A while back I touted myself as a bit of an expert in the field of World Record Breaking. As the writer and editor of The Book of Alternative Records, a compendium of amazing human endurance feats, the size of which had never been done before or again since (The Guinness Book of Records tended to list all manner of records, the vast majority unbeatable by humans as they included 'world firsts', 'animals' and 'geographic' entities, like heights of mountains, etc.; plus they didn't always publish a world record, even if they accepted it). The Book of Alternative Records was unique in that it presented a showcase for all eligible records, and I was proud to meet a number of multi-world record holders, and document their achievements. First envisioned as an 'Annual', it was the intention of myself and my research team, to put out a revised edition every year, and our publisher, John Blake, was keen.
Unfortunately, a few things happened before the book went into print. Guinness, the foremost authority on world record breaking, took objection to our little book, and threatened us with all sorts of legal nonsense if we went ahead. Our publisher got a little twitchy about the whole thing, and as a result, so the project wasn't shelved, we decided to extract any world record that Guinness had accepted for their collection. I was vehemently against doing this. My argument (with legal backing) was the fact that NOBODY owns facts, and what I was producing was a written collection of facts that were already in the public domain. All Guinness owned was the words used and presented in stating those facts. Alas, I lost the argument, and my book became a third shorter than it was originally intended. As a result of the brouhaha, the release of the book was delayed. Instead of a September release (to coincide with Guinness's so that we could piggy-back off their publicity), the book came out in November. Another decision which I wasn't wholeheartedly in favour of, was the choice of cover (see above). The marketing team decided that The Book of Alternative Records would be showcased under HUMOUR, as opposed to GENERAL INTEREST, and as a result enlisted an artist to design a cover that matched the genre. It's not a terrible cover, but it doesn't really convey the fact that the records inside were achieved by individuals who were serious about what they were doing. I did like the font used though: Trajan. So much so, that you'll see that I've retained it on my latest books (check out my name on the front and spine of The Girl in the Mirror!).
When I took delivery of the advanced copy of the book in October 2004, I was just so happy to be published. Not just published, but TRADITIONALLY published. I'd secured a contract and had been paid an advance, and the physical book was the end result. Things were looking great after having one of the worst years of my life (if you read my last blog, you'll remember I'd been diagnosed with cancer the year before and had been made redundant in June that year), and we started with a bang! We launched in a WHSmith's with big media coverage; I had a big write-up in the local newspapers, and was featured on About Anglia, ITV's news programme. National press coverage followed where I was featured in The Daily Mirror, The Sun and The Daily Mail, and I was interviewed by a number of radio stations across the UK.
Christmas came and went, as did our main market. Humour books tend to only sell on the run-up to Christmas, as did The Guinness Book of Records, and we had missed two months of that. Despite a lot of marketing, the book didn't sell more than a couple of thousand copies (the latest royalty statement I received last week indicated that sales have still yet to cover my advance - and it wasn't especially high either!), so as a result, John Blake's didn't take up their option to publish a subsequent revised issue that year. My disappointment, amongst other things, put me off writing for a long time.
Frequently I've received record submissions emailed me, and these are still listed on our website www.alternativerecords.com, but I have to disappoint fans of the book that no new edition is in the pipeline. I did work on a collection of records with a world record breaker named Paddy Doyle towards the end of the last decade, but that project is now in permanent limbo, and I did discuss the idea of producing a book in partnership with the international world record organisation Record Holders Republic a couple of years ago, but we felt that the world didn't need (or want) another book of records. In this digital age, information can be obtained freely via the internet at a click of a few keys. Even sales of The Guinness Book of Records have slumped in recent years and it's just a matter of time before the tome is changed to cut costs or discontinued altogether.
So, what's the future for World Record Breaking?
Well, sadly, in today's world, record breaking has become irrelevant. I'm not saying people won't do it, but it's perceived as less of an achievement now. There are hardly any career record breakers out there any more; they've either died or given up. Believe it or not, there once was a large group of individuals who toured the country/world, demonstrating and breaking records, but demand for such spectacles are on the decrease, if not already extinct. There's still a few, but there's less interest in them than there is for a children's balloon blowing party act called 'Stevie Sausage'. The media no longer report on world records (unless broken by a high-profile individual or a sport's personality), and record breakers rarely get paid for exhibition appearances. More significantly, audiences are no longer amazed by feats of endurance, dexterity, strength or agility.
Who wants to watch someone sitting in a bathtub of baked beans for one hundred hours? More to the point, who wants to beat it? The record still stands from 1986.
Someone can balance a car on his head? So what?
"I can flip a few hundred beermats 360 degrees," elicits the response "What's a beermat?" No one cares any more.
Record Breaking belongs to a more simpler age, an age before satellite television when there was just four channels to entertain us, home movies came on VHS, pubs closed at 10:30 p.m. on a Sunday night and eBooks was just something a scouser might say whilst heading towards a library: "Eee, books."
The world was smaller then, more innocent and seemingly a less dangerous place (only because we didn't hear of all the atrocities back then). Little things pleased little minds, and although our minds have been expanded, our living improvements improved, our mental well-being has not.
I'd love to write a new encyclopaedia of world records one day. Things buck and trend, so who knows. Maybe it will become vogue again one day, and when it does, watch this space.