Genesis: Before NOVA went Supernova
by Paul Haines (founding member) c. 2004
In 1999 I attended a short course called “Introduction to Writing Sci-Fi, Fantasy & Horror”. There were six of us in the class (though one guy left after a week because he didn’t like to read but he wanted to be a writer) and it was run by a guy called Stephen Higgins who was then one of the editors of the long-running Australian speculative fiction magazine ‘Aurealis’.
I hadn’t heard of either Stephen or his magazine and was surprised as hell when one of the other students, an older gent named Cliff Sly, said he was a subscriber. We all wrote a sf story each and workshopped each other’s pieces. I thought mine was pretty sh1t hot, the class didn’t mind it, and Stephen comment’s “…cliched and hackneyed…” Lesson One: The Ego Will Be Crushed. (And that is still the primary lesson I familiarise myself with every week). Stephen did say, however, that we could all write but we needed to read widely and currently. So I took out a subscription to Aurealis.
After the course finished, we decided that we should meet once a month to workshop each other’s story written during that month, usually set to theme (for those of us lacking any ideas, this would sometimes give us a kick start). We chose the Custom House pub in Williamstown. And we chose a name: The NOVA Writer’s Group. Being green and fairly ignorant, we had no idea there was a Nova Mob that met monthly in Melbourne to discuss sf, but at that stage we didn’t care. NOVA (a new star) stood for New Or Very Awful writers. We were both.
After a not very long while, Russell, who was easily the best writer amongst us quit. It was, from memory, one meeting after I wrote my first “Interferer’s” story, and I’d like to think it was coincidental. Liz Macintyre enrolled in a Professional Writing and Editing diploma and was suddenly improving no-end over the rest of us. Liz encouraged a friend, Tracey Rolfe, to join Nova. She’d been published before and even in Aurealis! I said to Cliff after workshopping her first story, “She’s like a real writer.” He nodded in agreement and said “It’s great, isn’t it?” I realised then I still had a long way to go as a writer. Tracey is sick of me saying it to everyone, but she’s the best teacher I’ve ever had. What she taught me about characterisation, POV, and editing helped me get from “completely unknown” to “relatively unknown” and that meant published. We also placed an ad in the FAW (Fellowship of Australian Writers) saying we were looking for interested sf writers. (We had a lot of trouble getting this ad removed when we had too many members later on).
Tracey introduced Brendan Duffy and Ellen Gregory to NOVA later that year. Duffy, an arrogant cocky strop of young man (I’d like to say he was really funny too but that’d only go to his head), dropped a 10,000 word short story in our laps for his first meeting. It was almost twice as long as anything we’d written and after reading it, I thought it was almost twice as good. I realised again I still had a long way to go as a writer. Ellen brought with her a sharp analytical approach to critiquing and even more valued ORGANISATIONAL SKILLS! She quickly cut through (well, quickly compared to us) our sloppy indecisiveness, our 100% ineffectual democratic approach and started to make decisions that best suited us. It’s about this time we started getting stories published in places like Orb, Antipodean SF and the first Agog! anthologies. And Liz disappeared up to NSW, though she still lurks on the list.
Shortly after this, THE Esteemed Adam Browne joined our ranks. In our eyes he WAS a famous short story writer. He was in all the magazines; he wrote intricate, unique, complicated yet simple stories in a mastery of language that made me realise I still had a long way to go as a writer. He won the Aurealis Best SF short story about two months after he joined NOVA. He even thanked us in his speech. Secretly we all hoped his fame would brush off on us. (At least I know I did, and I suspected Duffy did too).
Peter Hickman arrived after that, the only person who turned up from the FAW ad and stayed for more than one battering at a meeting. (Oh the joys of Jiriki Random, eh Duffy?) Like Ellen and Tracey, he was working on an epic fantasy, and bought good literary and critical analysis to the workshops. He also liked to drink as much as me (perhaps even more, seeing as he managed a bottle shop) and knew a lot about red wine — two additional skills I appreciated a lot when attending conventions and meetings with him.
A friend of Adam’s popped in with possibly the worst edited (non-edited) and proofread manuscript NOVA had ever seen. Jeremy Shaw blamed it all on how his spellchecker, and in fact his entire computer, had turned on him and now consistently sabotages his work. Jeremy’s computer has learnt its own language and prefers to use it instead of his. The ideas were great and I think that story got published too. Tom Coverdale also appeared around this time, with literary (and I mean real literary) leanings to his work. The crazy b@stard is attempting to make a living as an sf poet too.
We stayed in this configuration for lots of months until Andrew Macrae turned up posing as a wanna-be writer interested in joining NOVA. He was a mover and shaker amongst the Nova Mob, with a phd (masters??) in cyberpunk (how the hell does one convince the University of this), and a mover and shaker amongst the committee organising the Melbourne SF Convention Continuum. I suspected he was here simply to get us to pay membership fees to go to the convention (which we all did) and to force us to change our name from NOVA (which we all did). When I confronted him about this he said yeah it was true. But he insisted he was really a bonafide wanna-be writer interested in joining. He stayed, bless him. Got published in all the right places too. From this convention, Steven Gleeson joined our ranks. Nicknamed the Silver Ghost, this blacksmith makes a 2 hour drive to join the monthly meetings on occasion. He can also make you armour and weapons if you’d like.
The calls for applications for the inaugural Clarion South caused a wee flurry. Six of Nova were accepted into the 17 position course (but Tom pulled out and Adam accepted a sojourn in a Bangkok mansion instead). It was at Clarion South that the nucleus for SuperNOVA developed (and the name decided) as all the other Melbourne attendees at the course were absorbed into SuperNOVA on their return. SuperNOVA had indeed gone nova, boosted with the evil genius of Sarah Endacott (the Orb editor and who incidentally first published me), the cyber-erotic mistress and sometime writing collaborator of mine, Claire McKenna, the POV Queen Bren MacDibble (who can make any cocktail you can think of), and Choofa Chrulew the 45-year-old intellectual man trapped in the body of young surfer.
SuperNOVA attended the 2004 Conflux convention in Canberra in force. I spent too much time drunk at the bar (hammered is probably a better description) but I did spend a lot of that time at the bar with the resigning editor of Aurealis, Keith Stevenson. We got so drunk he decided to join SuperNOVA. (It’s a good thing we know the new editors too!)
In April/May 2004 we held the first big SuperNOVA meeting where new FAW ad recruit Lita Kalimeris met the old NOVA meeting the Clarion South lot and becoming SuperNOVA. Lita is now the only other ad recruit besides Peter who hasn’t fled after one meeting.
There’s lots of us now, we’re getting published all over the place, novels are underway, and none of us are making a living from it. Except Bren. And maybe Sarah. And maybe…
Is this what I was supposed to write?
Since this potted history of the group was written in about 2004, NOVA has become SuperNOVA and we’ve gained numerous new members. We’ve lost a few along the way as well — and none is more sorely missed than Paul himself who tragically passed away in 2012.