I keenly prescribe to the notion inspiration seeks us out and we mustn’t much worry about going looking for it like some old fool with a dodgy metal detector trying to locate Goering’s mythical gold train hidden along a siding in the Polish countryside. Inspiration is all around. And when you find your muse, the ideas pour fourth like a spring stream after the winter runoff.
I was just back to Michigan for a short stay and couldn’t pass the opportunity to visit my beloved Cranbrook. It’s been three years since I was last there. Thankfully the campus is sempiternal. Something about the bricks and ivy weaved in with slabs of Finnish design that shouldn’t get on with each other, yet coexist. I spent many a joyous day and on occasion after nightfall at Cranbrook in the 80’s: St Dunstan’s theatre school and sneaking back onto campus through the Brookside tunnel under Cranbrook Road after dark to meet up with friends drinking beer and smoking cloves at the boat house over looking Kingswood Lake. These then were heady days, when the mornings were thick with humidity and summer sun shone bright and the campus was filled with the laughter of youth as we took refreshing dips in the bottomless Lake Jonah. Little did we know the lake was man made and the sun would not always shine brightly upon us.
Cranbrook though is transcendent. Entering within its walls I am transported away. To England. But with hotter summertime weather. The leafy trails mingling with Arts & Crafts architecture is tonic. The Booth family arrived in Bloomfield Hills from Detroit in 1904. Building the largest estate outside of the City on the dilapidated Apple Farm. The private school where the Arts was of foremost importance was established in 1927.
My own history converges with Cranbrook’s in 1981. Between morning and afternoon swim practice at the Birmingham Athletic Club, I enjoyed five unforgettable summers of school there until Interlochen. But, that’s for another story. It wasn’t just the theatre arts that expanded my creative wants. Cranbrook itself embodied hope in a world I was out-of-step with. As Auntie Mame proclaimed all too perfectly: ‘Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving’.
I engorged myself on Cranbrook, carrying its hope with me through the the 80’ s, on to uni at BYU and eventually Los Angeles (well, Sherman Oaks really). I left LA in 2010 for Barcelona finding myself drawn to the hidden calles of the Costa Brava. The most beautiful thing in the world, is the world itself is never more true now than it was in 1988.
When I began writing “The Gift” Trilogy I needed a private school for my protagonist Eleanor Annenberg to teach at. Cranbrook suited. With the advent of the internet I was able to delve more deeply into the history of this wondrous place. The more I learnt, the more idyllic Cranbrook became to my psyche.
As I often say, there always is a but.
When writing a thriller, it is not wise to use an institution’s name. Especially a thriller with risqué themes. So, Cranbrook became the fictional St. Dunstan’s. The Booth family the Annenbergs.
Although most of “The Gift” was written at my seaside home in Spain, I made several trips back to Michigan to flush out details foraccuracy sake. I was fortunate to have been able to make a trip back during the Pandemic with my wife and newly born boy. With Barcelona in a tragic state of lockdown, I found freedom in walking the empty summer campus at Cranbrook.
It was during these walks about the campus, exploring some of the lesser visited spaces, that I began to appreciate the true magnificence of the grounds. It’s not just its history and architecture. Cranbrook is a living thing. Its gardens prismatic, the velts gloriously green, its dense woods a place to frolic and become lost in time. There, in the shade afforded by trees planted by teams of workers a hundred years before, the modern day mingles with the past.
And so, when I visit Cranbrook, whether to walk round the grounds or drive along Lone Pine to Cranbrook Road, passing Christ Church and Brookside, my creativity pours forth like a torrent.
Cranbrook, after all, is a state-of-mind.
As always look after one another.