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Searching for the Secret River

3.98  ·  Rating details ·  461 ratings  ·  47 reviews
Searching for the Secret River is a memoir about the writing of Kate Grenville's international bestseller, The Secret River.

It tells the story of the research behind the novel - from the transcript of Grenville's ancestor's trial at the Old Bailey in 1805, to the information that contemporary historians are uncovering about what happened on the Australian frontier. It also
Paperback, 240 pages
Published July 28th 2007 by Harper Perennial (first published 2006)
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Average rating 3.98  · 
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Aug 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

Reading The Secret River earlier this year was a profoundly moving experience, as was seeing the superb theatrical adaptation of the novel produced by the Sydney Theatre Company*. Together, the novel and the play spoke to me spoke to me about the colonial experience in New South Wales in a way that all of my other reading on this subject has failed to do. It personalised the dilemmas faced by the new arrivals and the conflict between them and the indigenous people of the country. It made those d
Apr 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed The Secret River, and rated it five stars, so was intrigued by this book which covers the background and process of how it was researched and written. And I wasn't disappointed. I found this to be really fascinating. In part one, the reader follows Kate Grenville as she initially begins researching her convict ancestor and his transportation to Australia, then realises that his claiming of land on the Hawkesbury River must have put him in conflict with the Aboriginal inhabitants ...more
Hariklia Heristanidis
Feb 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
I am searching for my own way to tell the story of my grandparents, so reading about Kate Grenville's search for her great great great grandfather and of how to tell his story, obviously resonated with me. Most of us will know of her award-winning book "The Secret River". It was made into an excellent two-part mini-series and has also been adapted for the stage. This book tells the tale of how that book came into being.
It follows the trajectory of the author's interest in her forebearer, through
Rosemary Atwell
Jul 18, 2017 rated it liked it
This is a rewarding read, especially for the writer and/or researcher. 'Searching for The Secret River' documents Kate Grenville's journey of discovering her great-great-great grandfather and of the satisfactions and frustrations of the writing process, as she grapples with the ways in which truth and fiction both conspire and inspire when bringing a text to life.
Although the book isn't exactly a memoir or a writing guide, it fits both genres equally well.
I knew it! After grinding through The Secret River, the impression I got from it was that it was that 1) Grenville put a crap load of research into the book, and 2) it was a personal story of sorts, and Searching for the Secret River confirms this. To my mind, Grenville was too involved with the story to really be objective with it. She talks about having to stop thinking of the main character in terms of who he was in real life (he's a thinly disguised version of her own ancestor), and start lo ...more
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it
Having devoured The Secret River, I felt lucky to have this to hand. I am always fascinated by other people’s writing processes, and there were a number of things I really enjoyed about this book. I felt a strong kinship with Kate’s search among archives for pieces of information that would help her put together her story, having just done something similar for Shallow Breath. I thought she did pretty well in not getting the book bogged in details that were probably fascinating to her but perhap ...more
Kate Grenville is one of my favourite writers and I was bitterly disappointed when her novel The Secret River was passed over by the Miles Franklin judges. It was a brave and beautiful book, exploring the mutual incomprehension and inevitable conflict that occurred when early Australian settlers encountered the indigenous people. It was Grenville’s first venture into historical fiction, and coming as it did in the middle of the so-called History Wars, it was criticised for failing to be ‘true’ h ...more
Jan 19, 2014 rated it it was amazing
There's a passage in Kate Grenville's historic novel 'The Secret River' that perfectly encapsulates the avarice that took over Australia's emancipated convicts. In it, the protagonist gazes over a piece of coveted Aboriginal land:

He took off his hat with an impulse to feel the air around his head. His own air! That tree, its powdery bark flaking around the trunk: his! That tussock of grass, each coarse strand haloed by the sunlight: his own!

What is surprising, on reading this 'making of' book, i
Angela Young
Aug 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful and encouraging book about the journey towards a novel. It took Kate Grenville five years to write The Secret River: Searching for The Secret River describes what happened in those five years. The Secret River wasn't going to be a novel at all in the beginning, but a memoir. But slowly things begin to change and evolve - always through her determination to stay with it and to discover. Even when she realises, 'With a sinking heart - how can I do this? - that I would have to c ...more
Jan 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-book-library
I read this book some time ago and absolutely loved reading about the process behind the novel.

I was much amused, when she talks about researching her ancestor and she declares she's not one of those family, yes you are!
Interesting enough but I doubt I shall read any of her fiction.
Apr 24, 2020 rated it liked it
This is a research done by author for a novel "The Secret River" book. This book explains about how the novel was initiated from beginning and how does she have done research and gathering the information about her ancestors Solomon Wiseman which was 200 years back. She take almost 5 years to complete her novel. All the way, author have been facing with character development and the way she want to convey all the message she had gathered. Some of story had to be ignored to be in objective or the ...more
Jiajia Chen
Oct 24, 2017 rated it liked it
It is an quite honest memoire of Grenville's writing process of her MASTERPIECE The Secret River. The memorandum reveals when and how she gets the inspiration and motivation of writing such a book, and the detailed efforts of her research. It helps people to get a better understanding of her standpoint of writing The Secret River. basically, after reading the memoire, I would agree that TSR is a whitewashing novel; yet it also demonstrates her respect for the aboriginal people and their wisdom b ...more
Dec 04, 2019 rated it liked it
We share two journeys with Kate Grenville in this book: her growing awareness of the impact of “settlement” on the first peoples and the creative process of writing a novel. Both are very interesting and different journeys.

The atrocities committed, the frontier wars, the destruction of culture. All are hidden in the family stories of Grenville’s ancestors’ settlement. As she researches her ancestor, Wiseman, she becomes increasingly aware of what would have and did take place,

The book shifts t
Michael Burge
Jan 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
This frank account of what it takes to put together a piece of historical fiction should be essential reading for young people intent on becoming authors.

This is the stuff they don't/can't teach in high school English courses, about life experience, passion, using what comes to hand and watching for the form of your work to emerge.

The subplot of this story-within-a-story is Grenville's awakening to the Frontier Wars, which is a journey many Australians went over the same period she describes.

Anna Ciddor
Jun 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. It's all about Kate researching her great great great grandfather's story and turning it into a novel - much like I have done myself. So much resonated with my own problems, resolutions and writing.
Aug 26, 2017 rated it really liked it
A beautifully written memoir.
Mar 07, 2017 rated it liked it
Such a great look into the process of writing a novel.
Merrilyn ~ Books of Merlyn
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
Fantastic account of the research that went into The Secret River. Well worth it as a follow up after finishing the novel.
Megan Warren
Oct 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book was recommended to me by a writing friend and I found it to be a fascinating insight into Grenville’s writing process. I’ve borrowed The Secret River to read now.
Beth Asma
Oct 28, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this memoir about the writing process as I read the novel The Secret River to which the memoir refers. To stick with Searching..., the writing easily flows. The journey takes Grenville and the reader back in time and into the present. She mentions the origin of The Secret River--missing information about her great-great-great-grandfather Solomon Wiseman and about his relationship with the indigenous peoples. Were the Aborigines there or gone when Wiseman claimed and settled one hundred acre ...more
Carol E.
Feb 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: kindle-books
This is the story of author Kate Grenville's search for her family's ancestral history, starting in London and ending in Australia. Her 3-great grandfather came to Australia as a convict. She researched all of that as well as what the world in Australia was like at the time. The result was her writing of the book, "The Secret River," which is one of my favorites.

Both "The Secret River" and "Searching For the Secret River" are excellent books; a thorough look into Australian history, a look into
Karen Beath
Dec 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
This a wonderful memoir about the the process of writing 'The Secret River'. Grenville originaĺly intended to write her great novel as non-fiction but felt she could convey the central themes better in fiction. This book follows her research of her Ancestor Solomon Wiseman ( on whom the character of William Thornhill is based), her findings on early European - Aboriginal relations in Australia and the actual writing process.
I found it fascinating and really gets to the heart of why stories like
May 27, 2009 rated it it was amazing
An Austrailian author writes about a man from the slums of London who is pardoned from execution for theivery, only to be sent to Sydney, Austrailia for his punishment. Life is extremely hard with his wife and children in the eight years he serves out his sentence. When he is a free man, he claims 100 acres of wild, unsettled land that is already inhabited by aboriginal people who see this land as their own & thus begins the atrocious struggles between the 2 groups of peoples. It made me sick se ...more
Mar 11, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: writing-tips
This short review is also posted on my blog at

In this book the Australian writer Kate Grenville explains the process - both in terms of research and creative composition - that she went through in the writing of her award winning novel The Secret River.

I am always interested in the mechanics of how writers actually produce their work and this makes for a fascinating read. It shows that writing is by no means a breezily easy process. I haven't read The Sec
Dec 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
Excellent book based in part on the authors ancestors. In 1806 William Thornhill, an illiterate English bargeman and a man of quick temper but deep compassion, steals a load of wood and, as a part of his lenient sentence, is deported, along with his beloved wife, Sal, to the New South Wales colony in what would become Australia. The Secret River is the tale of William and Sal’s deep love for their small, exotic corner of the new world, and William’s gradual realization that if he wants to make a ...more
Gabi Coatsworth
Oct 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: memoir, writing
I loved this 'writing memoir' since it gave me a lot more insight into one of the best books I've read this year: The Secret River. The latter is a historical novel, and this memoir explains how Kate Grenville came to write it. It was based on the history of her own family, which she started researching. In beginning to write, she found that the facts were getting in the way of the truth, so she fictionalised it. I'm glad I managed to find a second hand copy.
May 16, 2010 rated it liked it
Interesting read about the British convicts who were sent to colonize Australia in lieu of death sentences. More specifically, about a convict and his family who are sent there and set up a life in the penal colony, but soon move into more remote territory. Even more specifically, the tale of oblivious white people who settle in aboriginal territory and, consequently, cause major issues.
Mar 06, 2012 rated it really liked it
Good easy read that encouraged me to keep trying with my own writing. Interesting how much research of detail went into the book and how discovering that detail is so interesting. Was also nice to know that to start writing she just writes random rubbish just like I do. Problem is, I don't get much further than that.
Jodie Sinclair
Apr 03, 2013 rated it really liked it
For me, it was very personal as I grew up in Wisemans Ferry, but as a writer this was invaluable to follow Kate's footsteps from idea to research to drafts (lots) and a completed book. Gave me a whole new respect for her as a writer and story teller.
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Kate Grenville is one of Australia's best-known authors. She's published eight books of fiction and four books about the writing process. Her best-known works are the international best-seller The Secret River, The Idea of Perfection, The Lieutenant and Lilian's Story (details about all Kate Grenville's books are elsewhere on this site). Her novels have won many awards both in Australia and the UK ...more

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