What is Headspace?

Headspace is Amber Marks's satirical account of her research into the policing of smell - she uses developments in smell research as an allegory for the surveillance society. Amber was working as a barrister when she started spotting sniffer dogs on her travels to courts in different parts of the country. Disturbed by the implications for civil liberties (who needs a warrant when you've got a dog) and cynical about the supposed infallibility of canine intelligence (barking up the wrong knee), Amber started researching the phenomenon. To her amazement she discovered that across the world, people are being convicted on the word of a dog alone - despite the science of smell (the fascinating history and advances of which are all included in this book) being very poorly understood. As a legal expert on canine evidence, Amber is invited to a Ministry of Defence conference where the security applications of mice, moths, salmon and plants are discussed. That's when Amber's research journey really begins.

Q & A with Amber:

Why did you call the book "Headspace"?

Quite a lot in the book is about the importance of pscyhological privacy to human liberty and autonomy. Headspace - in 1960s jargon- means psychological privacy, the cognitive shed required for the development of an individual personality. When an entomologist told me that 'headspace' is also the technical term for the area surrounding a subject in which their smell can be detected and analysed - I knew it had to be the title of my book.

What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

I enjoyed everything about it. I enjoyed befriending security agents, police officers and scientists (they have all taken the fun I poke at their research in good humour). I enjoyed researching all the novels relating to the sense of smell (Perfume, Jitterbug Perfume, Brave New World, Oryx And Crake and millions of others) and learning about the science of smell. It was a great excuse to read Arthur Koestler's Ghost in the Machine and learn about bee brains and the manipulation of instinctive behaviour.

What is Dogwatch?

Dogwatch is the name of a secret organisation in Amber's book. It monitors potential threats to Headspace and seeks to inform people of their rights in these confusing times. It is presently focused on developments in surveillance, forensic science, less than lethal weapons, the militarisation of biology and the science of smell. Membership is easy- just send your findings to Amber and automatically become a member!

British Transport Police Declare War on Dogwatch

Time Out ran a feature (June 12-19) on Dogwatch's views. Today Time Out published the following letter from Detective Chief Inspector Simon Taylor of British Transport Police:

Police Line: Do not cross
We were disappointed with the emphasis of your article -'Four legs good, two legs bad' (TO 1973) - as it implied that police were breaching privacy and acting unlawfully by deploying drug detection dogs in a public place [this is what Dogwatch thinks]. It is in everyone's interest that people dealing in and using illegal drugs are stopped [and so there is no need for the police to act within the limits put on us by the law]. The drugs economy is socially and economically destructive [because of prohibition] and often leads to more serious crimes [which we find more difficult to solve]. Our deployments are undertaken by trained dog handlers in full uniform [they look very impressive] as part of overt [in your face] patrols on platforms, concourses and on trains. If you are indicated by a dog, it does not mean that you will be arrested. It does, however, mean that you will be further questioned [and searched]. If you are not involved with drugs, then you will be thanked for your co-operation and allowed to go on your way. People involved with drugs who come on the the transport system can expect to be stopped [and other people because our dogs aren't that reliable] and we make no apology for that.