A BBC series is asking influential figures around the world about the defining moments in their life.
Zadie Smith won the Whitbread First Novel Award
Zadie Smith shot to fame with her very first novel, the bestselling White Teeth. The book won numerous awards and was made into a television series in the UK. Her follow-up book, The Autograph Man, was recently released in paperback.
I think the thing which changed my life when I was very young was when I came across a boy who I thought was extraordinarily beautiful.
I think that partly the rapture of that, and the wanting something that I could never have made me start writing to the extent that I wrote in my teenage years and onwards.
So I think that would probably be it.
Vladimir Nabokov thought that unrequited love was part of what writing was - part of a long chase.
He wrote a novel in which he combined the two absolutely perfectly - Lolita.
I think it's partly that.
I remember Martin Amis saying to me something about the desire of being unwanted also is partly what writing is about.
There's certainly revenge in there, in the mix.
But the yearning towards something - I think I wrote somewhere once when I was asked about it that the yearning makes you become yourself.
You don't even notice it happening but you become so much yearning that you become a different person in the process and I think that's probably what happened to me.
But you never grow out of being obsessed with beauty.
It's all different kinds of beauty - some human, some natural, some literary.
But that's a thing which motivates me most of all, I think - I see something beautiful and I want to get it down.
This is the final instalment in the Defining Moments series which has been running on BBC World Service's World Today programme. You can continue to read people's recollections here on BBC News Online.