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!

No more War Dogs!

In Australia, massive campaigns against sniffer dogs have been instigated with huge success. Civil liberty organisations have organised sms systems to alert members to the presence of police dogs in the area by text message. We have a right to know where they are!

In Australia public outrage against sniffer dogs has resulted in the Parliamentary Ombudsman conducting a review of their use. The Ombudsman conducted a study into the accuracy of the police dogs and found 73 % of the people pointed out by the dogs had no drugs on them.

The same study showed that 60 % of those searched and who had no drugs on them admitted to the police that they had had some contact with cannabis, or had been to a place where it had been smoked. If they search you and find no drugs - don’t make any admissions! In doing so you bolster the credibility of the dogs’ powers, and add information to police files on you.