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Somewhere Hot & Coloured

By Michael Brennan


Love letters. For many, this phrase conjures up a childish, classroom act of passing crudely folded notes to the one you fancy. Adorned with Crayola hearts, we daren’t hand them over ourselves! We then hide in attempt to shield ourselves from the irreversible vulnerability we’ve penned and the honesty we’ve made real.


Letter writing recalls a time before social media, texting and the dark art of catfishing made approaching love interests less daunting. If pondered carefully, however, little has changed. Many of us still turn to the written word to make our feelings known. Love letters serve as an archaic yet timeless method of reminding or even informing those we adore just how special they are. And let’s not forget, love letters are not exclusively for those we have (or yearn to have) romantic involvement with. We can write love letters to friends, family members and people we admire (fan mail). Without the need to wait for a special occasion, there are few individuals who would refuse a just-because letter of love.


More importantly, the writing of love letters has earned its place in history, hand-written proof of just how powerful a force love is no matter who you feel it for. The heartfelt act of writing one’s feelings for another has stood the test of time. Additionally, lovers throughout the centuries have always turned to the silent yet powerful art of the pen despite the law and society’s repulsion towards homosexuality.  


One iconic figure in the literary world, known not only for his caustic wit and catty characters, but also his private, yet fearless, displays of affection for the man he loved, is Oscar Wilde. Even from the misery of his prison cells in which he was thrown simply for being who he was, Wilde never let prosecution extinguish the inferno blazed within him and the treasures he left behind are proof that love conquers all.


Lord Alfred “Bosie” Douglas was Wilde’s forbidden counterpart, his muse, friend and in the end, the very thing that enabled him to endure rebuff (the Victorian version of being cancelled), humiliation and deteriorating health. Having Bosie to think of, and write to, allowed life to go on and feel meaningful for Wilde. In a letter to Bosie written in November 1892, Wilde encapsulates a fantasy all of us, no matter who we are or who we love, have had; Dearest Bosie … “I should awfully like to go away with you somewhere where it is hot and coloured.


Such a description that recalls the iconic lyrics to Somewhere Over the Rainbow, the anthem and inspiration behind the very flag symbolising Pride. One might say Judy Garland’s lyrics themselves serve as a lover letter to a future we continually aspire to.


Oscar Wilde: A Life in Letters edited by Merlin Holland serves not only as a reminder that love is love but shows how far we’ve come, fighting through the laws which forbade those from loving freely.  


Albeit with many years in between them, times remained unchanged when Alan Turing, the heroic codebreaker of WWII, was chemically castrated as punishment for “gross indecency.” Soon after his homosexual conviction, Turing wrote in a letter to friend, Nick Furbank in which he noted; “I expect to lie in the sun, talk French and modern Greek, and make love, though the sex and nationality... has yet to be decided.” Despite his world-saving efforts, Turing was deemed a criminal when his homosexuality was discovered, leading him to take his own life in 1954. The full story can be read in Prof: Alan Turing Decoded authored by Turing’s nephew, Sir Dermot Turing.


In keeping with their ink-spotted passion, other authors whose romance was secreted in the confines of an envelope include Beatnik writer Alan Ginsberg and his poet boyfriend Peter Orlovsky. In a Ginsberg penned in Paris in 1958, he describes that feeling most commonly experienced when receiving a text or some other digital notification from a love interest; “Dear Petey, (Ginsberg writes from Paris in 1958), O Heart O Love everything is suddenly turned to gold! Don't be afraid don't worry the most astounding beautiful thing has happened here!” My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries by Rictor Norton is a thrilling read and an endearing glance at Ginsberg’s writing style when fashioned from fact, not fiction.


Virginia Woolf was ahead of her time in many ways. Not least for the questions raised by her 1928 novel Orlando, which tells the story of a poet who changes gender over the course of their 300-year existence. Beyond the fictitious premise of the tale, its inspiration is rooted in the family history of poet Vita Sackville-West, Woolfe’s lover, to whom Woolfe famously wrote in a letter of sentimental valiance; “Look here, Vita, throw over your man, and we’ll go to Hampton Court and dine on the river together and walk in the garden in the moonlight and come home late and have a bottle of wine and get tipsy, and I’ll tell you all the things I have in my head, millions, myriads.”


With countless letters of forbidden longings freed from the past of kings, musicians, soldiers, aristocrats and activists now published for the empowerment and enriching of the LGBTQIA+ community, it would be unfair not to share a reminder that the road to the Pride celebrations we know today, is paved with the love letters of those who loved quietly, wrote loudly, always with pride and always from the heart.  


This is my love letter. Writing with Pride, for Pride, to Pride.

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