Thwaites Wainwright prize – indexes in the shortlisted books

Publishers Frances Lincoln, in association with the National Trust, were delighted to announce that the inaugural winning title of the 2014 Thwaites Wainwright Prize for UK Nature and Travel Writing, worth £5,000, was THE GREEN ROAD INTO THE TREES: A WALK THROUGH ENGLAND by HUGH THOMSON, published by Windmill, Random House, but how did the index in this book and those of the other shortlisted books shape up?

The Green Road into the Trees: A Walk through England by Hugh Thomson (Windmill, Random House). There is an index, lots of place names and people, and some other subject headings. My first impression was that it was messy and odd looking. There are many capital letters at the start of headings, where lower case letters should have been used. There are some subheadings in set-out format, and some of the main headings suffer from strings of locators followed by a few subheadings with one or two locators, so not analysed and broken down. The terminology is also a little odd with lots of prepositions which makes it sometimes a little tricky to follow what the heading actually means. The indexer has also not quite got to grips with the proper use of ‘see’ and ‘see also’ cross-references. ‘See‘ cross-references point the user from a heading to a preferred main heading if two or more terms are found to describe the same thing. If there are few locators then they can just be duplicated to save the reader turning pages. They got confused with how to cope with the author ‘George Orwell’, his real name ‘Eric Blair’ and the names of his wife ‘Eileen’, who appears to have only one locator, but has three headings devoted to her, two of which are ‘see‘ cross-references to the one locator. There is also a splendid circular cross-reference ‘Archaeologists, See minicab drivers’ and ‘minicab drivers  245. See archaeologists’. The book probably deserved a better index than this.

The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane (Penguin Books). Has an unusual index in that the entries are categorised under 23 headings. Some of the headings have long strings of locators, particularly in the ‘names’ and ‘rocks’ sections. These could have been broken down further to help the readers. There are some slightly odd uses of cross-references, for example a ‘see also (above)‘ and a ‘see also (below)‘ to point the reader within a section to other headings. Everything you want is probably in there, but you have to think about what it is before you go looking for it.

Under Another Sky by Charlotte Higgins (Jonathan Cape) I’ve looked at this index before.

Badgerlands by Patrick Barkham (Granta). Kindle only Look Inside available on Amazon.

Field Notes from a Hidden City: An Urban Nature Diary by Esther Woolfson (Granta). Kindle only Look Inside available on Amazon.

Walking Home by Simon Armitage (Faber). No index!

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