Getting to Know Claire Mabey

May 14th 2020

The star of this week's Journal interview is Claire Mabey, Director of Verb Wellington. As well as being at the heart of the capital's literati, she's a voracious reader, a mum and a Pisces. The Verb Festival and Vic Books friendship goes way back and so we had the absolute pleasure of chatting to Claire about what comes next for literary festivals, her love of storytelling and why she always champions the red-haired heroine.  

What’s your day job?

I dream up ways of bringing writers and creatives together with readers and audiences. I do a lot (a lot) of administration so that Verb Wellington runs along. Most of my daily life is meeting with people, writing budgets and plans, funding applications, and reading books. I'm also a mum.

What's your connection to Vic Books?

We've been working with Vic Books since 2014 when we started LitCrawl in Wellington. Vic Books has been our best bookish mate all this time, supporting our events by bookselling and helping us to connect the loop between writers, publishers, live events, readers and bookselling. 

Tell us a little about Verb Wellington.

Verb Wellington is dedicated to amplifying the incredible work that creative thinkers do for us. We create platforms that share stories whether that's conversation events, LitCrawl, Verb Festival or publishing writer's work online. We work closely with Aotearoa writers and international writers, as well as with Wellington City Council, publishers, local businesses, artists and other creative organisations.

How do you see literary festivals working in a post-COVID-19 world?

Everything feels different and is different.

For events, it's not just the logistics (how to make and run gigs under various alert levels), but what kind of event is going to be most needed in this time. There are also huge new implications for funding as some of the old world options are off the table and sponsorship is going to be really tricky as the global recession hits.

For an organisation like Verb, we are looking hard at our soul - that sounds really cheesy but it's true. We are looking to what our calling is and, for us it's to bring a community around the fire for stories and ideas and creative thinking. It's very local and it's very global at the same time.

How we do that is changing and it's definitely not easy. But I truly believe that the road to futures that will serve humanity best, require real attention to stories and placing real value on the imagination. We do actually have to vision our way out of this on all levels from government to inside our own head.

Verb Festival event at Meow, Kaveh Akbar with Kim Hill. Photo by Fergus Haywood.

As well as books, another of your passions is Tarot. What draws you to this?

The stories! I got into Tarot a long time ago but then had a big pause -- I don't think I was using the Tarot in the right way for me until I got Jessa Crispin's book, The Creative Tarot.

For me, the ability to look at archetypes, symbols and stories helps me to focus on the part of my brain that is analytical, creative and a problem solver. The Tarot helps me to tell stories to myself in a way that is constructive and inspiring.

What did your latest Tarot reading tell you?

I have a really beautiful deck made by Spoila (Jessa Crispin and artist Jen May). This deck includes elemental cards and astrological cards.

My latest reading drew 'Water', 'Queen of Wands' and 'Pisces'. I loved this reading - I'm a Pisces and for me this was an assertion of where I'm at creatively right now. We're all having to be imaginative, creative and cast aside the old ways of doing things. The Queen of Wands is about passion and creating energy through caring deeply about something (whatever that might be for you). Water and Pisces are fluid, life-giving, supportive and offer freedom to change environments, move differently and let emotion and imagination lead. This is very much how I'm feeling and operating in this new world!

What are you reading at the moment? Are you enjoying it? 

I just finished three books for middle readers, two by Katherine Rundell, Rooftoppers and The Explorer, and Snow by Gina Inverarity. I loved all three of them. They're all about children on an adventure often with very serious consequences and high stakes. Rundell is a writer of classic stories -- the kind that will live on through generations of readers. Gina Inverarity is a new author for me but I was captivated by Snow which has a very Aotearoa flavour hidden through it... 

I'm also now reading Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler. I'm a Tyler fan and am already very engrossed in this novel! Any book with 'redhead' in the title catches my eye (I am one).

Which literary character do you most identify with?

Anne of Green Gables. When I was a little reader, Anne was a massive influence on me. I'd say because Anne was the first red-headed heroine that I loved and wanted to be like (I have read hair) so I wanted to identify with her, so badly. For me, Anne is a comfort and an inspiration -- I love her energy, imagination and optimism.

The Anne stories are so dark in so many ways but the ultimate message is that we have the power to overcome trauma with the force of love, stories and accepting the love and help of others.

Hardback or Paperback?


Best thing about working from home?

Not having to commute.

Black or white coffee? What kind of milk?

Oh, now. I have black when I feel like black and white when I feel like white. Full cream, blue top.

Verb Festival event at Public Trust Hall, Noelle McCarthy and Val McDermid. Photo by Vanessa Rushton.