Chapter and verse from bespoke books

Gail Baird and Dan Bernard from Old Portsmouth who have started the publishing company Tricorn.
Gail Baird and Dan Bernard from Old Portsmouth who have started the publishing company Tricorn.

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In the corner of Gail Baird and Dan Bernard’s office is a telescope.

It was Dan’s Christmas present and studying the heavens from the roof of their Old Portsmouth home has become a passion for him.

Of course, he uses it to look deep into the past, but if he had had it three years ago to magically transport him into the future he might not have believed what he saw through the lens.

For as the recession began to bite he and partner Gail took a giant leap into the unknown and set up a business – a rather old-fashioned business.

For this endlessly-enthusiastic couple took the plunge and went into the world of book publishing setting up Tricorn Books from their home in Old Portsmouth.

Now, this might seem a daft step to take at a time when downloading books onto e-readers is seen by some to mark the beginning of the end of the traditional tome.

But Dan and Gail’s world is not one of mass-produced pulp fiction but of quality publications with relatively small print runs, many constructed with specially-sourced paper and some often bound by hand.

In many ways it is a partial throwback to the earliest days of books when monks would spend months, if not years, producing hand-crafted volumes.

And the setting for the couple’s office adds flavour to that historic artform – it is a wood-panelled room on the ground floor of their 18th century home in High Street opposite Portsmouth Grammar School.

In opposite corners are the desks and computers on which the couple design the latest work to come their way.

Dan is a professional photographer and graphic designer. Gail, also a photographer, has international marketing and design experience with Nestle, but has also been heavily involved in the world of art.

‘We were both teaching in further and higher education on the south coast at places like Chichester and Winchester,’ said 43-year-old Dan.

‘But we both reached the point where teaching wasn’t doing it for us.

‘We’d fallen out of love with it I suppose.

‘I found I was standing in front of a class telling them what they should do when all I really wanted was to be doing it myself.

‘So we decided to set up our own design company.’

The name Tricorn Books is in honour of the first book they took on – Celia Clark and Robert Cook’s tribute to the old controversial concrete shopping centre demolished in 2004 – The Tricorn, The Life and Death of a Sixties Icon. It is now on its third reprint.

Gail, who will only admit to being ‘much-nearer 50’ than Dan, said: ‘Celia came to us and asked us to design the book but when we couldn’t find a publisher we thought we’d do it.

‘We both had lots of experience producing leaflets and brochures so we thought, why not do it ourselves?’

That was in mid-2009. In the past year, they have published 16 more books. Most are available through Waterstone’s or online from WH Smith.

Gail said: ‘At the moment we have the book buyer for Tesco interested in us. It’s only a possibility at this stage, but to get them interested at all is like gold dust.’

The big publishing houses and many critics are sniffy about authors paying to publish their own work, but Dan said the market is good, growing and varied.

Tricorn has designed and produced a range of titles from novels, local history and illustrations. And although most have a Portsmouth connection there have been commissions from authors in Kent and Bristol as their reputation spreads.

He said: ‘We offer opportunities for those who have something to say and want to have their work in the public domain. With the way printing particularly has developed, and marketing opportunities proliferated, self-publishing has become increasingly accessible and popular, which is great news for authors.’

Gail added: ‘It’s a real labour of love for the authors. They come here and sit with us, tell us what they want and they are amazed as it gradually all comes together.’

And Dan added: ‘One of the joys of the internet is that we can source so many different materials from all round the world – from specialist paper to unusual fonts. It is a bespoke service.’