Hi Rebecca. Good to see your new chapter 1. It's tighter than I remember from the version I read back in the summer and I think I like the way you've jumped straight into the arrival of the police car at the school, although in another sense I feel that you might have lost a bit too much of the description of the setting that you had in your previous version, like the fact that it was the start of a new term and the feel of the school in general.
Having read a previous version of your full manuscript and Kate and Robert's feedback on this chapter 1 re-write, I think I agree that there's not enough in this first chapter to hook the reader in or to make us feel invested in Eleanor.
I know what you mean about struggling to see the wood for the trees. So, I've got a few radical suggestions for you to take or leave, from my knowledge of where your story is going:
How would it be if you actually made this Eleanor's very first day at Marlington? I think that way, you could heighten Eleanor's sense of anxiety, feeling out of place and not having a clue what's going on. Then, when there are police out in the school grounds, and other students gossiping about a missing student, she can be internally questioning what is this place I’ve been sent to? I thought it was a posh respectable school! Also, if it’s the first day back in a new term, Helen could have disappeared right at the end of the previous term and it would make sense that the police were coming back in and that students were still gossiping about it.
If it is Eleanor’s first day, she could also be reflecting on the slimy headteacher who she had to endure a meeting with at the start of the day and the stand-offish prefects who reluctantly showed her around.
Given that Helen disappeared some time ago, does it really make sense for the police to turn up with their blue lights flashing, unless there’s been some new incident? Might it be more realistic for the students to see the fluorescent yellow of police jackets walking down the corridor with a teacher or the headteacher and then Eleanor gazing out of the window and noticing more police and a police car outside, perhaps even with a sniffer dog?
Could the prefects that she sees outside be apparently ‘spying’ on whatever the police are doing out there? Afterall, I know from later in the story that they’ve got a vested interest in what’s happened to Helen.
If it is Eleanor’s first day, there probably needs to be something that helps her to recognise the students outside. She could recognise Joe and Simon as the two boys who showed her around earlier. But perhaps the prefects also wear a different coloured blazer. I like the fact that she recognises the other two of them as Ryan and Carmen, even though they’re in the classroom. Again, if it’s her first day, perhaps she could assume that they both have identical twins but think that this is an unlikely coincidence.