When Geraldine Brooks went through her father’s possessions after his death, she found the bundles of letters which prompted her to write Foreign Correspondence. Lawrie Brooks had been in the habit of writing to politicians and intellectuals with ideas and questions, and he had kept all their replies. Each letter, Brooks reflects, is ‘a small piece of the mosaic of his restless mind’. Because her father hoarded his past in photographs and newspaper clippings as well as letters, she had the makings of an intimate portrait of a reserved and unhappy man.
Brooks also found an unexpected way into her own past. Her father had kept the letters from the penfriends of her teenage years. Haphazardly acquired in the 1960s, these penfriends wrote from affluent North Sydney (a world away from her own inner west suburb of Concord), from America, Israel, Jordan, and France. Re-reading their letters, she reconstructed the younger self to whom they were sent.