Signe Björnberg, best known by her pseudonym Sigge Stark, was a very popular author in the mid-twentieth century. She published more than 100 novels, 600 short stories and 100 non-fictional works on animals, as well as two books about dogs. In addition, she was the first Swedish woman licenced to drive carts in harness races.
Signe Björnberg was born in 1896 just outside of Örebro. She was the first child of Otilda (née Borg) and Karl Petersén. Her childhood was marked by frequent moving due to her parents’ financial difficulties and her father’s constant travelling. Her early years were spent at Sällven manor in Närke and at Vidbynäs in Södermanland. From 1905 to 1907 the family lived in Berlin. After that her father abandoned the family in Örebro and never returned. He was eventually found dead, presumably murdered, 15 years later in Zoppot in Danzig, Poland.
In 1920 Signe Björnberg began an agricultural education programme at Holms Säteri in Ångermanland. Just a year later she travelled to Stockholm in order to become an author. That year she had a few short stories published under the pseudonym Sigge Stark in the journal Vårt hem. The following year she published her first serialised novel, Den steniga vägen till lyckan.
It was the editorial board at Vårt Hem who instigated the pseudonym Sigge Stark. They also ensured that Signe Björnberg’s short stories and serialised novels were prominently displayed with lavish illustrations. The weekly journal published many of her best known works before their later release in book form, such as Uggleboet, 1924, Villdkatten, 1925-1926, Ormen i paradiset, 1926, Halvor Stormoen, 1928, Guldkungen, 1932, and Birgers äktenskap, 1933-1934. Signe Björnberg also published in other journals, including Husmodern, Allt för alla, Hela Världen, and Kvällsstunden.
Signe Björneberg became known for her love and adventure stories set in countryside locations, but she also wrote in other genres. She wrote murder mysteries such as Vem var den skyldige?, 1937, and Myrens hemlighet, 1947. Further, she wrote pre-war and war novels such as Johan finner Ragnhild, 1943, and Tistel och törne, 1949.
The majority of Signe Stark novels were released as serialised novels and were then subsequently published in book form by various publishers, including Åhlen & Åkerlund, Lindqvist, Sörline, Bonnier, Wahlström, and Semic. Sometimes the same novel would be published under different titles. The novel Tjuvskyttekungen was serialised in Vårt hem in 1934. It was later published by Bonnier in several editions between 1940 and 1943. The book was also published by Lindqvist in 1963, by Data-reprografi in 1970, by Wennerberg in 1971 and 1978, and finally by Semic in 1982 under the title När var tar sin.
Some of Signe Björnberg’s many short stories were published in short story collections by the publishers Sörlin, Ewald and Wahlström. Some of the most popular short stories also appear in different collections. The short story “Lasses omvändelse”, first published in Vårt hem in 1928, can be found in three different short story collections: En kvinnas hjärta, 1942, Kvinnans hjärta, 1944, and Den stora kärleken, 1957.
Signe Björnberg achieved her greatest success with two radio serials, Hällebäcks gård, aired 1959-1960, and Lia-Perla, aired 1961-1962, which were released as serialised novels during the 1960s. There was even a record made of Hällebäcks gård containing a recording of “Hällebäckslåten”; it was also turned into a film directed by Bengt Blomberg. The film premiered in September 1961 and starred Gunnar Sjöberg and Sif Ruud.
Further to her literary authorship, Signe Björnberg also wrote a great number of articles and reports on animals, as well as two books on dogs. Kamrat Hund, 1953, is the best known of these. These non-fiction texts were published using her real name.
Although Signe Björnberg is now best remembered for her Sigge Stark novels, she was also known as a horse and dog breeder during her lifetime, and as the first Swedish woman to drive a cart in a harness race. In addition to writing she managed a farm and competed in harness racing together with her husband Göta Björnberg, whom she married in 1926. Their married life, just like her childhood, entailed frequent changes in address. Signe Björnberg financed her harness racing through her writing, and this resulted in her signing an excessively demanding contract with her publisher in order to earn a living.
During the 1940s Signe Björnberg was the most published and most read author in Sweden. She was also the most criticised author in Sweden. She was compared to a serial factory and even described as “enemy number one of literary taste”. Her stories were seen as a threat to public education and Sigge Stark became synonymous with mass-produced and substandard serialised literature. Following her radio serial Hällebäcks gård she was criticised for romanticizing the countryside and popularising an outdated image of Swedish farming. Several farming organisations demanded that the series should be scrapped. Signe Björnberg responded to the criticism in several interviews and asserted that she was a literary author and that her readers could differentiate between fiction and reality. Despite this, neither publishers nor fellow authors supported her during her lifetime. It was not until an interest in popular fiction emerged in the 1970s that her work came to be re-evaluated.
Signe Björnberg died in 1965 and is buried at Fryksände cemetery in Torsby.