Books inspired by Norfolk turned into Disney backed film
PUBLISHED: 10:15 16 January 2020 | UPDATED: 10:15 20 January 2020
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A new film glittering with Disney stardust is based on a series of children’s books inspired by and written in Norfolk.
Exactly 13 years after writing nine words in her diary Sheridan Winn has just returned from the premiere of the film they inspired.
Trailers for the family film were shown before screenings of Frozen 2, and Vier Zauberhafte Schwestern, or Four Magical Sisters, based on the Norfolk writer's Sprite Sisters books, is being distributed by Disney.
Sheridan's series of 10 novels for children, which have been wildly successful in Germany, began with her noting down: "Four girls with magic powers. East. South. West. North." The following day she started writing about four sisters whose magical powers linked to fire, water, earth or air arrive as they reach their ninth birthdays, but can only be used if they work together.
They captured children's imaginations around the world but are particularly popular in Germany where they have sold more than half a million copies. German film producer Andreas Gutzeit watched his daughters fall in love with Sheridan's fantasy world and began the process which culminated in Sheridan, of Bergh Apton, near Norwich, attending the red-carpet premiere of her Disney-linked movie.
"It was hugely exciting, overwhelming and humbling, to be there and see it," she said.
Billed as a family comedy it was filmed on location in German, in Germany, Austria, Belgium and Italy, and is on general release in countries including Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Italy. Reviewers have said it 'radiated positive energy,' and 'is a film with wit...and just a lot of girl power.'
The four Sprite sisters, called Flame, Marina, Flora and Sky in the film, were inspired by Sheridan's childhood as the eldest of four sisters growing up in a rambling and ramshackle house and huge garden in Drayton, near Norwich. There was a huge overgrown garden with ponies, dogs, cats, rabbits, chickens, a pig and, at one point, 63 guinea pigs. "As well as my three sisters, various cousins lived with us at different times and I loved playing at tracking animals and hide-and-seek and cowboys and Indians," said Sheridan.
But her childhood was not entirely idyllic and she said the books were a way of recapturing the happiest memories. "Every setting is drawn from somewhere real in Norfolk," she said. "The wall around Sprite Towers is the high brick wall at Blickling. The kitchen is owned by friends in North Norfolk. The vegetable garden is like the one we had at Littlewood House in Drayton when we first moved there. The stable and sheds are from Littlewood. Sprite Towers is a combination of Taverham Hall and Blickling Hall and my imagination.
Sheridan studied graphic design, had a book published based on her university thesis and for 25 years helped her ex-husband produce a national newspaper cartoon strip and picture books, based on the exploits of their two children.
Then came her own books. "The theme of the Sprite stories is balance," she said. "If the four sisters work together, their magic is strong. If they argue their power weakens and they may lose Sprite Towers." And it is not just the heroines who have something magical about them. Sheridan said her plots appeared as if by magic as she wrote.
The film has changed some aspects of her story, including updating the string quartet her magical sisters performed in to a girl group called Sista Magic.
Sheridan and her daughter Rosie were red-carpet guests as the film was premiered in front of 1,000 people. "At the after party the choreographer asked whether I had thought of doing it as a musical!" said Sheridan.
A second film is already planned, based on the third and fourth volumes of her Sprite Sisters series, with filming due to start this summer.
Sheridan is also in talks about turning another of her books, Boudica's Daughters, a psychological drama aimed at young adult readers, into a film - this time with The East Anglia Film Company rather than Disney.
She would love to see Four Magical Sisters released in Britain too and said: "My big hope is that the producers and Disney decide to make a Sprite film in English, so that we reach the British and American market."