She was one of 200 authors who submitted a sample chapter to the special trustees of Great Ormond Street Hospital. The trustees commissioned the sequel to celebrate the centenary this year of JM Barrie's novel Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens (the first book to feature the boy who never grew up).
The finished book will be published worldwide on October 5 (by Oxford University Press in the UK), with pre-publication secrecy approaching Harry Potter levels: no advance proofs or review copies. But Ms McCaughrean is allowed to say that Peter Pan in Scarlet is set in the 1930s, that the Darling children, new adults, have children of their own and that "you can't ignore the effects of the Great War" on Barrie's middle-class Edwardian family. "And the first line, 'I'm not going to bed', is also the first line of Barrie's play," she said. (The play Peter Pan was first performed in 1904.) She came to the story fresh from writing The White Darkness, a novel for teenagers linked to Captain Scott's doomed Arctic expedition, and having discovered a link between Barrie and the explorer. Barrie was godfather to Scott's son, and one of Scott's last letters was to him. "Barrie thought Scott was the ultimate hero, and Peter Pan has an explorer's adventure,"
she said. "I found Peter harder to like than I had expected to and I found the darker aspects of the story more interesting than the fairies and the fantasy element."
Meanwhile, two US authors, Ridley Pearson, a crime writer, and Dave Barry, a columnist, have collaborated on a Pan prequel, Peter and the Starcatchers (to be published by Walker Books on February 6). In this book, Peter and his gang find themselves aboard the bad ship Never Land, with dastardly pirates at every turn and a strange tinkling sound coming from a mysterious trunk in the hold...