What Ails My Valentine?

            A blog commenter recently asked me what, exactly, was wrong with Lord Valentine Windham’s hand that it became so inflamed? Was his whole problem psychosomatic?

            Physician David Worthington, Viscount Fairly, intimates as much, and Valentine supports that diagnosis when he notes (to himself) that the first twinge of pain came when he closed his hand around the symbolic clod of earth that began the process of burying his brother Victor.

            In fact, Valentine has buried two brothers, and hasn’t really let go of the keen grief resulting from either death. He’s lost two more brothers to the inexorable grip of happy marriages, and his oldest brother, Devlin, has also removed two hundred miles north to the West Riding.

            Valentine has been holding onto to a lot of bewildering losses—no wonder his hand aches.

            Except… This is one of my early manuscripts, and as such, has been significantly pared down from its original first draft… pared down by, oh, say 50,000 words. That means there’s half a book I’ve written about this story that you haven’t read, and buried in that half a book is more information about Val’s ailment.

            As a child, trying to keep up with his older brothers while skating, Val had a fall on an outstretched hand (FOOSH). He hid the condition from Her Grace, and by the time His Grace figured out that his baby boy was injured, the affected wrist was healing. His Grace pronounced it a bad sprain (it was a fracture), and tried to tell himself that stoicism even in a five year old is something to be proud of. (Her Grace would have known better.)

            In modern medical terms a FOOSH is one condition that can create a predisposition to carpal tunnel syndrome. Val’s symptoms—worse inflammation around the thumb and index fingers than the other fingers, abatement of inflammation following rest—are consistent with a diagnosis of carpal tunnel. Repetitive stress can play a role in carpal tunnel, but so too, the literature suggests, can chronic emotional stress.

            So maybe Valentine had a case of carpal tunnel that resolved with rest.

            Or maybe it was a matter of him having to let go of what ailed his heart before his hand would heal. I’ve been around a lot of dedicated pianists, and as a group, I’ve noticed they tend not to suffer ailments of the hand—to the contrary, many of them ply their instruments with breathtaking skill very late in life (Eubie Blake, Marion McPartland, Arturo Rubinstein, Dave Brubeck to name a few).

            To answer the question then, I know Valentine’s ailment was at least physical, but David Worthington was right too: Illness can have its origins in the emotions of the heart, and healing can originate there too.

 Have you ever endured an ailment you suspected was more of the heart than the body?


The Virtuoso’s Play List

For each book featured in a newsletter, I’d like to answer a question that either came up frequently on the blog tour for that book, or should have come up frequently and didn’t. The Virtuoso being about a musician, I expected to be asked if I listen to music when I write. It doesn’t say so on the website, but I have a Bachelor of Music degree in music history and my instrument was piano.

When Lord Valentine was acquiring his skill at the keyboard, the entire repertoire of Mozart, Haydn, Handel, CPE Bach, and some J.S. Bach would have been available to him. Over in Vienna, Beethoven would have written all but his ninth symphony, and pianist and composer Muzio Clementi would have been touring to packed houses.

So what did I listen to when I wrote “The Virtuoso?”

Unless you count the contented snoring of my bull mastiff, I listened to silence.

In hindsight, I think I would have been happier had I pursued a college degree in composition rather than musicology, because even more than I liked to create music, I liked to listen to it being created. When I listen to music, my ear is not passive. I take apart what I’m hearing the way an art historian might assess a painting, even the mass produced art hanging in a hotel room.

You hear a string quartet, I hear a cello getting too bossy and a viola hiding under the second violin. I hear magnificent close harmony, or a bass line going muddy as the tempo picks up. In other words, I listen analytically.

I cannot turn this off any more than I can turn off the senses of taste and touch. It’s work for me to listen to music, just as it’s work for me to write. I enjoy both—enjoy them tremendously—but both take focus and effort.

Composer G.F. Handel

So, no, I do not listen to music when I write. That would be like trying to dance and write at the same time—nigh impossible for me. But—and you knew there would be a but—when I was writing “Lady Sophie’s Christmas Wish,” time was of the essence, and a Christmas feel for the book was also of the essence. To help me get a sense of Christmas into the book, I listened to Handel’s “Messiah” (the Christmas portion) almost incessantly when I wasn’t writing. I hummed it, I sang it, I whistled it—and happily “lost” the CD once the book was written.

The neat thing about that work is that even in the Regency period, it was popular Christmas music. Hearing the oratorio over and over, knowing my Regency characters would have been thoroughly familiar with it, helped the story flow more easily.

If there’s a question you’d like to see addressed in a future blog, send it along and I’ll try to work it in. If YOU had written the Virtuoso, what might you have listened to (beside my snoring bull mastiff)?