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For Canberra author Peter Papathanasiou, there has been one thing perhaps even more exhilarating than having his memoir Little One published in 2019
And that is the news that it will now be adapted as a major TV drama series.
While the book, which chronicles an enormously moving multi-generational story and complex family secret, took 11 years to write and publish, the green light for funding from Screen Canberra via their CBR Screen Fund came only a year after its publication.
Little One is the story of Peter’s discovery that he was adopted. But it is not a stock-standard adoption story.
Peter was 24, and about to embark on a PhD in genetics at the Australian National University when his mum Elizabeth sat him down and revealed an extraordinary secret that she and her husband Bill had been keeping from Peter all his life: they weren’t his parents at all, and were actually his aunt and uncle.
As it turned out, Elizabeth’s brother Savvas and his wife Anna, who lived in a small town in northern Greece, had given Peter to Elizabeth and Bill when he was just a baby in 1974—a gift because the couple were unable to conceive, which was a huge sorrow (and shame) for them among both Australia’s Greek community and their own family.
Peter began the book in 2008, with the writing process taking four years.
“I tried but failed to publish it in 2012, literary agents and publishers were intrigued but ultimately made no offers, and so the manuscript ended up in a bottom drawer,” says Papathanasiou.
“I then wrote two novels before I returned to the memoir in 2018 for major revisions. This time around, the book was much better, and quickly found publishers in both Australia and the UK. Just goes to show you the importance of editing and also of resilience!”
The reaction to its publication by Allen & Unwin in Australia last year was immediate.
“It was overwhelmingly positive with great reviews, widespread publicity, and strong sales. I couldn’t be happier. It was actually quite a few readers who got in touch and said ‘This would make a great film or TV show!’.”
Earlier this year, Peter engaged a script editor and repackaged the story as a pitch. He then sent it around to producers, directors and production companies, and got a swift response from Peter Andrikidis, an award-winning Australian film and television director and producer whose work includes ‘Wildside’ for ABC, ‘East West 101’ for SBS, ‘Underbelly’ for the Nine Network, ‘The New Legends of Monkey’ for Netflix, and most recently ‘Eden’ for Stan.
Canberra-based producer Shannon Wilson-McClinton, who recently worked on the feature film ‘Hearts and Bones’ starring Hugo Weaving, also responded with interest after reading Little One.
When Peter Andrikidis read the book, the story immediately resonated with him, as he saw aspects of his own background as the only son of an immigrant father from Greece. Andrikidis, who is based in Sydney, also has the unique advantage of having previously filmed in Greece, which will be essential for the adaptation since half the story takes place there.
“It’s pretty exhilarating to imagine we will one day travel to Greece as a crew for filming,” says Papathanasiou. “Until then, it’s a great time to develop a brand new project before large-scale international productions can recommence.”
One of the aspects that the team is looking forward to featuring in the production is the city of Canberra itself as one of the central characters.
“This was a feature of my pitch which Screen Canberra really valued,” says Papathanasiou. “One of the strategic objectives of their CBR Screen Fund is to contribute to the profile of Canberra nationally and internationally by showcasing significant local elements and benefit. My story begins here in 1956 when my parents emigrated from Greece and settled in Canberra. Dad was 26-years-old and working on building sites; there was construction all across town, government offices and residential houses, as Canberra sought to attract workers and their families from interstate and become Australia’s fully-fledged capital city.”
“There were once all these makeshift workers’ hostel for new migrants centrally located throughout Canberra; two of them were even on Capital Hill where Parliament House now sits. The men were only able to move out of their hostels when they got married. My parents first moved into a post-war prefabricated house in Narrabundah, and then built their own brick house in Hackett, where Mum still lives to this day. She is about to turn 90.
“My story offers an insight into the experience of European immigrants arriving in Canberra after the Second World War, which is a unique story that has not previously featured on small or large screens. Our adaptation will be a production that showcases the Canberra region and its history in a way never before seen on screen.”