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!

New literary reference

It was disheartening not to see 'Headspace' in the Guardian's list of the best books on smell, but fellow Welshman proved that the Guardian had clearly missed the most interesting smell references in literature any way so it's no big deal...


Ten of the best (June 21) could also have included the smells that dominate the opening pages of Raymond Queneau's Zazie in the Metro. While Proust's Marcel inhales "the lingering scent of invisible lilacs" in the countryside, Queneau's Gabriel voices his repulsion on inhaling unpleasant odours given off by the unwashed crowd at the Gare d'Austerlitz: "Howcanemstinksomuch?" He then dabs himself with a heavily scented mauve handkerchief, provoking a verbal exchange that nearly leads to violence with an outraged couple on the platform. Queneau exploits smells and smelling not as a stimulus to memory, but as a means of sniffing out other people's identity and personal habits, soon to be renewed with the arrival of Gabriel's teenage niece Zazie, who strongly approves of her uncle's choice of scent and then goes on to question him relentlessly about his sexual orientation.
Mark Stroud