THE author chosen to write a sequel to JM Barrie's classic Peter Pan has revealed for the first time the dark and complex world she plans to create.
Geraldine McCaughrean, a three-times winner of the Whitbread Children's Book award, beat competition from around the world to write the novel, which is set to be the publishing sensation of next year.
McCaughrean says she has rewritten the final pages of Peter Pan to help transport readers back to Neverland, to a setting 25 years after the boy who never grew up apparently vanquished his pirate foe.
She hints that the character of Wendy will be a stronger, more modern woman, while - in a remarkable twist - the immortal Peter may be transformed into his dastardly nemesis, Captain Hook.
While some aficionados may be shocked by the revelations, experts are excited and insist McCaughrean is doing justice to Barrie's modern interests in issues of gender and humanity's struggle with inner demons. McCaughrean, 53, who has written more than 130 books and plays, was selected after Great Ormond Street Hospital held an international competition to bring Peter Pan to a new generation of children.
Barrie assigned the book rights to the hospital in 1929, but these run out in 2007, 70 years after the author's death. By commissioning a new Peter Pan book, the hospital effectively renews its rights.
More than 100 entrants submitted a sample chapter and synopsis for the sequel, designed to help boost hospital finances.
McCaughrean's 60,000 word novel, which has been given a working title of Captain Pan, will be published simultaneously worldwide next summer and sales are expected to rival those for the Harry Potter series.
In Barrie's story, Captain Hook, Peter's foe and alter ego, died when he was eaten by a crocodile. McCaughrean has hinted that Peter, with no enemy to challenge, begins to take Cook's place - even borrowing his clothes. She also said she was determined to appeal to both adults and children, and would avoid the saccharine-sweet Disney image of Peter and the Lost Boys, with Wendy a more assertive 21st-century girl.
McCaughrean said: "Barrie quite pointedly covered every aspect of what happened to everybody, including almost saying 'this book does not need a sequel'. But given the fact there is a very worthwhile reason for doing it, I am quite sure he would approve.
"I did have to undo a few knots he had cast off so very absolutely. Everyone has grown up except Peter, who was left behind in Neverland. He hasn't changed. They, of course, have to find a way of becoming young again, because no one who isn't a child can go to Neverland."
She added: "I wanted to explore the good and the dark side of Peter. There is the famous last line 'As long as children are young, innocent and heartless'. I have picked up on that aspect of out-of-sight, out-of-mind. In the original, Peter forgets Wendy, he only sometimes remembers to come back and get her to do his spring cleaning. Tinkerbell he forgets about when she's not there any more.
"There is that heartless thing about childhood - the egocentricity; the fact they can forget people as soon as they are not there. That side interests me about Peter. One of the themes in the book is dressing up, about how children, when they dress up, become somebody else. Peter's nature will slide according to what he's wearing. All of the main characters are altered by what they are wearing."
The author said of Wendy: "I don't want to go for the little housewife thing. I want her to show a little more gumption and be a bit more active. I really hope people aren't going to be wounded by what I've done to their favourite characters. That's the trouble: people are so very fond of them."
Karen McGavock, an expert in children's literature at Stirling University, said: "She seems to be sticking very closely to Barrie's text and ideas. I am intrigued by this suggestion Peter could become Hook, because to Barrie they were twins representing good and evil.
"He was always fascinated by the dichotomy and tension between good in evil in us all. He was also interested in issues of gender and again this idea of a modern Wendy is appropriate."
Ingrid Turner, custodian of the Barrie Birthplace museum in Kirriemuir, Angus, added: "Barrie was always reinventing and retelling Peter Pan, and this is a continuation of that."
McCaughrean, who has just finished a novel about Antarctic explorer Robert Falcon Scott, also said the obsession with unfounded and unfair allegations of paedophilia had tainted a number of Victorian and Edwardian heroes.
She said: "I've always felt quite strongly that there is this modern way of looking back and trying to see the worst in things. I feel it completely misunderstands the way the Victorian mind worked."
Barrie was born in 1860, the ninth of 10 children. His childhood was overshadowed by the death of his elder brother David, aged 13, in a skating accident. David, he later observed, would always be 13, a boy who would never grow up.
In 1898 Barrie met George and Jack Llewelyn Davies, playing in Kensington Gardens. He befriended the boys' mother, Sylvia, and came to know her other children: Peter, then a baby, Michael, born in 1900, and Nico, born in 1903. He wrote stories for them which were the precursors to Peter Pan.
The White Darkness, by Geraldine McCaughrean, is published in September by Oxford University Press