I know, it’s an impossible question to answer. For many the answer is of course none, but in my case the answer is four.My first Arvon course was an introduction to writing for children, masterfully tutored by friendly authors Steve Voake and Gillian Cross. I can still remember the moment when – sitting on a cosy sofa in the barn at Totleigh Barton – my warmed-up imagination sparked with a new story idea. Nervous, I read part of it out loud on the last night. Encouraging feedback from my new-found friends gave me the confidence to write on.The following year, I was back at Arvon for my second course, again tutored by Steve Voake, and author extraordinaire Nicky Matthews-Browne. I had my idea, but now I needed to focus on my characters and find their arcs. Who were they, really? What did they want? And more importantly, what was stopping them? The story bloomed to life. The tutors’ feedback hinted at one of my characters having a hidden identity. The more I thought about it, the more the character solidified, enabling me to join disparate parts of the story. At the end of the week I’d feverishly written 15,000 words.My third course, a year later was tutored by awe inspiring authors Marcus Sedgwick and Julia Green, and guest David Almond. A week of immersive and beguiling word-play ensued. I learned to write rhyming verse, something I’d previously thought was beyond me. Workshops gave me new insights into my characters’ backstories, which shifted and deepened my plot. I was becoming confident with words and how to craft them. It was time to take that confidence and finish my story.Three years later, the story was finished, re-written and re-written again. It got great feedback and secured me a wonderful agent, but we knew the story wasn’t quite working. It was time for specialist help. It was time for my fourth Arvon course. I attended a golden autumnal week of writing science fiction and fantasy, expertly tutored by highly skilled authors Emma Newman and Mark Barrowcliffe. Under their guidance I delved into power structures of fantasy worlds and learned to untangle the intricacies of consequence driven plots. New tools which helped me re-write my story one more time. Then BINGO – six months later I was offered a publishing contract.Over the years I’ve learned to believe feedback makes for better writing. The feedback I received from the story mages I met at Arvon helped my writing enormously.I’ve begun to write my second book. I wonder, how many Arvon courses will that take?Julie Pike’s debut novel, The Last Spell Breather, will be published in the UK by OUP Children’s on July 4th.