Last week, you were asked to dream up a short story entitled “Fifty Shades of”. The entries were a bit of a mixed bag, but I enjoyed Gerard Benson’s twist on Empson’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, Josh Ekroy’s 50 Shades of Ukip and Carolyn Thomas-Coxhead’s clever, grisly tale of a woman reduced to a piece of meat. Though not all of you went the E.L. James route, Chris O’Carroll’s winning entry clearly took its lead from the queen of erotica, as well as from another publishing sensation whose appeal I find equally mystifying. He is rewarded with 50 lashes and £30, and his fellow winners pocket £25 each.

Fifty Shades of Dan Brown by Chris O’Carroll

‘The Pope!’ he hissed in her ear. The Illuminati! Atlantis! Stonehenge! Inscriptions! Codes! Occult wisdom!’

She winced and writhed as if each word were the stinging stroke of his riding crop across her naked bottom. ‘Yes, yes!’ she choked out, burning with desire to give herself to his passionate conspiratorial worldview. ‘Yes! I want it! I need it! Tell me more!’

His dark eyes flashed and his masterful voice throbbed with conviction as he told her, ‘Oh, I’m excited by the exclamation marks in your prose! This world is not as it seems! The powers that be are fattening everyone for the kill on a diet of lies! It’s up to a few special people like us to uncover their secrets, expose them to the light of day!’

‘Yes, yes!’ She exclaimed. Because, really, what else could she exclaim at a moment like this?

Fifty Shades of Magnolia by Hugh King

Fifty shades of magnolia accounted for most of the domestic decor of Winterborne Longjohns, a tranquil Dorset village whose unadventurous and generally decrepit inhabitants were untroubled by passing fashion. Transgressions here were few. (Covetousness was more likely to be directed at a neighbour’s ride-on lawnmower than at his wife.)

Much changed when Aimee Farrow-Ball, charismatic interior designer, arrived with her old English sheepdogs, Matt and Satin. She had worked at the V&A, and wore bangles. She despised magnolia and it was soon, under her irresistible supervision, widely replaced by subtle greys, swanky greens, and suggestive pinks.

Her influence extended even to the cabinet containing the defibrillator in the village hall — its chequered black and yellow newly painted a tasteful but unfamiliar indigo. Thus, alas, it was located only after confusion and fatal delay when Brigadier Bulstrode collapsed, pulseless, during evensong.

Ars longa, vita brevis, as Aimee pointed out.

Fifty Shades of Meaning by Mike Morrison

The chief sub sat/took a seat in the office/workspace of the redactor/editor. The former looked/seemed/appeared nervous/apprehensive/ill-at-ease. ‘I regret/am sorry/reluctant to tell/inform/apprise you of this, Gerald, but your toil/labour/input has recently/of late become, how may I say/put it, noticeably/conspicuously/patently at variance with/contrary to the Company’s/organisation’s paradigms/exemplars/standards. It has been remarked/observed that your exegeses/explanations/construals/definitions are increasingly pedagogic/precious/fastidious/finicky/nitpicky/hair-splitting, even. Do I make myself clear/lucid/unambiguous?’ ‘Utterly/totally/unequivocally/indubitably,’ said/replied Gerald. In consequence/as a result/that being so/therefore I see no alternative/option/choice than to tender my notice/resign/go.’ Whereupon he departed/left/quit the employ of Roget, long-established publishers of fine/splendid/esteemed thesauri/dictionaries/works of linguistic reference.

Fifty Shades of Pay by Albert Black

‘Ah, Tompkins, it’s that time of year again. But I’m afraid we can’t give you a bonus.’
‘Sir? I think I’ve done pretty well. The bank is slowly coming out of the red, discounting the fines of course. I’ve introduced a new ‘cleaning’ regime, I’ve sacked some dead wood, well 14,000 actually, and I only lost £2.3bn last year in trades that were quite frankly sabotaged by the Germans.’

‘Don’t worry, old bean, there’s plenty of ways to skin a cat.’

‘Sir?’

‘How does a fixed pay allowance grab you? An augmented emolument? An unvariable supplement? An executive appreciation? A seasonal enhancement? A status remittance? An enterprise allotment? A differential accelerant? A speculative stimulus? A pinstripe premium? A trouser endowment? A Bishopsgate backhander?’

‘So it’s a bonus in all but name?’

‘That’s the spirit. MegaBank plc can proudly proffer at least fifty shades of pay.’

Fifty shades of White by D.A. Prince

His eyes saw everything, cold and uncoloured. ‘Are you sure…’ he let the question hang, shivering ‘…this job is for you?’ He emphasised the ‘you’ slightly, his lips more suddenly red. He was probing her soul, opening her up to his desires. He wanted her, she knew that. It was the moment of commitment, that point when retreat from the white blizzard of the untested future became barely possible.

She held his gaze, her mind a sheet of frost, snow, alabaster, chalk, milk, lily, ivory, tinged with pearl, soft ash, the palest cream of primroses. She savoured their seductive differences, the tender shading where one became another. He was good at this, could sense the same passion in her.

‘Oh yes!’

He smiled. ‘Together…’ how that word thrilled her! ‘…we shall change the face of this town. You are my ideal dental technician.’

NEXT WEEK’S COMPETITION… William Congreve wrote that it is the business of a comic poet to paint the vice and folly of humankind. Your next challenge is to do precisely that in entries of up to 16 lines. Please email to lucy@spectator.co.uk by midday on 26 March.

Tags: Literary competition