Also writes as: Norman Armstrong
Born: Established: 11 Aug 1908 Sydney New South Wales ;
Barbara Toy was the daughter of Bert F. Toy, literary editor of the Sydney Bulletin, and Nellie Frederica nee Lowing. She grew up in a family that valued learning and literature but her father saw life as a better educator than formal education. Consequently she was self-educated and 'had the run of my father's library and had read most of Havelock Ellis before I was twelve.' She also read Walter Scott, Virginia Woolf, Robert Nathan, Henry Williamson, Ronald Firbank, Rom Landau, Ernest Hemingway, Aldous Huxley, Michael Arlen and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Her mother had studied nursing even though she was from a wealthy family and had no need to work. In 1923 Toy worked in the Roycroft, 'a very fine book and art shop' whose owner, Frances Zabel, taught her about art, literature and music. In 1930 she married Ewing Rixson, a member of a well known New York Quaker family, who had a passion for books and travel. They travelled the world but gradually drifted apart.
After separating from her husband, Toy lived in London before World War II and took up acting, becoming assistant stage manager at the Richmond Theatre in 1939 and subsequently stage director. After the theatre closed she went to work at a film studio in Hertfordshire where she met director Norman Lee. Under the pseudonym of 'Norman Armstrong' they wrote Toy's first published work, Lifeline. Toy spent most of the war in London, serving as an air raid warden. Towards the end of the war, Toy travelled to Germany and Holland for the Entertainments National Service Association to investigate the state of theatre in liberated Western Europe. Returning to England Toy wrote dramatisations of three novels with her friend Moie Charles. They also became directors of a new theatre production company until, in 1949, Toy decided to purchase a Land Rover she named 'Polyanna' and drive to Baghdad to visit an old friend. Thus began a life of travel and adventure that led her to write eight books.
Toy's passion was the desert which she described as her 'one and only love'. M. D. Allen comments on her work in these terms: 'Hopelessly romantic, Toy describes a world that she first perceived in childhood, and that is more glamorous than any reality.' In her later travel books on Africa and the Middle East such as In Search of Sheba (1961) he says: 'Gone is the jaunty tone, and the guidebook-style summaries are rarer. But the book has many of the familiar elements of Toy's narratives: sketches of people she encountered, with a particular feeling for children, and of places she passed through.' Toy once explained her penchant for travel as part of her search for God: 'I look for Him all the time. It is, I suppose, the real reason I travel.' Although her last travel book, Rendezvous in Cyprus, was written in 1968, Toy continued to travel and was only stopped from driving toward Australia in 1990 by the impending Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
(Source: M. D. Allen 'Barbara Toy August 11, 1908-', Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 204: British Travel Writers, 1940-1997. Edited by Barbara Brothers (1999): 288-296).