Megan Dunn’s Tinderbox is an autobiographical account of her attempt to write a work of fiction as a tribute to Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451. Tinderbox weaves together raw and real description of a writer’s life, first-draft material from her failed novel, and reflections on the origins and significance of Fahrenheit 451.
Tinderbox is hugely relatable when you’re a writer. If you have ever sat down to write, stared at your stagnant word count for a while, and then decided to get up and make yourself yet another cup of coffee, you will recognise a fellow soul in these pages. Like Dunn, I’ve attempted the National Novel Writing Month challenge of writing 50,000 words in 30 days, and I know what it’s like to put yourself under pressure to achieve a writing deadline. It’s at times exhilarating, but more often than not it makes you wonder why you’re writing this thing in the first place. Tinderbox is raw and honest about the challenges a writer faces: trying to make stuff up out of nothing more than what’s in your own head, feeling consistently dissatisfied with what you manage to come up with, letting unintentional contradictions creep into your first draft (and resolving to deal with them, later).
Dunn recounts how Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451 on a pay-by-the hour typewriter in a library basement. His challenge was to find time and space to write with a young child at home. Dunn’s own writing experiences have been equally, if not more, painful. It’s easy as writers to compare ourselves to those who have “made it”. Dunn reminds us that although we may put published authors on pedestals, they have all been through similar struggles. Writing doesn’t come easily to anyone.
The story of Dunn’s writing attempts is set against the backdrop of her job at the dying Borders bookstore. There is a subtle parallel between the world of Borders and the world of Fahrenheit 451: customers coming into the bookstore lack interest in and respect for books – not wildly different from the inhabitants of Bradbury’s dystopian world. Are we willingly beginning to slide down the slope towards the kind of world where books have no place?
Tinderbox is thought-provoking, witty, and fast-paced. The story rambles to a degree in time and space – a little like its somewhat lost writer. Dunn is a sympathetic narrator, and there is very little to dislike. My biggest bugbear was in fact the typos and formatting issues, which were just enough to at times draw me out of the story. The language does occasionally do the same: it gets just a little too clever and draws attention to itself, although for the majority of the time Dunn writes in a very down-to-earth, almost self-deprecating style.
The reason why Tinderbox is such a great read about writing is because it’s so raw and real. Writing is tough. First drafts are crap. It’s all really, really hard. Dunn doesn’t hide these difficulties or romanticise the writing life – she tells it like it is, and the writing reader is left with a satisfying feeling: someone gets you.
You can read more about Megan Dunn on her website.