Closer Productions’ Rebecca Summerton and Highview Productions’ Lisa Scott .
South Australian production houses Highview Productions and Closer Productions will collaborate on a series adaptation of Pip Williams’ 2020 debut novel The Dictionary of Lost Words after securing the screen rights for the story.
Inspired by actual events, the book is set in the early 20th century when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed.
Central character Esme, who is motherless and irrepressibly curious, spends her childhood in the ‘Scriptorium’, a garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of dedicated lexicographers are collecting words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary.
Esme’s place is beneath the sorting table, unseen and unheard. One day a slip of paper containing the word ‘bondmaid’ flutters to the floor, leading her to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded, or have been neglected by the dictionary men.
Over time, she realises that some words are considered more important than others and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded.
Selling 300,000 copies in Australia alone, the book has been translated into 28 languages, featured on the New York Times bestseller list, and become the first Australian title to be featured in the Reese Witherspoon’s Reese’s Book Club.
As part of the deal negotiated by Anonymous Content on behalf of Linda Kaplan at Kaplan/DeFiore Rights for Affirm Press, Highview Productions’ Lisa Scott and Closer Productions’ Rebecca Summerton will join forces to re-tell the story for television.
They will be joined by Anton Andreacchio as producer, with Alex Dimos, Andrew Nunn, and Williams serving as executive producers.
Scott and Summerton, who previously collaborated as producers on SBS drama series The Hunting, said they were excited about bringing the “beautiful and thought-provoking” to screen, having fallen in love with the novel as readers.
“Inspired by actual events, this heartfelt novel shines a light on the ignored contribution of women’s words and their history in the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary,” they said.
Williams said she knew her book had “made its way into safe hands” after Scott had reached out.
“I could never have anticipated the love my book would receive from readers all over the world,” she said.
“It’s been thrilling and humbling and when readers have got in touch to ask when it will be adapted to screen, it’s felt completely surreal – I never dared to dream so big.
“But then Lisa got in touch – she’d read the book, loved it, and wanted to adapt it. We had coffee and talked for hours, and I knew my book had found its way into safe hands with her and Rebecca. Highview and Closer are the perfect people to bring Esme’s story to the screen and I can’t wait to work with them – it’s an understatement to say I’m excited.”