Behind the scenes at the festival – over 26 years

By Sally Pomme Clayton (please call her Pomme!)

Pomme is one of the storytelling participants at the festival. Do a search a in the box at the top of the page, to see where you can find her.

In the long June days of midsummer, people gather in the small Swedish town of Ljungby, surrounded by forests and lakes, for a storytelling festival. It was started in 1990 by local librarian, writer and storyteller Per Gustavsson, who was inspired to share, develop and preserve oral traditions. Through the dedication of programmers, artists, educators and local people, the festival continues to grow and influence storytelling, not just in Sweden but across the world.

The festival supports many things, among them the creative work of storytellers, developing their work with schools and local communities, commissioning storytellers and artists, helping them take risks. I have been one of the lucky beneficiaries of this festival, returning several times over 26 years, to perform my work, some of which has been directly inspired by Ljungby itself.

My first visit was in 1998 with Ben Haggarty and Hugh Lupton as The Company of Storytellers. I had never been to Sweden before and late one evening we performed our show ‘The Three Snake Leaves’. It lasts two hours and we were in a dark theatre without windows. It was after 11pm when we finally left this building, and I was astounded to discover it was still light outside! Welcome to Sweden! The visit was magical. We went to a story party beside a lake, listened to legends told by Per in the forest, danced to whirling Swedish folk music, and listened to storytellers who became important people in our lives, among them Ulf Ärnström and Mats Rehnman. We ate cakes from the bakery, and someone took our picture in front of the mural that Mats had recently just painted on the bakery wall!

The Company of Storytellers 1998

I was enchanted by the dolls house shop and bought some tiny white Swedish furniture and a little doll dressed in traditional costume for my niece who was two years old. And I was transfixed by some paintings in the old house of Ljungby Museum. The paintings are in a Swedish folk art style, and were of biblical images, telling stories from the bible in a very human way. The paintings that really impressed me were of girls and women – perhaps the foolish virgins who hope to become the brides of Christ, but fall asleep and their lamps go out. As well as the wise virgins who carry jugs of oil to fill their lamps – but do not share their oil with their foolish friends! I didn’t have a camera or a phone, so had no record of these paintings. But I did not forget them, they stayed in my mind as something filled with potential.

The memory of these paintings inspired me to create a new show, ‘Becoming Virgin’ about foolish and wise girls, goddesses, virginity, and going to a convent school! It included the tale of the wise and foolish virgins. It was very special to return to Ljungby, I think in 2001, with the performance the town had inspired. I performed the show in the old house with the paintings. The performance began with me giving the audience a tiny glass of red wine and a bit of bread. The festival kindly provided all this for me!

I returned to the festival again, I think around 2005. I had been travelling in Central Asia and performed the epic of Dede Korkut that I had been working on. The artists Rolf Lind, Raine Navin and Gunilla Skyttla were there, doing surreal and experimental performance art, which I loved and which opened the boundaries of storytelling. I bought their book and still enjoy it.

Then in 2016 I returned again, to perform ‘Night Visit’, which has a Swedish influence. It told the story of my Great Grandparents’ and Grandparents’ interest in the ideas of Emmanuel Swedenborg and their experiments with spiritualism. It weaves their lives with the life and visions of Swedenborg. The festival made a huge investment in this challenging piece of storytelling. The performance had quadraphonic surround sound and projections, and the festival hired the technical equipment we needed including an electric drum kit! They gave us a brilliant technician and a lot of time in the theatre. Such costs are not covered by the price of tickets.

The festival believes in supporting and developing storytellers, helping their work to deepen artistically and to spread beyond the festival itself. This is very rare. The festival brought Swedenborgian researchers, academics and curators to discuss his work and influence. And it was a huge honour to be part of this event. Sadly the dolls house shop had gone. But ‘The Museum of Legends’ – ‘Sagomuseet’ – had come into existence, a playful and magical place where stories come to life.

At the festival in 2016

The festival is still transforming, still expanding, still supporting storytellers. I am thrilled to return to the festival this year, bringing my latest performance ‘The Mighty Goddess’. It goes back into the deep roots of myth, evoking powerful goddesses from across the globe, entwining myth with memory, spells with songs, comedy with ceremony. It also goes back to my own deep roots as a storyteller, just me, words and sounds, and the images the story creates. There is no tech for the festival to provide!

The losses during covid and the dreadful cuts to the arts in the UK are part of paring back of my work, but as an older artist I wanted to stand in the utter power of just the story and see what I could do. ‘The Mighty Goddess’ is X-rated and for adults only! So be prepared. It follows the Goddess, from Vesta the fiery virgin, to Cybele the Mother Goddess who fathered a child, to Ishtar whose passion takes her down to the Land of the Dead. And the audience have the chance to receive a message from the Goddess’s oracle! So if you have a burning question – do come!

The Mighty Godess

Over 26 years my work has grown with the help of this festival, what an incredible and unique gift to be given. And I am not even Swedish! Thankyou Sagobygdens Musik and Berättar Festival, from my heart, I can’t wait to see the midsummer night sun again!

At the festival 1998

If you want to read more about Pomme. please look into her homepage:

If you want to get in touch please write to Pomme:


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