers, and can even increase sales, especially to libraries.
In this short guide I will explain when and how indexing takes place, discuss the advantages of working with a professional indexer, and provide some useful links to information that can help you through the indexing process. You may also want to read fellow indexer Paula Clarke Bain’s excellent guide to the process for the general author.
1: Indexing in the publishing process
Indexing is carried out during the later stages of the publication schedule. Your publisher should provide you with an indicative schedule to explain when indexing should take place. The precise timing depends on the type of index required, and there are three main possibilities:
- traditional back-of-book index, complied from the PDF proofs of your book: these indexes are normally created at the very end of the publishing process, at the same time as proofreading. Copy-editing and formatting, and any changes required during that process, will all have been completed; any figures or illustrations will be in place and the page numbers will be fixed. A fast turnaround is often required, with indexing and proofreading to be completed within a month or less.
- embedded index, compiled by adding codes to a Word document which can be used to generate the index. This is normally done after copy-editing but before typesetting; the codes in Word are used by the typesetter to generate the index once the final layout is confirmed. Embedded indexing can save time in the publication process and is particularly useful for books that may need to be published in revised editions, or which will be simultaneously published as ebooks. You may get a slightly longer period of time to complete an embedded index.
- indexing to paragraph numbers for future embedding. In this system, the index is compiled using paragraph numbers from early-stage proofs, rather than page numbers. Again, this is done earlier in the publication process after copy-editing but before typesetting. The index will be embedded into the text during typesetting, and the final index will show the page numbers automatically. In some subject areas, indexing to paragraph numbers is standard, but is done from final page proofs, and the paragraph numbers are given in the index rather than page numbers.
Some publishers will still fund the index themselves, or give you the option to have the cost deducted from royalties. In this case, your editor will arrange for an indexer to work on your book. You are likely to be asked to review the index; this is covered in section 4 below. However, increasingly, publishers ask the authors of monographs (and volume editors, for edited collections) to organise indexing themselves. If you are asked to do this, you have the option of working with a professional indexer, or creating the index yourself.
Although there are automated systems that can help with the indexing process, automated indexes generated from document searches are not really indexes at all – they don’t include the vital component of human analysis that decides whether a topic should be in the index, and how to represent it. Searching cannot identify implicit mentions – a book I indexed recently, for example, discussed various wars without using the standard historical name for each one, and I needed to check the correct names for use in the index. Similarly, searching cannot easily identify synonyms or distinguish between homonyms. Searching will also bring up all references, including repetitions and passing mentions which do not include any meaningful information about the term or concepts.
2: Working with a professional indexer
Professional indexers will read your book carefully, identify the indexable terms and concepts, and create an index that anticipates the needs of your readers so that they can access your ideas and research quickly and easily. We use specialist software to organise the index, to ensure it is consistent and that it meets the presentation requirements of your publisher. We have a wide range of subject expertise and are often very highly qualified.
In the UK, the Society of Indexers has a directory of members that you can search by subject area and type of index: see https://www.indexers.org.uk/find-an-indexer/directory/. If your book is being published by a US publisher, you may want to use a US indexer. See the American Society for Indexing: https://www.asindexing.org/find-an-indexer/asi-indexer-locator/. There are also professional indexing societies in Ireland (https://www.afepi-ireland.com/), Canada (http://indexers.ca/), Australia and New Zealand (https://www.anzsi.org/), Germany (http://www.d-indexer.org/welcome.html), Netherlands (https://www.indexers.nl/) and South Africa (https://www.asaib.org.za/)
As well as these sources, you could consult colleagues for recommendations, or find out who has recently indexed similar books in your subject area from the indexing societies’ professional directories. If you need to submit an embedded index, make sure you approach indexers who have experience of this way of working – the Society of Indexers Directory allows you to search for this particular skill. Do get several quotes, and don’t be shy about asking for references from previous clients.
When you’ve found some likely candidates to work on your book, it’s best to contact them as soon as you have an indicative schedule. We do get booked up with work and it can be hard to accommodate last-minute requests. We are used to dealing with slipping schedules, however, so don’t worry if there are delays to your book beyond your control. When you’ve chosen your indexer, let any others who quoted for the work know that you won’t be using them.
How much will it cost? The UK Society of Indexers suggests recommended minimum rates: in 2022, these are £3.05 per page or £8.20 per 1,000 words. A 60,000 word monograph, for example, would cost around £490 to index at these rates. More advanced or experienced indexers may charge a higher fee, and you might be quoted a higher fee for a last-minute job, for a particularly complex text, or for an embedded index. Indexing can seem expensive, but consider the time and stress you will save and the eventual quality of your index.
If you are working at a university, it’s worth checking whether there is any funding available to help with the cost of indexing. I’ve indexed many books for academic authors, including early career researchers, where the cost has been covered by their institution. Most indexers will invoice you after completion, although you may be asked to pay part of the fee in advance. If you are bidding for funding for a project that will result in a book, remember to include the cost of indexing in your bid – then you’ll have the funds to pay for it when your project is concluding.
Embedded indexing in Word is particularly fiddly and time-consuming. Indexers use specialist add-ons to connect Word to our indexing software to do this work, which does make it easier. As an indexer, I would obviously recommend using a professional for any index – but especially if you have to produce an embedded index.
3: Going it alone
If you decide to index your book yourself, there are a number of sources of help and guidance out there. Give yourself plenty of time, especially towards the end of your schedule when you’ll need to check and edit your index. Based on the UK recommended hourly rate, a professional indexer would take around 18 hours to index a 60,000 word monograph; I was a lot slower than that when I started out and would still be much slower without indexing software. I’d expect a beginner, without the benefit of specialist software, to take about twice as long. Never index when you’re tired, and remember that most of us can only do about 4 hours of intense work a day – and indexing is definitely intense work. Paula Clarke Bain has written an excellent account of the indexing process for CIEP, which gives helpful insight into how indexing is done.
It’s better and easier to start at the beginning and work through your book, rather than making a list of keywords and searching for them. The keyword approach can seem quicker, but you may miss implicit discussion of key topics and be tempted to add passing mentions; it’s also a very boring task. A mind map of the book’s main topics is often helpful, though. You may find it useful to edit after each chapter, and remember that it’s easier to take something out than to go back and put it in. Follow your publisher’s guidelines to the letter, especially in relation to the number of pages available for the index. If you send back an index that’s too long, they’ll probably just ask you to reduce it.
As well as your publisher’s guidelines, you might want to look at the following book and short courses (most of the online courses come at a cost, your library may well stock the book):
- Nancy C. Mulvaney’s Indexing Books (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 2005, 2nd edition) is an accessible and thorough guide to the indexing process
- The Society of Indexers offers an online Indexing Basics workshop, which you can take at any time (study time 6-7 hours): https://www.indexers.org.uk/training-development/workshops/online-workshops/indexing-basics/
- Indexer Stephen Ullstrom offers a free 7-day email indexing course, aimed at authors: http://www.stephenullstrom.com/indexing-decoded/
- US indexer Sylvia Coates runs this online course: https://www.canvas.net/browse/canvasnet/courses/indexing-books
- Alex Gazzola at Mistakes Writers Make gives the author’s perspective on index writing: https://mistakeswritersmake.com/should-you-compile-your-own-index/
One of the risks of going it alone is that you may find that you really enjoy indexing and want to do more of it. The indexing societies listed above can all provide advice on further training and accreditation, if you discover you’re an indexer at heart.
4: Reviewing the index
Whoever writes your index, as the author you will need to review it. When you receive it, you should consider the following questions:
- Are all the main concepts and topics represented in the index?
- Are the words used for the index entries clear? Will they make sense to my readers?
- Are there long strings of page references, or long page spans, that have not been broken up with appropriate subheadings?
- Do the cross-references make sense?
- Are the page numbers accurate? It’s worth spot-checking to make sure.
Further guidance on index reviewing is available:
- Ideas on Fire give a good overview of the review process, tips on what not to tinker with, and how to feed back to your professional indexer https://ideasonfire.net/reviewing-your-index-draft/
- Helen Kara explains in detail how to check an index at https://helenkara.com/2019/04/11/how-to-check-an-index/,
- Stephen Ingle at the Textbook and Academic Authors Association offers a list of 10 tips on index evaluation
- detailed guidance on index evaluation is available from the American Society of Indexers, but bear in mind that UK and US indexing practices occasionally differ: https://www.asindexing.org/about-indexing/index-evaluation-checklist/
If you are unsure about any aspect of your index, and you’ve used a professional, do contact them about it. We’re best placed to resolve the problem quickly and will be happy to help.
However you decide to deal with your index, good luck with the indexing and with your book.
This year the SfEP and SI conferences were co-located at the University of Lancaster, and organised so that it was possible to go to most of both, with a joint gala dinner in the middle. I’ve been to two previous SI conferences but this was my first SfEP event – it was good to be able to get the benefit of both in one trip.
The SfEP conference began on Sunday with Lynne Murphy’s keynote on the different attitudes to grammar rules in the US and UK. Lynne is Professor of Linguistics at Sussex, born in the US but living in the UK since 2000, so well placed to consider this. In a very entertaining talk, Lynne highlighted some of the key differences: what I took away was that the US approach to grammar is much more based on a codified set of rules, whereas in the UK our rules are unspoken, learned by osmosis and class-related – we learn to speak and write correctly by knowing the right people, rather than through education. In America, however, learning the rules of grammar and writing is a formal, explicit part of education at school and university. Inevitably, this leads to differences in editing styles. Anecdotal evidence from Lynne’s colleagues suggests that UK editors work more from the ‘feel’ of a text and change less than their US counterparts do. Lynne’s publisher would have been proud of the graceful way in which she plugged her new book, The Prodigal Tongue (Oneworld, 2018): I really want to read this, but in the meantime have been enjoying Lynne’s blog, Separated by a Common Language.
My next session was with Alison Hughes, a freelance translator whose workshop looked at building a freelance business through networking and generally engaging with people. Alison was very frank about how a sudden dip in incoming work had led her to re-evaluate her approaches to finding it; making small changes might not yield a direct quantifiable return but did help build her reputation and increase her clients’ trust in her. The first suggested activity – go alone to local events (preferably free ones) relevant to your specialism or subject area and participate – is an attractive one. Events where you might meet fellow industry professionals or potential clients are ideal, and these can be found through local universities, Eventbrite and Groupon – a place I would not have thought of looking – as well as through industry-specific bodies. It’s not necessary or desirable to market yourself aggressively, but you can mention what you do – and it’s useful to have an address book of colleagues you can recommend for work you can’t do, and to pass on your business card. Alison also talked about using social media to develop your business – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter and your own blog all allow you to connect with potential clients and build relationships with them. I particularly noted her advice on LinkedIn: ensure your specialisms are included in your job title, and use your profile to tell a story rather than as your online CV. We also discussed doing work for no fee: Alison suggested trying to get something in exchange, like published credit, an invitation to a related event or promotion at it, and considering how long it would take – a freebie that takes an hour but would give you various marketing opportunities might be worth it; a six-month all-consuming project, probably not. Alison’s key message was, whatever approach you take to marketing, that you should engage – this will build your confidence along with your reputation.
Paul Beverley‘s short session on using macros in editing was fun and interesting and I’ll definitely be exploring his e-book and macro pack before my next editing job. Paul explained and demonstrated some key macros, and showed us you they fit into two groups: analytical macros, which give you information about how words are used and formed, and can help construct a stylesheet; and change macros which can correct repeated problems or errors with a few keystrokes. Paul’s overarching theme was that macros take the dull legwork out of editing and allow you to concentrate on the enjoyable bits – and they can also speed up your workflow. Paul has an extensive YouTube channel with lots of videos showing how to make best use of his macros.
After a short break, it was time for the SI conference to start. Professor Tony McElroy’s keynote on the Corpus Linguistics project at Lancaster was fascinating. This computer-assisted language analysis project shows trends and tendencies in normal language usage. Volunteers’ daily speech is recorded, transcribed and then evaluated and can reveal unexpected things that, as daily language users, we don’t notice. Tony’s example was the word “cause” which, as noun or verb, almost always has a negative connotation – we don’t say “that caused me to win a free holiday” – but definitions of the word do not necessarily reflect this. The project is computer-assisted because while computer data analysis is quicker and more reliable, human input is still necessary to understand language context. There is a free online course based on the project at https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/corpus-linguistics.
The gala dinner was a grand affair in Lancaster’s Great Hall. I was delighted to join the Linnets, the scratch choir, for a short performance before dinner, and slightly appalled to discover part-way through dinner that I’d be receiving my certificate of commendation for the Betty Moys award from Sam Leith during his after-dinner speech. I’d vaguely assumed this would be happening quietly at the SI AGM. I managed to get up and collect it without tripping over, however. Sam Leith gave an excellent speech and we were well looked after by the catering staff.
On Monday, I attended an excellent session run by Ruth Ellis on client relationship management. Ruth encouraged us to think systematically about how we communicate with our customers, to streamline our admin and save ourselves time, and how to ensure we get paid. Thinking about the needs of different types of clients, the information and advice they might need, and developing standard approaches to this can help secure clients and retain them. Ruth also discussed disaster recovery plans – not just ensuring you have good backup systems, but making sure you have a disaster buddy. This should be someone who knows what you’re working on and how to contact them if, for any reason, you’re suddenly unable to complete your work. Inevitably the discussion turned to generating more work, and we discussed up- and cross-selling of other services, searching for forthcoming publications on Amazon and contacting editors about the index, and asking satisfied clients – especially authors – to recommend you to their colleagues. Ruth mentioned that she scores her work and clients according to a number of factors that she particularly values, to help her decide between projects and whether to accept future work, which is an interesting idea. I came away from this workshop with a list of things to do to my email templates and a resolution not to be so coy about asking for recommendations and testimonials.
The joint SI/SfEP keynote was from Kathryn Munt, CEO of the Publishing Training Centre. Kathryn gave a rather sobering account of outsourcing in UK publishing and its impact on the availability of work, workflow and process, and payment rates. There was a sharp intake of breath in the room when she explained that a well-known UK publisher had outsourced all its activities apart from brand management – including commissioning and developmental editing – to a partner company, effectively making that company a publisher in all but name.. Kathryn’s slide on publishing industry expectations of freelancers – including flexibility, willingness to learn new skills, and to work in partnership with publishers and outsourcers – don’t, as Anna Nicholson (@axnicho) points out in her tweet, necessarily mesh well with the actual skills of editors, proofreaders or indexers.
The final SI event was a really clear and helpful talk on indexing in the context of digital publication and e-books by Jan Worrall and Paula Clarke Bain. I’ve had XML explained to me before but never so clearly, and the explanation of how various indexing tools like WordEmbed, IndexManager and IndexLinker can (and sometimes don’t) work for digital texts was incredibly useful. Jan is working to make this talk into an online SI workshop, which will be an excellent development.
Lancaster was a good place for the conference – it’s a nice campus and the train from London was quick – although the drop in temperature was a bit of a shock to a soft Southerner. I enjoyed both conferences, although wasn’t really prepared for the sheer force of numbers at the SfEP conference; the main building for the SfEP got crowded quickly, especially at meals and breaks. But it was good to meet other editors as I try to develop that aspect of my work, including some Sussex-based SfEP members who encouraged me to come along to the next local group meeting, and I always enjoy talking to other indexers. After such a stimulating couple of days, I was grateful that I’d planned a few days of solo walking in the Lakes where I could process and decompress – and refine my list of post-conference jobs to something a little more manageable.
Last month I was lucky enough to visit the Tove Jansson exhibition at Dulwich Picture Gallery. Even on a cold Thursday afternoon in January, the Gallery was crowded, which gives some idea of the extraordinary popularity of this artist and writer. Anyone who loved the Moomins in childhood would probably be drawn to an exhibition of her work; the current British fashion and fascination for all things Scandinavian is probably expanding her audience. Ethnically and linguistically Swedish, but born and raised in Finland, Jansson is positioned interestingly on the borders of Scandanavia – but her work and writing definitely speaks to us of her origins in the far north.
Tove Jansson was an extraordinarily wide-ranging artist, producing works in oils, illustrations, the vast world of Moomin in both book and comic-strip form, novels and short stories. The exhibition started with her early works in oils, including a number of self-portraits and the famous, uneasy portrait of her whole family together, Tove poised in black at the centre of the group. A room of paintings from her later career followed, including some beautiful interiors which have affinities with the work of Vanessa Bell, also shown at Dulwich in 2017. My favourite piece in this room was a semi-abstract seascape called “Westering”, haunting and beautiful. Her paintings strongly evoke dynamic motion and have a great deal of texture. In a still life of vegetables (fennel and onions) the tension between straight lines and curves gives these everyday objects a considerable dramatic quality. These paintings are quite large in scale, and the contrast with the next room was marked.
This room was devoted to Jansson’s illustrations for the work of other authors, particularly Alice in Wonderland and Tolkein’s The Hobbit. Her drawings for Alice, for those of us brought up on Tenniel’s upright black-and-white drawings, are revelatory, composed mainly of sinuous curves. The Mad Hatter is a relaxed, possibly slightly drunk figure, leaning companionably on the Dormouse; Alice swirls in spirals in the Pool of Tears. These works are quite tiny and precise in their execution, the opposite of abstraction.
Finally, the Moomins made their appearance. A room of sketches, showing how Jansson reworked little scenes again and again to get them right, made me think of the effort involved in this work. Jansson has incredible economy in her drawings, with just a few lines deployed to set a scene, show character, or tell a story. It was fascinating to see the notebook stage of the familiar drawings, and delightful to see the original set of Moomin figurines, developed in the sixties to satisfy the demands of Moomin-fans worldwide. The final room was dedicated to the comic strip Moomins – again, requiring massive work (which was taken over by Tove’s brother, interestingly, when she could no longer keep up with demand) and their excursions into other cultural forms. There were posters for Moomin plays, operas and exhibitions.
As well as her visual art, Tove Jansson wrote many books for an adult readership. These have been issued in English translations by Sort Of Books over the last few years in beautiful editions, and are hugely enjoyable to read. Her writing is spare, leaving space for the reader’s imagination; I always feel that she’s conveying, subtly and insinuatingly, a profound wisdom about what is worthwhile in life. The Summer Book is probably her best-known work, but my favourite is Fair Play. This draws on her own life with her partner, graphic artist Tuulikki Pietilä; the couple in the novel mimic the real-life arrangement where they had flats next door to each other, connected by a neutral attic space, both together and apart. Fair Play shows how two women can combine separate creative careers with a supportive and loving relationship. Jansson’s marvellous portrait of Tuulikki working at her desk appeared in the exhibition but I can’t find it online in usable form. Instead, here’s a photograph of them together.
The Dulwich exhibition is now over; there are some lovely reviews of it (with more pictures) at The Londonist and Plain. If you are interested in finding out more about Jansson, there is an authorised biography by Boel Westin which I enjoyed, although it is not written as a traditional biographical narrative, and jumps about a lot between the phases of Jansson’s life. There’s a good review of Westin’s book by Kate Macdonald if you want to find out more before starting. This illustrated biography looks fascinating and has gone on my wish list. There are lots of pictures to enjoy at tovejansson.com and moomin.com – the latter has an online shop for all your Moomin needs. Dulwich Picture Gallery is a delightful place and well worth a visit – they have excellent exhibitions and the main collection is also marvellous.
About this book
In 2018, it will be 250 years since James Cook set out for the South Pacific on the Endeavour. To celebrate this anniversary, there will be an exhibition at the British Library from April to August next year, drawing on the Library’s remarkable collection of maps, diaries, paintings and drawings to tell the story of Cook’s voyages. As well as maps and diaries prepared by the British sailors, scientists and artists, the exhibition will show works by the Tahitian navigiator Tupaia, who travelled with Cook to New Zealand and Australia. A fascinating exhibition catalogue has been prepared, which foregrounds the work of Tupaia and considers the colonising impact of Cook’s voyages; ostensibly, the first voyage had a scientific purpose (to observe the transit of Venus), but private instructions from the Admiralty gave Cook the additional mission of acquiring new territories for the British Empire. The catalogue discusses the colonising motives underpinning the voyages, and the impact of the British visitors on Tahiti, New Zealand, Australia and Hawai’i. The catalogue has around 200 illustrated pages and is roughly 50,000 words long. I was asked to provide a name index that included the illustrations and was 600-650 lines long. The authors and publishers were keen that the careful research done on the names of the indigenous people of the countries Cook visited was reflected in the text.
Approaching the index
I didn’t ask for a printout of this book, and read the PDF on my laptop. In retrospect, that was a mistake, as this is a larger format book and it wasn’t all that easy to read. I marked up the PDF using a larger monitor, which was easier. Again, I made a mind map of the categories of people, places and things with names, to help me select my terms. I also did some thinking about how to deal with indigenous names, English transliterations, and places that had or still have two names commonly used. After some email discussion with the publisher, I decided on the following approaches:
- for indigenous names of people, I would use the correct spelling as specified in the text as the preferred term. If incorrect English versions or transcriptions appeared frequently in the book, I would include a ‘see’ reference to the correct version, rather than double entry. This avoided effacing the correct spelling or transliteration with the English colonial versions. I also added misspellings that occurred frequently in the text as qualifiers.
- for placenames, where both English and indigenous names were used in the text and are currently in use, I would use double entry under both forms, with the other name included as a qualifier at each entry
- for placenames where the English name is no longer used, I would use a see reference
I also did some preparatory reading on Maori names, which was helpful – the Indexer Centrepieces on names were invaluable here.
Placenames probably gave me the most trouble in this index. I ended up doing a lot of research to see if both local and English names were still in use, in order to make a decision about whether to use both names in the index. I also spent a lot of time with an atlas open at the Pacific page, trying to get my head around the shape of Cook’s voyages.
The double entry approach gave me most difficulty in the entry on New Zealand. There were Maori and English names for most of the places mentioned. The general entry on New Zealand had a lot of locators, and needed subheadings. Should I, for example, include both North Island and Te Ika a Maui, its Maori name, as subheadings, duplicating the locators each time? In the end, this is what I did, to ensure the index user would find the information whichever name they used.
All names needed careful transcription and checking. I cut and pasted the most challenging names, and checked them all thoroughly. There were some diacritical marks that Sky didn’t seem to want to handle, so I also needed to put those in manually at the end, once I had the index in .rtf form.
Some people – Cook himself, but also Joseph Banks and several of the artists who travelled on the voyages – had a lot of meaningful entries. This led to long strings; in a name index, I wasn’t quite sure how to break them up. In the end, for the majority of these, I used placenames as a subheading, reasoning that the entry for the artist Sydney Parkinson, for example, would be easier to use if locators about his travels and his work was linked to particular places. For Cook himself, I cheated a bit and put in some biographical subject subheadings; there were lots of locators referring to his death, for example, so I included a subheading for that.
Clarifying what all these names were gave me pause for thought, too. For ship names, Michael Forder’s Indexer Centerpiece on military indexing was very helpful. I started off with placeholder text to distinguish people, places, and gods. I swithered about keeping these in as qualifiers, but eventually removed them because they made the index look very cluttered. Also, if you are looking for Purea in this index, you probably know she is a Tahitian chief and not a mountain or a lake.
The structure of the book made it very easy to point the user at significant mentions, which I highlighted with bold locators. Key people and places had short chapters devoted to them which included useful summary information. There was very little repetition despite the complex narrative of journeys and so many characters moving in and out of the story.
I also enjoyed getting to grips with some of Sky’s useful features. I’d used labels before, but for this book I used them to flag illustrations – very helpful for a final check on illustration locators at the end – and to label the different nationalities of each name. I also discovered the marvellous Propagate Edits tool, which helped me get rid of lots of placeholder notes while editing.
Mainly, though, the pleasures of indexing this book were in its beauty – the illustrations really are wonderful – and its insightful examination of Cook’s journeys. I learned a great deal.
It was worth putting in the efforts to work out a strategy for dealing with the indexing of names at the start; this supported my decision-making later on, although I did have to think about whether and how to break my self-imposed rules. I did slightly better at anticipating the long strings of locators for this book, but there was still a lot of reworking of this at the editing stage. I also made too many entries, and had to cut down significantly to fit in with the line limit. I need to think more about how to avoid this – I had a rough target per page, but pages with several illustrations invariably pushed me over that.