Author Harper Lee has announced a new novel to accompany To Kill a Mockingbird.

In a statement issued by publisher Harper on Tuesday, Lee said that Go Set a Watchman, a novel the Pulitzer Prize-winning author completed in the 1950s and put aside, will be released on July 14.

Rediscovered last fall, Go Set a Watchman is essentially a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird, although it was finished earlier.

"In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman," the 88-year-old Lee said.

"It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout's childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became To Kill a Mockingbird) from the point of view of the young Scout.

"I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn't realised [the original book] had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years."

Reactions ranged from euphoria to scepticism about Lee's cooperation and about the quality of the new book. Biographer Charles J. Shields noted that Lee was a "beginning author" when she wrote Watchman.

A sequel 50 years later

The 304-page book will be Lee's second, and her first new work in print in more than 50 years, among the longest gaps in history for a major writer.

Lee lives in an assisted living center in her hometown of Monroeville, the real-life model for the fictional town of Maycomb in To Kill A Mockingbird.

A longtime friend said she is deaf, blind and in poor health, spending much of her time in a wheelchair. She was last seen publicly in November at the funeral of her older sister, Alice Lee, who long represented the author and was known for being protective of her.

Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham acknowledged on Tuesday that the publisher had had no direct conversations with Harper Lee, but communicated through Carter and literary agent Andrew Nurnburg.

Burnham said that he had known both Carter and Nurnburg for years and was "completely confident" Lee was fully involved in the decision to release the book.

According to publisher Harper, Carter came upon the manuscript at a "secure location where it had been affixed to an original typescript of To Kill a Mockingbird". 

The new book is set in Maycomb during the mid-1950s, 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird and roughly contemporaneous with the time that Lee was writing the story.

Source: AP