1 October 2021

The 2021 Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers Nonfiction Winner – Lara Vincent

Lara Vincent’s story What Home Is has been awarded The 2021 Hachette Australia Prize for Young Writers in the category of creative nonfiction. Vincent was presented with the award online at the National Young Writers Festival at a special event, and won a $500 cash prize, an exclusive book pack from Hachette Australia and acknowledgement of their winning entry in Express Media’s flagship publication Voiceworks.

Read Vincent’s winning piece below.

What Home Is

I have not been able to develop an idea of what home is to me. 

Home isn’t family; I have no real family I wish to associate with, I live alone, and I haven’t kept any of the 17 foster ones. Home isn’t location- I’ve been moved everywhere from Geeveston to New Norfolk so even the Tasmanian landscape isn’t familiar to me. Home isn’t what I make it because I haven’t been able to make it- everywhere I’ve lived has made me unhappy and stressed. I used to have a saying that ‘I don’t have a home, I have a house’, which is ironic as most of the time I didn’t even have that. When I first began to live semi independently, the people in charge would often remind me that it wasn’t my house, it was theirs. The concept of home is unfamiliar to me, so I often scoff if someone says a place reminds them of home, or that the environment is where they belong. I’m not trying to be derisive when I do so- I just haven’t been able to experience it, so the idea is foreign to me. I cannot relate to that yearning of home that movies depict, that people strive to create, that soldiers fight to protect. To me, the idea of home is like a damaged painting- a beautiful concept but broken.

I have severe trust issues. Despite now living alone, I tiptoe around the house because it’s dangerous to be heard. I hate to sit in silence, and I constantly look over my shoulder. How can I feel truly at home if I constantly fear that someone will take it? Someone might come inside and hurt me, remove my space, send me elsewhere, or control me. I treasure my control over my space because I’ve never had the chance to before. I’ve been asked before if the people in my life could be where home is, and so far, my answer is no. Not only are most important people in my life separated around the state, but I also don’t let myself grow too close to people. I have called one too many women “Mum” only to have them reject me. I’ve had too many toxic friends, too many families, too many guardians to feel like anyone is family. I’ve been hurt too many times by the people who promised to love me and keep me safe. My biological family is composed of murderers, drug abusers, anti-vaxxers and arsonists. I do not associate with them where I can help it. I know there are people out there who care for me, but my logical side can’t rationalise this to the scared, bruised girl who continues to exist in my subconscious; the girl who waits for them to leave her as everyone else has. 

For me, my life goal is more about stability then home. I have already experienced more hardships than most people should have to, and I’m only 17. I have lacked control in my life for far too long, and so my goal now is simple- stability. I’ve been a youth consultant for many years, championing for youth rights both in the care system and out. I have talked about my life experience and the changes I want to make, and whilst those changes would have helped me if they’d existed earlier in my life, I now don’t wish or expect for anyone or anything to help me. I don’t want lots of money (although the reassurance that would bring would be nice). I don’t want kids, both because I feel that with my upbringing, I wouldn’t know how to raise one, but also because the idea disgusts me. I share my body with no one- it is mine, and I have sole control. I don’t want a super thrilling job, or fancy items, or fame. I want simplicity, stability, a life where I want for nothing that I cannot achieve myself. That’s not to say I don’t have a purpose in mind- I want to prove myself. I want to show my sister a better role model than my other siblings. I want to show my mother that I know what I’m doing. I want to show my father that the daughter he nearly destroyed was stronger than he was. 

What I want is a simple house, three bedrooms. One bathroom with a bath, and one kitchen that connects to the lounge. A small deck and a shed to store things. A big fluffy rug, hardwood flooring and a comfy couch. Nothing huge. I want an open plan space with big windows that don’t trap me inside. I want a small personal library of the books I have collected. I want a fluffy dog, a big cat, and a few rats: creatures which have never hurt me, creatures who know how much love I can provide. I want a simple marriage to the love of my life and a job as an art conservator, where I spend my time repairing paintings. Paintings which have been damaged from neglect, abuse and lack of care will be carefully fixed by my expert hand and displayed for the world to see.  I want a life where I don’t need to stress because I’ve spent enough time stressing. 

The question of “what is home” holds little meaning to me. Home is non-existent, a beautiful little lie upon which perfect people reassure the broken that peer through the windows. Home is fear, an inconsistent concept which slips through my grasp every time I begin to hope.

Some people like to place their idea of home in the concept of God- an almighty being which provides the stability and love that home represents. I wish it were that simple for me. If I could give up my control and worry and believe that a God was out there protecting me, it would make it so much easier. But if there is a God, I believe he has forsaken me. Why else would he not help me as I begged him at the age of 5 to save me from the wandering hands of a devil in human flesh? Why, when I cried for him at 9 to provide me the warmth I craved when locked outside on yet another cold night? Why, when I screamed for my sister to be protected from her father who existed only to share hell with us both? I cannot bring myself to accept a God if he allows the suffering of innocents to continue. If he couldn’t save me then, I cannot believe he would save me now.

I’ve been asked if I ever believe I will find home. As pessimistic as I am, the same little girl buried deep within my mind clings to the hope that I will. I choose to believe that with time and effort, I will one day find that stability. The place that is mine, and that I long to return to. The place in which I feel safe. It is difficult to allow myself to believe, but I’m nothing if not resilient. And I owe it to the girl that I was, the one who only wished for one thing. If there is a place out there for me, then I will find it. And when I do, I believe I will understand those people in the movies who long to return to that small town in which they grew up. I will understand those hopeless romantics who follow the call of the wilderness, the pull of a heart. That painting will be mended, and I will understand the blood that countless warriors have shed in order to protect the one place they truly belong- home. 


Listen to Vincent read an excerpt of her piece and all of the other nonfiction shortlistees here.