Indexing on the Mekong

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I guess (but I don’t know, since it’s not often a hot topic of conversation) that every amateur indexer has his or her own way of working. Since our joint IT expertise would shame most 10-year-olds and certainly does not extend to using a computer’s indexing facility, my husband and I use pencil and paper. Tried and tested over the course of twenty-five indexes of varying lengths and complexity, this old-fogeyish no-tech method has served us well, but never more so than when compiling the index to Sowing the Wind, John’s twentieth - century history of the Middle East.

For various reasons (including the typescript of the book having had to follow its editor to Mexico), the time available for correcting the proofs and compiling the index had shrunk to about twelve weeks. Had all else been equal, this would have been more than enough. But all else was not equal, because for ten of those twelve weeks we were going to be travelling, roughly, inexpensively and by any means available, up the Mekong river.

Despite last-minute preparations for what would be an unpredictable journey of more than 2,000 miles – applying for visas, hunting for information, studying maps, packing, unpacking, repacking – we did manage to correct one set of proofs and post it off before departure. But the index? There was nothing else for it. The index would just have to come up the Mekong too.

It seemed the obvious answer at the time. Once on the river, travelling at night would be out of the question. The whole point of the trip was to see where we – and the river – were going. There would be no socializing, no radio or television, no cooking or home improvements or walking the dog or whatever else one spends one’s evenings doing, and although more than half our luggage always seems to consist of books, there is a limit to how many hours at a time you can spend reading. The index would give us something useful to do during the long, dark tropical evening

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About the contributor

Julia Keay’s latest book is Alexander the Corrector, a biography of Alexander Cruden.

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