From The Indexer Vol. 20, 1997, in series, `Index makers of today'

by David Lee

Hazel Bell must be one the best known members of the indexing community. This is due very much to her often intrepid editing of The Indexer from 1978 to 1996, to which she has contributed much as a writer. Her other journal editing has ensured that her skills have not remained idle - Learned Publishing from 1987-96, and she is involved with other publications, including those of the fan groups for Angela Thirkell and Barbara Pym. But amid all this editorial work from 1965 to date have appeared over 470 indexes.

Hazel does not herself believe too much in the specialist indexer, or to put it another way, her specialism is English (B.A. Reading), and it is with words that she is concerned. She sometimes regrets training not undertaken and feels she was lucky to obtain Registered Indexer status in a more liberal period. She does not feel that training as a librarian necessarily gives librarians special status vis a vis indexing, but does respect their bibliographical skills.

Hazel is a strong advocate of reading the whole text first, annotating the proofs, and then indexing direct on to the computer. Editing is done on word-processed files. On the whole, whilst a supporter of computerized indexing programs, she does not use the popular ones. Her day is a long one, with early start, late finish and a workaholic husband (nor have the children proved idle). Her family has had mixed attitudes towards her work, and she admits to hating cooking.

Hazel came to editing though the National Housewives Register, and then to indexing through the Agency for the Employment of Mothers, as a mother of just two (a third followed who, I remember, once prepared for Mother a witty greetings card in index form) with not all her energies taken up.

The first index, on Elizabeth Garrett Anderson, took a long time, was very large, and as she says frankly, so over the top that she was rightly not paid for the full work involved. A typical start for many of us. The pressures of the commerce of publishing caused a cooler approach to indexing when subjects were not as immediately appealing and time scales more abrupt.

She enjoys indexing journals as well as books, and quite understandably particularly likes indexing journals she edits. She even likes making cumulated indexes. The index to the publishing journal Logos, from 1990 onwards, is one which she is particularly glad to have made.

Unfavourite indexes are probably those in the crime field, of which she has done many. And favourites may be quite obscure and unpublished, like that to A S Byatt's Possession and other novels.

Her biggest problem has been the constant change in publishing personnel. She has had and still has some constant firms who use her services.

She does not know how quick an indexer she is.
Hazel has a tendency to categorize her work. She keeps scrapbooks, which are all indexed. How she manages to file all her massive correspondence in and out, I don't know, but as one-time Assistant Editor and later Chairman of Editorial Board, I have rarely known her to fail to find what was needed. There are few successors to Bell's work who have not received cartloads of materials, and day by day she is a very generous informant on topics known to be of interest to friends.

There has been much editorial and reviewing work to be added to indexing, and often over the years, spells of teaching, particularly of adults, though this doesn't mix too well with indexing, except that teaching is socially preferable.

And then there's the politics - professional politics, that is, for Hazel carries on vigorous correspondences and even one-way campaigns. Fax, Email and Internet are all taken over by her. Her enthusiasm is boundless and her causes never unreasoned even if sometimes not acceptable to all. Topics of interest have included 'soft indexing' (that of a literary or human nature), biography (on which she has written the useful Society of Indexers' publication Indexing biographies, 1992), 'standards' in indexing, and the indexing of fiction.

Her work as a writer of fiction, particularly humorous fiction, is not well known, and I am sorry her tart wit in this sphere has not had all the airing it deserves.

Hazel has no particular unfulfilled ambitions (except she'd like a commission to index A. S. Byatt's Babel Tower, and to prepare other literary indexes), and has largely received the plaudits she might have hoped for, culminating in the Carey Award for her services to the profession.

It is on HKB as indexer, not editor, that I am writing, but in fact she brings to both the quality of fearlessness and a determination not to see problems first: everything is solvable. Ask Hazel which she prefers, editing or indexing, and the answer will vary, dependent I suspect on which she is doing at the moment. She enjoys her work, and is always ready to tell you about it.