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!

Any comments from dogwatch?

Man gets prison for stabbing Redondo Beach police dog
He is sentenced to the maximum of five years and eight months. The German shepherd was injured after being sent in to subdue the man, who had threatened officers at his home.
By Amanda Covarrubias, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
5:30 PM PDT, July 18, 2008
A 40-year-old man convicted of stabbing a Redondo Beach police dog and making criminal threats against two of his ex-girlfriend's adult daughters was sentenced today to five years and eight months in prison.

Jimmie Divo Lunceford was given the maximum term by Torrance Superior Court Judge Sandra A. Thompson, said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles County district attorney's office.

Lunceford was convicted March 18 of assault on a police animal, making criminal threats and trying to burglarize the home of one of his ex-girlfriend's daughters.

The assault charge involved a German shepherd named Valor. The dog, which was brought into court by its handler during the trial, was stabbed twice in the side of its neck last year and had to undergo an hourlong surgery.

When police were called to Lunceford's home in Redondo Beach on July 30, 2007, he yelled at them, saying he had a knife and wanted them to shoot him. The police dog was injured after he was sent to try to subdue Lunceford.

amanda.covarrubias @latimes.com