WE’VE all daydreamed about going back in time, using knowledge we have now to do something differently. But have we considered how lonely it might be? Peep Show star Robert Webb certainly has, and he’s turned his musings into Come Again, his entertainingly genre-crossing debut novel.
Robert was due to be promoting the book through a series of live stage shows, but will instead be holding a handful of online sessions during which virtual audiences will be able to send in questions for him to answer.
The heroine of his story is 40-something Kate, whose life is falling apart following the death of her beloved husband, Luke. Almost suicidal with grief, she’s drinking too much and is in trouble at work. But one day, she wakes up and it’s 1992. She’s at the start of freshers’ week (where she first met Luke) and she’s convinced she’s been sent back in time to ensure he doesn’t ignore the symptoms of the brain tumour that will kill him. Robert, whose memoir, How Not To Be A Boy, was a bestseller, doesn’t mind that the word ‘bonkers’ keeps coming up in relation to Come Again.
‘In books you don’t cross-genre quite so wildly as I’m doing in this. It happens more often in film than books,’ he says. ‘There’s a lot going on here. Every now and again it’s got its thinking cap on and it’s quite a thoughtful book about love and grief and memory, but, on the other hand, it’s a time-travelling rom-com that ends in an action sequence.
‘It’s got elements of thriller and comedy. It’s doing loads of different sorts of things.’
While exploring the idea of going back in time, it quickly occurred to Robert how emotionally difficult it would be. ‘You realise it would probably be really awful in various different ways,’ he says. ‘It would be very isolating, for a start. You’d be very lonely being the only person knowing about your friends’ future, about your own future, about global or national events. And also the game is kind of ruined as soon as you have children, because if you start mucking around in the past and start changing things. You’re not going to meet your partner when you would have, which means you won’t have your children when you have them, which means if you make too many changes you’ve suddenly bumped off your kids, so you’d be out of your mind with grief, apart from anything else.’
Although Robert wants to focus largely on writing novels from now on (he’s increasingly fussy about what kind of acting work he’ll be taking on), he — like his comedy partner David Mitchell — would love to perform another series of their excellent sketch show That Mitchell And Webb Sound for BBC Radio 4.
And it’s natural to wonder how strange it must be for this Cambridge graduate to have so many people thinking he is Jez, his moronic, workshy character from Peep Show, but he’s circumspect about it.
‘I’m really closely associated with one character because that’s the story of my career,’ he says. ‘I had a terrific part in a really, really, really good sitcom, which is more than most actors get so I’m very happy with that and very happy to be associated with Peep Show. It could be the other way around.
‘I did a book event for How Not To Be A Boy and I heard an audience member saying, ‘‘he’s much smarter than I thought,’’ and I thought, oh, that’s good, because if I’d been playing Sherlock Holmes for the last 12 years I might have to listen to someone saying ‘‘he’s much stupider than I thought”. I’m quite happy that, having played an idiot for so long, it’s a surprise when I open my mouth and something reasonably sensible comes out.’