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The portrait was not going well. Andrew Stevenage laid down his palette, took the brush from between his teeth and stepped back from the easel to study the canvas dispassionately. Councillor Raymond Hogg gazed back at him belligerently.

Hogg was not a prepossessing figure at the best of times, but somehow Andrew felt even the man’s better features had eluded his brush. …


Winner of the Global Short Story Competition, November 2009

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Every December Edward Harbottle gave the performance of his professional life in Benhams department store at Clapham Junction. For a month he would preside over his elvish helpers in Santa’s Grotto, and smile benignly as countless small children perched on his knee and described the gifts they hoped he would leave them in their Christmas stockings.

Which was surprising, as Edward Harbottle disliked children. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that he was deeply apprehensive of them, and it was only by submerging himself in the avuncular persona of Father Christmas that he was able to give such a convincing performance. A lean slightly stooped man, he possessed none of the rotundity associated with the traditional Santa Claus, but once he had donned the heavy padding, the uncomfortable ‘Santa suit’ and the flowing beard and moustaches, all his professionalism took over. …

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