“The Dictionary of Lost Words”, the debut novel from Australian writer Pip Williams, is set to be turned into a television series.

South Australian production houses Highview Productions and Closer Productions acquired screen rights to the story, with Lisa Scott (above right) and Rebecca Summerton (above left) joining forces to develop and adapt the best-selling book. Anton Andreacchio has come on board as producer, and Alex Dimos, Andrew Nunn and author Williams will serve as executive producers.

The book was first published by Affirm Press in 2020 and became the first Australian work to be featured on “Reese’s Book Club”, founded by Reese Witherspoon to champion books that feature women at the centre of the story.

The story was inspired by actual events, and is set in the early 20th Century when the women’s suffrage movement was at its height and the Great War loomed.

“Esme is born into a world of words,” publicity for the story explained. “Motherless and irrepressibly curious, she 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. Esme begins to collect other words from the Scriptorium that are misplaced, discarded or have been neglected by the dictionary men.

“Over time, Esme realises that some words are considered more important than others, and that words and meanings relating to women’s experiences often go unrecorded. While she dedicates her life to the Oxford English Dictionary, secretly, she begins to collect words for another dictionary: “The Dictionary of Lost Words”.”

Scott and Summerton said: “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. 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.”

Author Williams said she never anticipated her book would receive love from all around the world.

“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,” she said.

Anonymous Content made the deal on behalf of Linda Kaplan at Kaplan/DeFiore Rights for Affirm Press.