Sequel paints picture of a lonely and sad Peter Pan

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A century has passed since Peter Pan was left behind in Neverland, with millions of adoring fans around the world wondering what happened to The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up. Now, they can find out.

Peter Pan in Scarlet, the officially commissioned sequel to J M Barrie's much loved children classic, has finally been published, revealing that Peter is still in Neverland and has still to grow up, despite the passage of 20 years.

But the landscape has turned autumnal, giving the book its title, and Peter is desperate for company. The more melancholic note is underlined by the ghostly presence of Captain Hook's pirate ship, adrift and lifeless.

The new book, written by the award-winning children's author Geraldine McCaughrean and published by Oxford University Press, brings back many old characters, such as Wendy, now a wife and mother, and the Lost Boys, now the Old Boys, who journey back to Neverland, and introduces some new ones, a mysterious circus-master called The Great Ravello and a new male fairy, called Firefly.

It is expected to make a substantial, but undisclosed sum for Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children in London, to whom Barrie bequeathed the copyright in 1929 and which will share the royalties with McCaughrean. She was chosen by Great Ormond Street from 200 applicants to complete the Peter Pan story

The sequel was seen as the last opportunity for the hospital to benefit substantially from Barrie's intentions because the new book is not bound by the existing copyright. Although the right to royalties on the play, first performed in 1904, is held in perpetuity in Britain by Great Ormond Street, the European copyright on the book, published in 1911, expires next year. The United States copyright continues until 2023. Great Ormond Street has never revealed how much the Barrie legacy has been worth.

McCaughrean, 55, the author of more 130 children's books, said it had been a "treat and an honour" to be asked to continue the Peter Pan story. "I really enjoyed writing it and found out how Barrie was able to keep people enjoying it over the years, because there is something that is quite magical in about it." She first saw the play herself at the age of six.

McCaughrean said she had "overlooked the grandeur" of the Peter Pan legend while writing the book: "Now there is this huge hubbub about it, it seems very odd, but I'm so pleased that it really means a lot to the hospital." She said that she had been determined to write something substantial in its own right. " I wanted it to be an important book, that would stand as an equal to Barrie's."

The book has been endorsed by David Barrie, J M Barrie's great-great-nephew, who said: "J M Barrie could never have guessed that Peter Pan would still be making a vital difference to Great Ormond Street almost 70 years after his death. I'm sure he would be delighted to know that, thanks to Geraldine McCaughrean's sequel, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up will go on helping children back to health for many years to come."

Although after the end of next year, anyone will be free to write a Peter Pan book, Great Ormond Street said it was keeping its options open on a second officially sanctioned sequel.

McCaughrean, however, has slightly mixed feelings. "I can't imagine it at the moment, because I didn't see this book in that way," she said. "But I would hate to think I am never going to set foot in Neverland again."

Better later than never?

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