Bestseller The Dictionary of Lost Words set to become a television series

Adelaide Hills writer Pip Williams’ The Dictionary of Lost Words will be adapted for a television series after the announcement that two South Australian production houses have acquired screen rights for the internationally best-selling novel.

Nov 10, 2022, updated Nov 10, 2022

Highview Productions’ Lisa Scott and Closer Productions’ Rebecca Summerton ­– who previously collaborated as producers on the drama The Hunting will join forces to develop and adapt The Dictionary of Lost Wordswhich has been translated into 28 languages and garnered international acclaim, including being championed by actor Reese Witherspoon’s book club.

“We fell in love with Pip’s novel just as readers all over the world have and are excited to be bringing this beautiful and thought-provoking story to the screen,” Scott and Summerton said in a statement.

“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.”

The Dictionary of Lost Words, which was published by Affirm Press during lockdown in 2020, is set in the early 20th century at the height of the women’s suffrage movement and weaves together events both factual and fictional.

The novel centres on a curious girl called Esme who spends her childhood in a garden shed known as the “scriptorium” where her father and a team of other lexicographers are compiling the first Oxford English Dictionary. After seeing a slip of paper with the word “bondmaid” on it fall to the floor, Esme begins collecting the words the men have discarded or neglected that relate to women’s experiences.

Producers Rebecca Summerton and Lisa Scott.

News of the planned TV adaptation follows the announcement last month that State Theatre Company SA is collaborating with Sydney Theatre Company to create a stage adaptation of the novel which will premiere at the Dunstan Playhouse in September next year.

The Dictionary of Lost Words is Pip Williams’ first novel and garnered huge interest even before its release, with the rights sold to publishers in the UK, the US, Russia, Germany, Spain, Italy, South Korea and the Netherlands after a first draft was shared at the Frankfurt Book Fair in Germany. It has sold more than 300,000 copies in Australia alone.   

Pip Williams.

“I could never have anticipated the love my book would receive from readers all over the world,” Williams said in a statement today.

“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… it’s an understatement to say I’m excited.”

Scott’s previous TV credits include the drama series The Tourist, Pine Gap, Wolf Creek and Janet King, while Summerton produced the ABC comedy series Aftertaste, and feature films Animals and 52 Tuesdays. Anton Andreacchio will join them as a producer for The Dictionary of Lost Words, with Alex Dimos, Andrew Nunn and Pip Williams serving as executive producers.

With the television series still in the early stages of development, there is no indication yet when it may go to air.

Meanwhile, Affirm Press has confirmed Williams’ second novel, The Bookbinder of Jericho, will be published at the end of March 2023. It is also set in early 20th century Oxford, and centres on twin sisters who work in the bindery of the Oxford University Press at a time when the outbreak of World War I is upending the normal order of things and creating ripples in the community.

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